The phrase "There's no such thing as a free lunch" is hogwash when you're a sports journalist.
Sports teams/leagues/etc. want publicity for their organizations and need something to lure reporters to their media events. Sports journalists tend not to make a lot of money and are always looking for cheap eats. It's a perfect marriage.
So in the name of that proud tradition, we marched up to Consol Energy Center yesterday with our shirt untucked to test the fare which will be available to Penguins fans.
First things first. The nachos have been a point of much hand-wrining in the transition from Mellon Arena to Consol Energy Center.
Nachos have been a staple of a Penguins fans' diet. There wasn't really much at Mellon Arena which was a "must-eat" but the nachos were. Their most appealing trait was the beauty of their simplicity. Just nachos and cheese (or salsa). You had that bin in the concourse where you could get jalapenos or onions, but there were no frills to these nachos. They were basic, yet brilliant:
(Note: Generally, the nachos did not include mouse cords.)
Yesterday at Consol Energy Center, this is what we were offered:
A pretty diverse set of toppings including cheese, jalapenos, sour cream, chives and barbecue chicken. While we loved the basic Spartan nachos at Mellon Arena, we did like this offering.
And if you simply don't like all these bells and whistles on your nachos, you certainly do have the option of keeping them simple. You can get cheese if you like. Consol Energy Center will be all about options for Penguins fans, and this extends down to your nachos.
Getting down to the nuts and bolts of things, the nachos were the same circular shape as they were at Mellon Arena, but the cheese was slighty different. Not bad, but different.
Another large point of contention with the new arena was the beverages. No Pepsi. No Coke.
Yeah, we didn't know they still made it either when we first found out. And truth be told, we can't ever recall a point in life were we had R.C. Cola. We tried a little yesterday:
-We must say, it's not bad. It's like a sweeter version of Pepsi. We're not big pop drinkers (We're from Pittsburgh. We call Soda "pop." Deal with it.), but this wasn't bad. We'd still prefer Coke over anything else.
-When word first came out that that Consol Energy Center would offer R.C. Cola, we texted a friend who is a season ticket with the news. The exchange went something like this:
Us: "Dude, no Coke or Pepsi at Consol."
Friend: "What do they have?"
Us: "R.C. Cola."
Friend: "What? They still make that?"
Friend: "What the $&%*$! I didn't go to medical school for four years to drink R.C. Cola."
Friend: "Why don't they just serve $*#&%#@! Cherokee Red!"
Well guess what.
They DO have Cherokee Red! This was a stunning development.
Other items which were offered yesterday include:
Pulled pork sandwich:
This came on a Kaiser roll with some crispy fried onions on the top. This was our favorite. It came with some hickory flavoring.
French Dip Sandwich:
We weren't too crazy for this. It was roast beef and Swiss cheese on Italian bread and red wine jus (dipping sauce). It just didn't taste all that good to us and we could see plenty of logistical problems for fans trying to make their way back to their seats while trying to carry the jus. Suffice it to say, if you get this, don't wear your white Evgeni Malkin jersey.
The Kickin' Chicken sandwich:
We were told this is their "version" of a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. It was okay aside from burning our mouth a bit. Moist with a crispy breading. It came with a few dill pickles.
Sadly, we did not get a chance to check out the Kielbasa Grinder which is kielbasa with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing on an Italian roll.
We didn't see any french fries available though they were listed in the media packet handed to us. Basically, you can get anything in the world on them. Gravy, chilli, cheese, etc.
In all, Consol Energy Center will offer so much more than Mellon Arena could ever hope to. There will be 75 combined menu items. One additional bonus:
-As welcome of a sight as a Primanti Bros. stand might be, we must say, the stands they have at Heinz Field and PNC Park are far inferior than a real restaurant such as in Market Square or the Strip District. We have no idea if that will be the case at Consol Energy Center, but there is a poor track record by its predecessors in town here.
-Despite our begging inquiring, beer was not made available yesterday.
-The Dunkin Donuts kiosk which became something of a staple the past few seasons at Mellon Arena appears to have bit the dust. We didn't see it yesterday, but according to the packet we got yesterday, there will be:
Yes. Tim Hortons, one of Sidney Crosby's endorsements, will be available. If they offer turkey sandwiches, we probably won't ever leave this location.
In non-food news, we also stumbled across this yesterday:
All those high school jerseys they had on the wall on the West end of Mellon Arena are now up in Consol Energy Center.
Also, an EN reader recently asked in the comments which colors the players' uniforms are in the bubble boy hockey game in the Penguins' players' lounge:
Black and white. It will look just like a scrimmage at Southpointe.
Overall, you're not going to like everything at Consol Energy Center. But you will certainly have a wide and improved choice compared to Mellon Arena.