18,500 fans visit the Air Canada Centre each Leafs game and ninety-nine percent of them buy something to eat or drink — so what are fans ordering off the menu this season?
“How we’re different from most stadiums is that we actually run our own food and beverage program — only a handful of stadiums do this,” explains Chef Robert Bartley, Senior Director of Food & Beverage at the Air Canada Centre (ACC). He’s proudly showing me around the concessions in the ACC ahead of a Leafs’ game in order to illustrate how different the food is in Toronto’s hometown hockey arena than elsewhere. “We do it so we can control quality,” he says. “And it also means a lot to the staff to get a paycheck from Maple Leaf Sports (MLSE) — they feel like they’re part of the team [employed by the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Raptors!].”
Over 80 items at the concessions are made in-house, from freshly baked pastries and burgers to 18-hour smoked pork shoulder and butter chicken hot dogs.
Make that 2,500 hot dogs, 3,500 pizza slices each game, “and we obviously sell a lot of beer,” says Bartley. So much so that there’s a big onsite brew-house, and even they can’t keep up with demand.
So let’s raise a plastic cup to the Leafs having a winning season! And in the meantime, you can’t lose at these five ACC concession stands:
MacCheesy’s Gourmet Melt Shop: A freshly made béchamel sauce is the base for their signature mac & cheese. Creamy and righteously cheesy, up the ante by getting it smothered in mushrooms or house-smoked pulled pork. (Plus, it’s a bargain at $7.50.) The grilled cheese is equally, if not even more scrumptious, oozing cheese from between buttery slices of Hawaiian sweet bread.
Zielinski’s Orchards: A cheeky name for a fruit stand in an arena, its namesake is Chris Zielinski, the ACC’s Kitchens, Restaurants & Catering Executive Chef. The iced fresh fruit cups, bags of grapes and hand fruit such as bananas, apples and oranges are like a breath of fresh air in a deep-fried universe. (Not that I ate any, but I liked that the option was there!)
Sweet Wally’s: They’re baking outsized warm cookies studded with M&Ms, churning thick shakes and dishing out delish deep-fried Twix bars and Mars bars, but the thing you want here is the funnel cake fries with soft serve ice cream. Hot and cold, crisp and melty, crunchy and syrupy — and appropriately festooned with Leafs Nation blue and white jimmies.
Real Sports at the Game: An offshoot of the popular man cave, er, Real Sports Bar and Grill next door, just like the original 25,000-square-foot behemoth housing a 39-foot HD Big Screen and 114 beer taps, where the bestseller is wings — they sell a ton of them (literally) each week, here too, fat juicy chicken wings are the big thing, in over a dozen flavours, from Thai sweet chili and honey garlic to saucy buffalo style, to my fave, lime salt.
Platinum Express: The signature item is the hand-carved rosy roast beef sandwich on an onion bun sided by homemade potato chips and a pickle — and rightly so. The casually posh beef is juicy and tender and the chips, appropriately addictive. (The roast beef is also available at several other concessions in the ACC.) This sandwich is a slam-dunk, a winning goal, and tastes like a playoff berth.