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Food & Dining

Houck: Broadcaster Kalas knows stadium food

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Published:   |   Updated: April 15, 2013 at 11:50 AM

ST. PETERSBURG Todd Kalas is making a salad.

In the media dining room at Tropicana Field, the stadium's vendor, Centerplate, has unleashed a tornado of calories on the buffet line — a glimpse of the food that will be available during the Tampa Bay Rays' 2013 season.

House-smoked baby back ribs, Rays batting helmets filled with cheese-drenched nachos. Steamed hot dogs with natural casings and sauerkraut. Fried beignets with raspberry dipping sauce. Buffalo chicken sliders. A 2-pound hamburger with a half-pound of bacon.

With all this taste-bud treasure at his disposal, Kalas opts instead for a plate of roughage.

This is his ritual before he goes on air to help broadcast the Rays games on Fox Sports Florida. A little salad before anchoring the pregame show, then a bigger meal during the first inning.

Like an athlete who watches his intake, Kalas, 47, is careful about what he eats before running around the stadium gathering interesting tidbits for the slower moments of the game. A gut-busting chili dog is not a recipe for enjoyable broadcasting without some sort of inevitable unfortunate gastric interlude.

Devoted Rays viewers accustomed to seeing Kalas' always-in-control hair and sleek suits would expect this kind of discipline. With an easygoing manner, quick smile and a reputation for extreme levels of niceness, Kalas has the relaxed vibe of a guy who just came in from a great round of golf.

Beloved by fans, they frequently approach him as he winds through the Trop's walkways, escalators and tunnels. They shout his name after he finishes reports. He signs autographs when asked. His light bulb smile is always at the ready.

But it would be a mistake to assume that he lives a vegetarian existence. Traveling with the team since its first pitch in 1998 has given him access to some of the great food in America. That includes Gibson's in Chicago.

“I usually get a nice steak,” he says. “It's a good, long, two-hour, sit-down, enjoy-some-wine-and-steak kind of place. They have ridiculously good desserts, too.”

Seattle is also a favorite. The Asian-fusion restaurant Wild Ginger is near the top of his culinary batting order. Located between the team hotel and Safeco Field, it's a convenient stop for a late lunch on the way to the ballpark.

In Boston, he started going to a place called Summer Shack, not far from Fenway. Most of what he eats on the road is conveniently located between the hotels and the stadiums.

“They have this seafood in a fishnet bag where you get a lobster claw, clams, a hard-boiled egg and all this good stuff,” Kalas says.

That restaurant suggestion came from Rays manager Joe Maddon, with whom Kalas also trades wine tips. Maddon uncorks his favorite sips after his annual off-season trips to wine-growing locations.

“Once in a while he'll say, 'You've gotta try this,'?” he says. “Joe always kind of adapts to whatever the new flavor is. His favorite wine in 2013 would not be the same wine from 2012. He tries different varieties from different regions of the world.”

Kalas is not immune to ballpark grub.

Seattle, again, is a favorite, with its stir-fry stand Intentional Wok, where ginger pad Thai, garlic beef and chicken curry are on the menu. Boog Powell's barbecue in right field at Baltimore's Camden Yards is another winner. Kalas is looking forward to trying a Dodger Dog when the Rays go west later this season to Los Angeles.

With 15 seasons under his belt at Tropicana Field, he witnessed the transformation from boring hot dog, pretzel and popcorn fare to the more advanced food now at the stadium. Two-pound hamburger notwithstanding.

The Trop now serves craft beer. Cuban sandwiches are served in the party deck. Three smokers at the stadium crank out house-made barbecue. Hand-carved sandwiches are available on demand in the concession area. One kiosk serves all gluten-free fare. Another features an all-natural menu of eats.

“The variety has vastly improved,” he says. “Every year they're adding something different. Some stadiums get into a little bit of comfort zone. [Centerplate] seems willing to experiment and put the best stuff out.”

But would he eat nachos out of a helmet? Would Todd Kalas go that far?

“Not so much,” he says.

Fill it with salad, though and all bets are off.


jhouck@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7324

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