I grew up playing hockey and will always be a Blackhawks fan. In my youth, that meant going to The Stadium, walking up the never ending staircases to the 300 level or if we were lucky sitting low and hoping to not have an obstructed view! I don't remember much about the food other than they had cotton candy and you "spilled beer" on anyone wearing a Red Wings or North Stars jersey. I won't mention the sinks!
The newer home of the Bulls and Blackhawks is a palace to sport and dining. I think even the Roman emperors would be impressed by the luxuries one could enjoy from the concourse to your seat.
Let's begin from the top down...
300 Level - The Madhouse on Madison
These may be the "cheap seats" but food wise you're not being cheated at all. Ironworks has an amazing steak sandwich. The ribeye is cooked medium and has the flavor of bleu cheese. The chicken club is another great sandwich option. All the sandwiches are served with homemade chips. Chef Mike told me there is one cook who prepares them for every event all 100+ lbs!
There are a variety of themes around the level from Ironworks, Backstage, Italian, Mexican and the Grills. The variety is staggering and if you have season tickets or come often you won't run out of options for many games. At some point you may even forget trying new things to stick with something you love. The foot-long Chicago style dog is great with all the traditional toppings combined in a chopped relish form making it easy to get every flavor in each bite! The Madhouse burger is a cheeseburger with a polish, yes a POLISH! I ate half and considered changing the name of the blog from snob to glutton. The Quazi-dilla is another unique sandwich you won't consider small.
Another new element to the 300 level is the four viewing bars at the corners of the stadium. Carved out where seats used to be, these bars serve specialty cocktails - one such bar was serving Korbel, Triple Sec and Cranberry - fresh, light and refreshing but then you realize I'm drinking a specialty cocktail in an arena? AND it's good!
Advice: Wander to the 300 level if you don't normally sit there and if you do frequent the 300 level - take a lap and PACE yourself! FYI, only place in the stadium Garret's Popcorn is served, 300 level.
The Private Clubs
Oh how I wish to win the lottery! Within the last two years major renovations have been done to capture the latest trends in the sports arena services industry. The one end has the Harris Club a casual opportunity to live the good life without buying a suite. Chef's table dining, dessert opulence and a bar only steps away, this is a fun location with a great view. They also have a pool table and massive TVs to keep up with other sporting events going on at the same time - as I type I look right at the Bulls floor and look left to keep up with the Minnesota vs. Philly game or the West Virginia Bowl game. Awesome!
Across the way, the Theatre Boxes bring Broadway style to the Madhouse! Sheer genius - you get a small box with 4 seats to view the game and you have a designated table, if you so choose, to use in the dining area. Offering a full bar, wonderful chef's table and again that dessert gluttony to be had you are seeing the game in a new way. I would imagine you'd feel a bit like Caesar waiting to give the thumbs up or down after a given play.
Advice: NEVER EVER TURN DOWN SEATS IF YOU GET THE CHANCE! The view, the food and the experience...please let me win the lottery!
100 Level Concessions
I have two great friends who have a package of tickets for Hawks games. They laugh when they realize that for a year they always turned left to their seats and never realized what food was offered if they'd only turn right! You can get a burger or you can get an Angus burger. The Angus burger may cost more but the size and fresh cut fries make it well worth the added cost. This level offers tacos, a grilled veggie sandwich, fresh homemade corn beef, in-house smoked turkey, southern style brisket sandwich, steak sandwich, Connie's 10in thin crust and roast beef, OH MY. All of the sandwiches are typically served with the homemade chips, fresh cut fries (take 2 days to make) or sweet potato fries. Restaurant size portions and consistency - nothing is small at the UC.
I would wager a lot that the smoked turkey or the homemade corn beef would rival many BBQ joints or delis in town! You could taste and see the smoke on the turkey. The corn beef wasn't shoe leather tough. I began to realize as much as I missed The Stadium from my youth, the food options my father knew for a game were long dead. Today you can expect restaurant quality and variety while you watch a game. Many times people bemoan the prices at sporting events but the food quality is apparent and I'll even say the food is well worth the price. The Levy Team caters to vegetarians, glutton free and obviously the carnivore.
Advice: Take a lap and check out the Bud Select Brew Pub for the carved sandwiches. Spring the extra coin for the Angus burger and if you see the steak sandwich get it.
I ate a lot! Not one bite did I regret or feel wasn't seasoned correctly. I know going to a game in these economic times isn't always easy and for many a luxury. I think we can take solace that the food offerings today allow us to enjoy dinner at our seat. No need to make reservations and rush through a pre-game dinner.
Chef Mike is a fun loving guy who is excited about the food and what his team offers. My last stop was the Ketel One club and he finished my tour with a bacchanalian like feast. From the Ahi Tuna burger, shrimp cocktail, turkey burger (massive and awesome), roasted artichoke, Niman Ranch bacon burger and the lemon chicken, he was proud to show off the menu. I also think he appreciated a fellow paisan!
I write about food and love sports just as much. To know I'm lucky enough to live in a city where, Levy Restaurants caters to sports fans at Wrigley, US Cellular and the United Center is great. I'd feel comfortable taking a date to the game and know she'll eat and drink well. I only wish my Bear seats came with food so good!
You might flinch at the price for a $10+ item but you'll get an 8oz portion or more often with a side. The food tastes and looks good and the portion sizes aren't small! You won't be dipping in to a second sandwich and if you do...stop drinking the beer and fend off the munchies!
The tours by the Levy Restaurants staff have been some of my personal favorite experiences of 2010 when it comes to the blog. Chef Mike Arcomone, Milan Stojakovic and Seth Kagy went above and beyond with my tour and showing me all the United Center has to offer. I felt like a king and ate like two!
I can't wait for my next Hawks or Bulls game. Enjoy the food, really difficult to go wrong, and never ever forget whether you're watching hoops or cold steel on ice - DETROIT SUCKS!