Fans enjoy wider range of flavors at United Center

January 8, 2010 8:29:56 PM PST
Up until recently, going to see a game at the United Center meant little more than hot dogs and burgers. But a new team is in place offering fans a much wider range of flavors this season.Levy restaurants has a reputation in the restaurant industry. Places like Bistro 110 and Spiaggia come to mind. But over the past decade, the company has dominated the sports and entertainment category..

Setting up food service operations in stadiums all over the country. They already service Wrigley and the Cell. And now at the UC, the company has taken over both the luxury suites as well as the concession stands. The results are pretty tasty.

Just admit it: you don't expect much when you're eating at the United Center. But this year, Chicago's own Levy Restaurants has taken over the food service for the entire building, bringing years of restaurant experience to the masses.

"They are where recipes are perfected, where our chefs come from, where our hospitality training happens, and when we grew up in that business, we used to bring it to the stadiums and arenas. Now it actually goes the other way too," said Andy Lansing, the C.E.O. of Levy Restaurants.

On the 100 level, hand-carved turkey sandwiches with sweet potato fries or chicken tacos - albeit in flour tortillas. A cold one pairs nicely with a thick roast beef sandwich.. while vegetarians can snack on mac 'n cheese bites or surprisingly good veggie burgers.

On the 200 level, the Stadium Club offers the Levy signature "Chef Stations," loaded with creative salads and carved-to-order meats. New this year, an emphasis on farm-to-table produce, like this Heritage Prairie Farms wheatberry salad.

"I don't know that it's a new thing in the industry; I think it's something for us - in a stadium or arena - that folks haven't done, and so people really appreciate the nod to the local farmers and the nod towards the carbon footprint thinking and things that folks growing up in a stadium arena never thought about," said Lansing.

Just down the hallway, full and partial season ticket holders get a stripped-down version of the Chef's Station, choosing from hot dogs - of course - but also beef satay skewers, grilled paninis and a few hot items like potatoes au gratin.

Up on the 300 level, a few more changes. Two "Madhouse Bars," where you can hang out, grab a drink, and a bite - such as the Madhouse burger, topped with butterflied Polish sausage - a chili bread bowl, even coleslaw-topped pulled pork that would be right at home down South.

"We know when people come here, they're gonna want a hot dog, but let's make it a world-class hot dog. They're gonna want a pretzel, but let's make it a jumbo victory knot," Lansing said.

Which, by the way, could feed four and comes with three dips: chipotle honey mustard, beer cheese and super-sweet cinnamon cream. Lansing says the menus stay pretty much the same throughout the season, but there's always room for a little experimentation.

"We're never gonna take away what people like but we're always going to test new things - ethnic, street food, things like that are things that we think have some opportunities," said Lansing.

Lansing says even though the company may experiment with new items, he promises they'll never take away hot dogs and pretzels.

Some of the local farms that Levy uses for food at the United Center:

Heritage Prairie Farm, Elburn, IL
Genesis Growers, 70 miles west of Chicago
Brunkow Cheddar Cheese (Darlington, Wisconsin)
Oriana's Oriental Orchard, Winslow IL