Ballpark Eats with Kevin Sbraga

Philly's prized Top Chef eats his way through Citizens Bank Park in an epic Best of Philly food challenge.

THERE ARE GROANS, lots of them. The fans moan about the Phils’ lackluster performance, while the two of us wheeze and complain that something like this should never be attempted again. We manage a few pulls each on our Turkey Hill soft-serve vanilla milkshakes, but barely touch the funnel cake. It’s a classic, and we both like it, but there doesn’t seem to be any room left in our bloated, distended bellies. We call for reinforcements, enlisting our nearby neighbors to help. The birthday girl and her family oblige, devouring the funnel cake. On our behalf, they also consume some warm cinnamon and sugar mini-doughnuts.

Sbraga has taken this merciful and momentary lull in our consumption as an opportunity to pause for pictures. The women at the high-top produce camera phones and thank Sbraga, who smiles and refrains from vomiting on any of them, which I think is an especially nice gesture on his part. He looks like I feel: full and finished. A few minutes earlier, we polished off what was, to that point, the best thing we’d eaten yet: Harry the K’s Italian sausage sandwich (broccoli rabe, onions, red peppers, seeded roll). The chefs at Harry the K’s make the sausage in-house, which pretty much melts Sbraga’s mind.

“The broccoli rabe is bangin’,” Sbraga had said. That word, “bangin’,” is high praise in the chef world, or at least in this chef’s world. “The sausage is good, too. To make that in-house, that’s hard-core. Bottom line: Restaurants, a lot of them, they’re not even making homemade sausage. For them to do it at a ballpark? I wouldn’t believe it until tasting it. I’d eat this any day of the week.”

It is clearly his favorite item.

Until we are handed two of Gina’s cannoli cupcakes.

I thought we were done. He thought we were done.

We are not done.

We are told we simply must try this dessert. Sbraga looks skeptical. His parents were bakers; his wife, Jesmary, serves as the pastry chef at his restaurant. Reluctantly, we fold down the paper wrapping around the cupcakes and bite. What happens next is wholly unexpected: We finish both cupcakes, and simultaneously agree they are the best things we ate all night.

“The only negative,” he says, “is there’s a lot of icing.” Then he quickly reconsiders: “If I didn’t eat all this other stuff, that wouldn’t be a problem. This is killer and creative. A cannoli cupcake! Are you shitting me?”

And so, finally, the food stops coming. Sbraga looks relieved. His red Phillies Ryan Howard shirsey (half shirt, half jersey) is pooched out so much that a waitress at Harry the K’s takes a photo with him rubbing his stretched-out stomach like he’s Buddha. Sbraga takes a napkin from the table and shakes it over his head: He’s waving the white flag in delicious defeat. “I wish this sucked,” Sbraga says of the myriad offerings at the ballpark. “I wouldn’t have such a hard time stopping.” Indeed, if I have learned anything here tonight—other than the fact that I might need angioplasty—it’s that we’ve come a long way from the days when ballpark food meant stale pretzels, cold hot dogs and warm beer.

Sbraga clearly agrees. “Look at my belly, bro,” he says, pointing to his gut. “I feel pregnant.”