Saratoga County

Munching and gulping options grow at track (with video)

Officials are betting on gravy, cheese and bacon to make things better for hungry fans at the Sarato

Officials are betting on gravy, cheese and bacon to make things better for hungry fans at the Saratoga Race Course, which opens its 2012 season on Friday.

Highlighting a revitalized and local-food-focused Carousel area, which will be anchored by Hattie’s Restaurant, a new craft beer garden, Pies on Wheels and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, New York Racing Association Vice President Steve Travers also called attention to the poutine, a French-Canadian comfort food, that will be sold by Shirley’s Restaurant, a diner on the West Side of Saratoga Springs.

“It’s not for me, because I weigh 270 pounds,” he said, “but it is French fries with some gravy and some bacon and it is fantastic.”

The new addition is part of the ongoing efforts by NYRA to respond to the wishes of customers, who Travers said submit about 150 food requests to his office each year. One idea that has been voiced repeatedly and loudly is a call for better and more diverse beer offerings, which is why the race course will now offer 12 craft beers from a tent outside the Carousel.

Designed for “beer connoisseurs,” the stand will be located next to live music and will sell 12-ounce beers for $5. The beer garden will not replace any other beer vendors, who saw their numbers shrink slightly in past seasons as part of a consolidation effort.

Travers said the beer garden was located in the backyard area of the track as part of a revitalization effort. “We want to make a destination point,” he said.

Creating that destination meant moving Hattie’s from its highly trafficked spot over to the Carousel, which was initially opposed by restaurant co-owner Jasper Alexander. He said the timing of the change wasn’t optimal, but he was comforted by the other businesses in the Carousel area and the overall push to focus on this area.

“I think people will search us out. We’ve been a real fan favorite for four years now,” Alexander said, adding that the smaller space will limit the menu items compared to the other spot. “We’ll just have to see. It will be a learning experience”

He and his staff are currently in the final flurry of preparations to be ready on Friday. On Wednesday, they got 750 pounds of flour and 420 pounds of oil delivered and today they’re expecting more than 1,000 pounds of chicken, which might last the entire weekend. “It’s basically business as usual,” Alexander said.

Over at Ben & Jerry’s, which has an outdoor tent by the Carousel, a second-floor spot in the clubhouse and four small carts on the grounds, co-manager Layla Petruzzelli said they just brought over 84 tubs — 21⁄2-gallons each — of ice cream and 600 ice cream bars.

“Now we’re just getting all our cups and cones over there,” Petruzzelli said, “so we don’t have to do anything on Friday except scoop.”

Not moving in this year is Blue Smoke, which had been located next to the Shake Shack by the Nelson Avenue entrance to the track. Travers said of the barbecue offering at Blue Smoke, “That product didn’t work … The ribs weren’t fan-friendly”

In its place is El Verano Taquería, a taco joint featuring Mexican food, like soft corn tacos, folded quesadillas, slow-cooked beef with chipotle and guajillo peppers.

Returning to Restaurant Row in the main thoroughfare are the Old Daley Inn and Putnam Market, with the iconic Siro’s and Bettie’s Cake joining the local lineup. The row will also include a draft beer stand.

Reduced-price options are also expanding. Travers said that the popularity of cheaper items in the backyard prompted them to add a second stand offering these items.

Less visible this year at the course is the free wireless Internet, which will be available for the first time throughout the property. The service has been built to handle 50,000 patrons.

This service will allow people to stream video and even gamble from their electronic devices. Travers predicted that the Wi-Fi, which can be used to link to United Tote’s Fastbet Mobile betting application for on-track use, will be extremely popular with people who don’t want to leave a dining table.

Officials at the track noted that any websites, including competing bookmakers, can be accessed with the Wi-Fi.

NYRA spokesman Dan Silver said that the Wi-Fi access will likely drive up the amount of wagering, since it creates another quick and easy way to place bets.

The United Tote mobile betting application works with smartphones and tablets and requires the use of a NYRA Cash Card. The Wi-Fi access can also be used to bet with NYRA Rewards accounts.

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