Nontraditional Memorial Stadium concessions win big with Tiger fans

Saturday, October 15, 2011 | 4:02 p.m. CDT; updated 10:43 p.m. CDT, Saturday, October 15, 2011
Brad Six, Levy Restaurants Director of Operations, holds a brisket stack Saturday at Memorial Stadium, which comes with three pieces of toast, brisket and onions.

COLUMBIA — Man, was that brisket taco good.

Even after an entire bottle of water, the taste of the brisket was still there. And it was still good.

In fact, the brisket taco served at Memorial Stadium was so good that Levy Restaurants regional chef Jonathan Williams had to make one for himself.

Williams was one heck of a tour guide. During a walk around the Memorial Stadium concourse on Saturday before the Tigers hosted Iowa State, his enthusiasm picked up with every concession stand stop. Williams led the tour along with Levy Restaurants Director of Operations Brad Six.

There were multiple stops on this mouthwatering trek, all featuring the kinds of food you wouldn’t expect at a college football game. Williams stressed that it was a goal of Levy Restaurants — which took over concessions operations at Memorial Stadium and Mizzou Arena two years ago — to offer restaurant-quality food at sporting venues.

After seeing — and tasting — the offerings, it’s easy to see the goal has been accomplished.

The first stop on Williams’ tour was a new item for this season: the burnt-end mac and cheese sandwich. Williams described it as a marriage of two barbecue favorites on toast.

Barbecue was a consistent theme throughout the morning. Williams said that the barbecue items were not only the best-selling of the signature offerings but also his favorite.

“Seriously, all of it is my favorite …” Williams said. “But that’s one of my favorites. Barbecue is my favorite. It’s the time they put into that smoking. Any time you smoke something 18 hours or so, and that’s what we do: 18 hours of smoking overnight.”

After sampling a few smoked meats doused in Levy’s signature barbecue sauce, it was on to the hot dogs. These aren’t your daddy’s stadium dogs. Skinny hot dogs with packets of ketchup and mustard are out. Dogs topped with baked beans and potato salad are in. That’s the Big Zou Dawg. It has some tasty counterparts as well, including the Faurotious Field Dawg, covered in buffalo sauce and blue cheese slaw.

Those hot dogs were of normal size. The foot-long Mizzou Dog was a sight to see, something Williams described as a “showstopper.” The dog was covered in red and green peppers and possibly one of the more colorful hot dogs around. It was also massive. Williams said if you like the looks of it, it’s something you could share with a friend.

Williams admitted it might not be something that everyone likes, and it could be a little bit of a gamble. But he was still confident.

“Yeah, we’re gambling,” Williams said. “But we’re gambling on some good, traditional items that are already developed.”

Williams said that these nontraditional concession items are based on the tastes of Columbia. He said Levy tries to base its creations on local preferences, and chefs do research to make the best culinary choices.

“You go out to the restaurants and also see what the trends on the menus are, as well,” Williams said. “What are the top sellers? You see the top sellers. People want them. You try those top sellers in a restaurant. … Take what’s selling, put something else with it to make it a little bit better.”

Williams had a perpetual smile on his face when discussing food. He couldn’t wait for someone to try something next.

He said he’s inspired every day by people who cook. He’s walked around the tailgating area and taken inspiration from everything, including New Orleans-style food he’s seen being made.

Williams isn’t from Missouri. He grew up in Chicago, and cooking has always been a part of his life. His grandfather was a master chef in Boston, where Williams attended culinary school.

Levy has also made an effort to offer healthier items on the menus at Memorial Stadium. Williams said healthy offerings include fruit cups, vegetables, grilled chicken sandwiches and veggie burgers.

Williams showed off the taco creations at stands underneath the scoreboard on the north end of the stadium. Here is where fans can nab the Tiger Walking Taco: a small bag of Doritos filled with chili and cheese. It isn’t as messy as it sounds. The bag is torn open enough to make for a cleaner eat. This is also the location of the much-loved brisket taco.

“What city have you heard of that hasn’t embraced the taco?” Williams questioned.

Fans who purchased the tacos gave rave reviews.

Keith Schilb, a Missouri alumnus from St. Louis, took a bite and let out a couple of “mmm’s” before simply stating the tacos were “outstanding.”

This was a common reaction.

Patty Thompson came down from the Chicago area to visit her niece who attends MU. She said the taco had “a good kick to it” and said she received “a lot of food” for $7. That amount of money will get you three brisket tacos with cheese and veggie toppings.

Missouri fan Dave Price paused for quite a while before giving his review:

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s good.”

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