Gourmets and tennis fans might have different perspectives on tennis's last Grand Slam of the year. What does an epicure think of the U.S. Open? From the mouth of executive chef Michael Lockard of Levy Restaurants, the company that oversees the food service at the U.S. Open: "It's a big food event, and they play tennis here, too," he says, only half-joking.
The spectacle at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, running from Monday through September 7, has the reputation of having the best food at any sports arena in the country. Mr. Lockard oversees the menus for Mojito, a Cuban-inspired restaurant; the serious steak house at Champions Bar & Grill, meant to rival Manhattan steak houses such as BLT Steak and Craft Steak; Aces, the elegant dining restaurant that specializes in seafood; the U.S. Open Club and the Patio Club; plus 42 concessions and 48 portable food stands, not to mention the 84 luxury suites that operate 24 hours a day, and whose members receive meal service two times a day.
The newest concept this year is Wine Bar Food, from a James Beard Award-winning chef, Tony Mantuano, of Spiaggia, a stalwart Italian eatery on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. For those who haven't had a chance to make it to Spiaggia (which is owned by the restaurant division of Levy Restaurants), or who might be awaiting Enoteca Spiaggia, a wine bar scheduled to open in South Beach later this year, Wine Bar Food, located near the fountain at the tennis center's South Plaza, is the first opportunity to eat Mr. Mantuano's food in New York.
Inspired by the new cookbook of the same name (published by Clarkson Potter and authored by the chef and his wife, wine expert Cathy Mantuano), Wine Bar Food is neither a formal full-service restaurant nor a take-out stand. With 12 stools, three cooks working at the center of the bar, and high-top tables, Wine Bar Food captures the feeling of a Spanish tapas bar, highlighting flavors from around the Mediterranean. Its central location near the main stadium entrance means that almost everyone who enters the grounds will pass by the new wine bar. And there's no reason to miss any of the action inside the stadium: Fans can stand and watch the matches on the big screens outside under an awning.
While the formal restaurants require special subscriptions, memberships, or passes for entry, Wine Bar Food is accessible to everyone, making it a culinary step up from salads to go, or hot dogs on the fly.
Organized by region, like the cookbook, snacks on offer include flamed shrimp seasoned with ouzo ($13), inspired by Greece's saganaki; striped bass crudo with pistachios and pistachio oil ($13), plucked from Rome's crudo bars; a Milanese snack of sliced-to-order prosciutto with grana (a dry, salty cheese), shaved artichokes, and hearts of palm ($11), and the freshest of Spanish tapas, bread smeared with tomato and topped with Serrano ham and Manchengo cheese ($9).
Mr. Mantuano has a reputation as a cheese maven, as evidenced by his cheese cave at Spiaggia. At Wine Bar Food, he'll be featuring a mozzarella bar, featuring burrata (a cream-filled buffalo mozzarella), and boccacino (bite-sized balls of fresh cheese), which can be garnished with marinated olives, olive oil, roasted peppers, or sundried tomatoes.
All of the food can be paired with Ms. Mantuano's selection of Italian wines by the glass, which include a Martini & Rossi prosecco for $10, a Michele Chiarlo "Le Orme" Barbera d'Asti for $14, and a Librandi Cirò Rosato for $14.
The only concession to the fact that this wine bar is at a sporting event is that all the wine will be served in recyclable plastic stemware.
Most of the produce and fresh ingredients for the tennis center's offerings will be locally sourced from purveyors such as Artisanal Cheese, Baldor, and Satur Farms for fruits and vegetables, fish from Slavin Fish, and a small Indian purveyor from Curry & Curry, a local restaurant that will be providing a revamped concept featuring kati roll wraps and curried combos (as Jayanthi Daniel writes about at right).
There will be a focus on new healthy choices with salads, and a farmers' market concept with fresh fruit and light pizzettes. But, of course, there will also be plenty of burgers, hot dogs, and lobster rolls from the Fulton Seafood Exchange.
"The purchasing agents are the unsung heroes of this event," the director of operations for the sports division of Levy Restaurants, Bill Wilson, said. "We're bringing in tractor-trailers of produce every day. It's amazing to watch all the teams, to watch all the components fitting together."