By Kay Nguyen
DETROIT — Joe Nader wants the city of Detroit to be showcased both on the gridiron and on the grill at Ford Field this NFL season. Nader is the executive chef of Levy Restaurants at Ford Field and strives to stay true to his mantra of having fun with food.
“We’ve kind of been beaten up over the years and we all want to support the city,“ Nader said of both the team and stadium’s local fare.
The team is currently 4-0 — an impressive feat considering its misfortune in recent years. Here’s a look at what’s new this season in the stadium, what Detroit classics are being offered up and some of Nader’s predictions for the Lions.
Extreme Loaded Dogs is new to Ford Field this year. It’s a Levy concept that has been launched by the company at various sites, but Ford Field is the first NFL stadium to get “loaded.”
“It’s the fan favorite hot dog, but we gave it quirky toppings and are having fun with the food,” Nader said. “They’re not a huge culinary departure, but we want to recognize the fun stuff too.”
“The Heater” — This dog is Chef Nader’s proclaimed favorite. It’s dipped in Frank’s Red Hot hot sauce and topped with a bleu cheese coleslaw.
“Nacho-Yo Dog” — It’s a marriage between two stadium favorites: the hot dog and nachos.
“The Burger Dog” — In another stadium food twist, this dog is essentially a hamburger in the shape of a hot dog with ketchup mustard and pickles.
“Frito Pie Dog” — The ugly duckling of sorts serves up the comforts of chili, cheddar cheese and Fritos in a bun.
“Hometown Dog” — It’s a true-to-form Coney dog, which is what Nader, a Detroit-area native, considers to be Detroit’s chief culinary contribution.
“If you were to ask what the big Detroit famous food is, it’d be the Coney dog,” Nader said. “You don’t get a Coney dog anywhere else in the country the way we do it with the Coney sauce, beanless chili, mustard and onions.”
Gluten-free options are being sold at one portable stand inside the stadium for the first time. Nader said he was compelled to give those with gluten intolerance the same game experience as their fellow game attendees.
“Those folks would just come and not eat or they’d have to eat before they came to the game,” Nader said. “Now, they can eat a hot dog in a gluten-free bun and drink gluten-free beer just like the people they’re with and they won’t feel alienated.”
He wants to make sure that food is prepared in line with the dietary needs of fans, which is why a kosher stand is also in the works. Fan demand has also pushed Nader to provide menus that have items “you would never see at a stadium.”
“Levy has pushed the limits as far as that goes because we look at this from a restaurateur point of view versus a concessionaire point of view,” Nader said. “It’s a restaurant, not a concession stand.”
Taste Revolution is a global street food stand that blends menu items that are strictly Detroit with international treats to tempt discerning palettes. Items include lamb and chicken gyros and chicken and beef satay skewers. Meat on a stick, after all, is universal.
One thing that was deemed unpopular amongst Lions fans? Tofu.
Tubby’s grilled submarine sandwiches are being sold for the first time this season at Ford Field.
The Michigan fixture since 1968 joins a roster of other brands Ford Field carries that are based in the mitten. They include: National Coney Island, purveyors of the aforementioned Coney dogs; Better Made potato chips; Atwater Brewery beer and Sander’s fine chocolates.
“Some local partnerships have been around since the beginning,” Nader said. “We’re always seeking out other partnerships as different brands develop around Detroit.”
The presence of local products means a lot to Nader and Lions fans.
“Everyone is so into embracing the brands and everyone’s proud of Detroit,” Nader said.
That sentiment is also applied toward the football team that’s been pushed out of prime time for the last few seasons. He said he’s seen attendance go up notably this season and that new coach Jim Schwartz, coupled with new talent like defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh have given fans a renewed spirit.
“For me, it’s really nice to see the fans get rewarded with stuff like Monday Night Football,” Nader said. “When you are a marquee team, you get to start rewarded with those big games and our staff gets rewarded because we’re as much on show as the players are. “
The Detroit Lions take on the Chicago Bears this Monday as the team plays host to Monday Night Football for the first time in a decade.
“I’m no expert, but I really think that the Lions going to the playoffs would mean owning this town more than (other Detroit sports teams) ever did,” Nader said. “People are so excited to see such a loyal fan base be rewarded. We’ve all worked so hard it’s so much fun now and so awesome to see all this hype.”