The Washington Times - March 19, 2009, 02:36PM

Just got back from Nationals Park, where the club held a tasting event for suiteholders interested in testing out the new food options. Us media types were also invited, and I will sum up my reaction to the food choices thusly:

Meatloaf. Grass-fed sirloin sandwiches. Rosemary chicken breast. Three-cheese macaroni. Half-smokes from Ben’s Chili Bowl. And a dessert cart featuring large apples covered in chocolate and M&M’s and a six-layer carrot cake. Oh, man.

Here’s a photo:

The news here (and there is news. What, you think I’d just show up for free food for no reason?) is that this is the first glimpse of Levy Restaurants, the new concessionaire at Nationals Park. Of course, this was just the food for suiteholders. Average folks will learn more about regular stadium concessions in the coming weeks. We’re told that most of the local favorites (Ben’s, Five Guys, etc.) will remain and Levy will introduce some other new options.

“The relationship we’ve built with the Nationals has been amazing,” said Levy executive chef Phil Bucco. “They’re committed to having a great building and great season and we’ve jumped right in with them.”

Chicago-based Levy is the Nationals third concession provider in the last three years. The team replaced Aramark after the final season at RFK Stadium, and dropped Centerplate this offseason as the company went through some financial troubles and was acquired. Levy Restaurants provides concession service at a number of baseball stadiums and NASCAR tracks, plus the Kentucky Derby, this year’s Final Four and other major events.It is the food provider for luxury suites at Verizon Center, and Nationals President Stan Kasten worked with them during his time running the Atlanta Hawks.

Kasten said the deal with Levy provides the team with more direct oversight of menu choices and operations, which should help to improve service at the stadium.

“When we have problems, we know we can fix them if we have to,” he said. “Our arrangement with Levy will allow that, and will serve both us and our customers much better.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time working on service. Last year’s service wasn’t nearly where I wanted it to be. I think many of our fans agreed with that. I heard that consistently.I observed that consistently. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on hiring and on training this year so that at least after the first game or two or three it will be a huge improvement over last year.”

A couple of fun notes about Levy:

-The company claims to have invented the notion of using a dessert cart in suite areas of the stadium. Spokesperson Katie McLennan said a couple of interns came up with the idea back in the 1970s. The Nationals will be getting the latest prototype of the cart.

-President Obama and his wife Michelle are Levy fans. McLennan said the first couple were frequent diners at the company’s Spiaggia restaurant in Chicago.

-Levy recently appeared in Fast Company magazine’s list of the most innovative companies in sports. You can see the list here.