Sports franchises are relocated often, but you never think it’s going to be your team to pack up and hit the road until it happens. When the New York Islanders and the (formerly) New Jersey Nets ditched their old barns for shiny new digs at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, fans of both franchises were forced to accept unfamiliar pre- and post-game rituals, as well as throngs of new fans filling arena seats.
But nothing brings comfort like food and drink—and luckily for beleaguered fans of the Islanders and Nets, Barclays Center serves up first-rate arena fare to ease the transition to the teams’ new surroundings on Atlantic Avenue.
Any eating tour of this arena must begin with Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen Barclay’s outpost in section 11, where the renowned chef brings her Nashville “Hot Chicken” Sandwich to the gaping maws of sports fans. Dunked in Hall’s “Hootie” sauce, the fried chicken is served with pickles on a potato roll with a side of tangy cole slaw. The chicken is crispy and brings the classic Nashville-style heat without being overwhelmingly hot. And don’t toss the cole slaw; the oft-overlooked side catches you off guard with a balsamic vinegar bite, a welcomed change from the usual mayo mess.
Barclays also offers Brooklyn Bangers & Dogs in sections 08 and 225/226. Sal Bolton, a Michelin-starred chef and creator of Brooklyn Bangers, delivers the goods with hand-crafted sausages and hot dogs. Offerings include the Kicking Kielbasa and the must-order Smoked White Cheddar Brat. Far beyond any dirty water dog normally served at sporting events, this plump and juicy beauty hides an inner lining of molten white cheddar to bolster its peppery kick.
In section 25 and 209/210, you’ll find an outpost of Habana, a neighborhood joint serving traditional Mexican and Cuban specialties, including the incomparable grilled Mexican corn and one of the arena’s best bites, the pressed Cuban sandwich. The specialty is stuffed with pulled pork, ham, cheese, sliced pickles and chipotle mayonnaise, all coming together for a soft, delightful bite countered perfectly by the crunch of the Cuban bread.
Moving on to section 03, Calexico takes all of the worry out of ordering fish at a sporting event. The Baja Fish Taco, with its beer-battered tilapia, shredded cabbage, mango salsa and spicy sour cream dubbed “chipotle crack sauce,” is a legit contender for top arena dish. The fish is light and flakey, packing an ocean of flavor in a delicate package.
Rounding out the dining tour was Buffalo Boss in section 22. This spot offers bite-sized morsels of chicken, breaded and fried to a bountiful crunch and drenched in a selection of sauces including spicy buffalo and sweet honey barbecue. And if you’re looking for something sweet to counter the macho behavior on the ice or court, get to Junior’s in section 26 for its Signature Concrete, made with organic Blue Marble ice cream and mixed with cookies and cakes from the Brooklyn’s iconic Junior’s. The texture of the ice cream and cake combination coalesces into a silky smooth mouth feel, leaving the eater in a state of toe-curled euphoria.
Aside from these noteworthy concessions, Barclays also boasts an array of clubs including the 40/40 CLUB & Restaurant, with upscale traditional sports bar cuisine; Calvin Klein Courtside Club, a more luxurious-leaning dining experience; and the Billboard Lounge, a 300-capacity music club.
Watching the Islanders cross the ice and the Nets take the court at Barclays might seem might summon conflicting feelings for die hard fans from the teams’ former stomping grounds—but acceptance is best served with delicious food created by culinary mavens.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published January 18, 2016