The United Center's concessions team has been sweating in recent weeks to learn how to make more than 90 new items from some of Chicago's best restaurants, part of their massive menu refresh. The arena and Levy Restaurants are betting that mastering recipes from Big Star, Lillie's Q and the Publican Quality Meats will attract more Blackhawks and Bulls fans to dine at the arena before NHL and NBA games.
Recipes and methods have been exchanged and adapted to serve the larger arena crowds. But it's not just about technique, as some of the facilities have also been revamped. They're basically building a mini-Big Star near section 114 and gate 7 with its own seating area. It's not quite ready, but it will give them space to make about 1,000 homemade tortillas per day to replicate the food at the popular Wicker Park taco spot. They're targeting $12 for a plate of three tacos.
Guests will even see Big Star's signature margaritas on the menu. The addition of a $10,000 industrial juicer, which can go through 45 limes per minute, should inject new life into the arena's beverage program.
This year's improvements are confined to the main 100-level main concourse and the club (200) level. So hungry fans in the nosebleeds at the 300-level will have to time their visits downstairs so they won't miss any action. The United Center smartphone app allows some online ordering, but it's been spotty in past seasons and doesn't include menus from all concession stands. Staff is aware of the problem and pledges improvement.
Club-level guests will have exclusive access to Lillie's Q, alongside Charlie McKenna's take-out window, LQ Chicken Shack. The club level is also the only place to find sausages from the Publican Quality Meats via a stand called the Chicago Sausage Shop (they'll serve Adobo and Green Chile Sausages). They'll also get their own Big Star stand and Hometown Sweets, the exclusive home to Sweet Mandy B's cupcakes, homemade confections from Amy's Candy Bar in Lincoln Square, mini Eli's Cheesecakes and items from Big Fat Cookie. It appears these improvements come at the expense of some classic items, as the helmet nachos weren't anywhere in sight, and Levy's is also rehashing their Mrs. Levy's Deli concept, bringing a selection of sandwiches to the club level.
The folks from The Pony and Lottie's will take over the bars on the club level, and spruce up the wine selections, as well as mix craft cocktails. The Hawks and Bulls have also partnered on a new burger concept, Legacy Burger, which will serve smashed-grass-fed beef patties as well as boozy milkshakes. That's on both the club and main concourses. Guests won't hear loud hip hop when approaching the Leghorn Chicken stand on the main concourse, but there's still effort to bring a unique restaurant experience as staff will wear unique uniforms.
Some old favorites, like Sweet Baby Ray's, remain. The novelty of nachos with cheese sauce and jalapeños doesn't falter. And while Vienna Beef hot dogs and wings from Jake Melnick's Corner Tap are served up to give guests a classic Chicago experience, the DiGiorno Pizza sticks out like a sore thumb. The United Center has been quiet on that front. Too quiet.
This is just the first phase of food improvements planned, so Bulls and Blackhawks fans have a lot to look forward to this season and in future years. And no, the players don't get access to the same food on the training tables. That's bad news for Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, who really likes cookies, according to United Center Executive Chef Michael Arcomone.