PNC Arena takes event dining to a new level
Posted March 12, 2014
Updated March 18, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Next week, thousands will crowd the PNC Arena for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. But what will they eat?
At Out and About, we are always trying to find you the best cuisine in the Triangle. And in this case, you don't have to leave the arena!
From their "Sinfully Sinnamon" buns to prime rib, there is a little something for everyone.
When you think about arena dining, you probably think of hot dogs, hamburgers and popcorn. And definitely not about food freshly prepared in-house. But PNC Arena is changing all that.
PNC Arena is among the only 8 percent of arenas nationally who run their own in-house catering. VAB Catering, as it is known, handles all food and beverages, including cuisine for the Carolina Hurricanes and their opponents.
The New York Times late last year referenced PNC Arena as the "NHL-rink widely considered to have the best in-house catering." They specifically mentioned that pizzas are made on-site. Well so is just about everything else there.
If you have attended any events there, you are familiar with the carts on the concourse. One of the most popular - the North Carolina BBQ Company. The lines to get a pulled pork barbecue sandwich at these six carts are often long for a good reason - the barbecue is great! But did you know that the 80,000 pounds of barbecue being served up in an average hockey season is smoked fresh in house? The pork is roasted for 12 hours in one of two smokers located on the arena level.
Executive Chef Michael Flood gave me a tour of the kitchen, where crews work to prepare food for hungry basketball and hockey fans and concert-goers who visit PNC Arena.
Flood said he is focused on making it a "food destination." VAB boasts its own brands including Fire it Up, Twisted Waffle and more. The only brand that isn't theirs in the arena is the Nutty Bavarian.
With 20 permanent concession stands and 48 food and snack carts to choose from, the challenge can be deciding which to try first.
One of the newest food options - the Metro Deli carts - offers fresh deli sandwiches for $8.75. Another cart slices up prime rib for sandwiches for $15 each.
If Mexican food is more your speed, Dos Bandidos resides in section 112. A hidden gem, the Sliced Italian serves up pizza and hot subs in sections 114 and 318.
Another popular cart is the Sausage Stop, which serves up sausages and bratwurst from Stevens Sausage in Smithfield.
Looking to keep the calorie count down? The Market Fresh stand offers wrap and fruit and cheese trays. There are even gluten-free options - just ask!
The club-level concessions have different options - like fried pickles, pretzel buns and Caesar wraps.
More than 50 percent of the food and beverage stands are by local nonprofits including marching bands and swim clubs. They get to keep a percentage of the sales generated at these stands. Since 1999, nonprofits have earned $3.2. million through these stands.
Watching the game from one of 66 suites there? You can dine on everything from fresh popcorn to beef tenderloin. And there are special options for children, just ask.
Flood and his staff are also serving up food in the Arena Club Restaurant. During many events, this 300-seat club is open for a buffet meal including stuff like carved prime rib, a saute station and dessert bar. Just check the menu and make a reservation online prior to the show or game.
The Lenovo Champions Club offers an all inclusive ticket with food and drink. This is a great place to watch a Canes or N.C. State basketball game. However, this venue is only open for select events.
One thing they don't have but hopefully it is in the future - a bakery on site. Flood made these great music-note cookies for the media at the Billy Joel concert announcement. They were delicious! With a full bakery set-up, imagine the creations Flood and his team could put together.
No beer inside during NCAA
Alcohol sales are prohibited inside during the NCAA tournament, but if you attend a concert or hockey game there you might want to take note that there are 32 flavors of draft beer available on the nearly 300 taps at PNC Arena.
Natty Greene's has its own Pubdeck, serving up sports bar cuisine, beer and wine. You can still dine during the NCAA games if you have a lower level or club level ticket, just no alcohol.
Other craft beers at PNC Arena include Carolina Brewing Company from Holly Springs, Foothills Brewery from Winston-Salem and Aviator Brewing out of Fuquay-Varina.
There is also a premium bar on site featuring more than 40 brands of liquor, in addition to premium beer and wine.
Arena events aren't the only thing
PNC Arena has spaces that can be converted for meetings, receptions and other events. VAB catering provides catering for those events as well.