It wasn't until this past Sunday afternoon, as I stood in the parking lot of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, listening to a live band coverPitbull's "Give Me Everything," and stared at the monstrously large breakfast sandwich in my hands called the Jumbo Jet Bagel, with drops of melted cheese oozing down my wrist, that I thought for the first time in my life that maybe, just maybe, I messed up by not paying more attention to football. In fact, I started to get a little bit mad that no one thought to mention to me that the food served at football games can be just as important as the game itself, especially when it's done well—because when it's good, it's really good. And at the food at MetLife Stadium during a New York Jets game is good.
My interest in the Jumbo Jet Bagel is how I ended up in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in the first place, to learn about what to eat at MetLife Stadium during a Jets home game. (They were playing the Baltimore Ravens, and the Jets won, in case you care about football and food.) The gigantic breakfast sandwich was launched last year, the New York Jets' response to all of the Frankenfoods that had been popping up on social media. And it certainly caught my eye, because the original Jumbo Jet Bagel was, in a word, monstrous: a ten-inch everything bagel, stacked with a half pound of Taylor Ham, a one pound spicy chorizo patty, a one pound breakfast sausage patty, four fried eggs, four slices of American cheese, then topped with the team's proprietary Jet Fuel, which is probably best described as a spicy green salsa.
The form factor of the original Jumbo Jet Bagel was certainly impressive, and the picture of the oversized breakfast sandwich quickly made the rounds on social media, but, “There were some architectural issues,” laughs Chris Pierce, senior director of fan commerce for the New York Jets who helped come up with the idea, as we stand in the Bud Light Beer Garden on a blustering Sunday afternoon. The sandwich was just too big for people to share comfortably, especially in a situation where portability is key. "Most people are eating in their seats," explained Pierce, and I can only imagine how trying to split an oversized breakfast bagel with three of your friends as you all sit in stadium seating, with occasional breaks to stand up and cheer, could be something of a challenge.
That's why, this season, the Jumbo Jet Bagel has been downsized, now served on a regular everything bagel at the Bud Light Beer Garden, located in the parking lot by the Bud Light Gate of the stadium. It's still got all of the same toppings as the original, even though it's a quarter of the size; there's the chorizo patty, the breakfast sausage, the Taylor Ham in honor of the stadium's location in the great Garden State, the cheese, and, of course, the fried egg.
The stacks and stacks of meat mean that not all of the architectural issues have necessarily been solved. The sandwich looks like it's about to burst apart at any moment, and I couldn't fully figure out the best way to bite into it, even after staring at it for a long while. The dulcet tones of Pitbull in the background didn't really help me piece together that puzzle, for what it's worth. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not a snake that can unhinge my jaw on a whim, so I was advised that the only way to tackle the Jumbo Jet Bagel is to go for it. And that's really the best strategy, though it's not exactly the neatest.
There is no neat way to eat half of a Jumbo Jet Bagel, but the mess it worth it, because even though you might be (reasonably) skeptical about biting into an everything bagel that's loaded with three different slabs of meat, the sandwich is surprisingly balanced. You get a little bite of something different each time, and the spicy chorizo and Jet Fuel cut through the creamy yolk and melted cheese so it never gets boring. This is a breakfast sandwich that lasts and lasts. After about half a dozen bites, I had only gotten through about half of my half of the sandwich. My friend had finished maybe two-thirds before she had to call it quits, too. “That’s a great base right there,” Pierce pointed out, as a man who had clearly already had a little too much to drink came up to me in the parking lot and asked if the sandwich was any good. It was 11:15 a.m.
The Jumbo Jet Bagel is emblematic of the style of the rest of the food served at MetLife Stadium during Jets games: creative, relevant, and over-the-top, without sacrificing flavor. "We try to be really authentic to what’s going on, and draw inspiration from what’s around.” That's why Pierce is constantly brainstorming with Eric Borgia, executive chef at MetLife Stadium, to come up with new, relevant dishes that will excite fans.
That inspiration is just as likely to come from the parking lots, which open at 8 a.m. to tailgaters for a game that starts at 1 p.m.—and these folks aren't messing around. By the time I arrived at the stadium at 10:40 a.m., there were already plenty of grills smoking. What I also realized is that since the festivities start so early early, tailgating is basically breakfast, and barbecue is fair game for the first meal of the day. In other words, barbecue is breakfast at a football game, so I was excited to see a barbecue stand inside the stadium, for those of use who don't have cars and can't tailgate with the rest of them. Though the spare ribs fell of the bone and the a, the sausages were the breakfast highlight. These Italian hot links are smoked in applewood in the stadium's kitchen, explained Borgia, then finished with a sear on a griddle in front of the customer, and they were perfectly snappy and tender.
The apex of high-quality meat and portability at MetLife Stadium is probably the bacon on a stick, which you can find in the MetLife Gate. The bacon is sliced in-house, and it's sliced thick. "It's more like a spare rib," said Borgia. The maple and jalapeno glaze makes the stick a necessary component for the dish.
At the end of the day, though, this bacon on a stick is just a piece of bacon on a bamboo skewer, albeit a delicious piece of bacon. And the Jumbo Jet Bagel is just a breakfast sandwich with eggs, cheese, and meat, even though it's a combination you'd never think to order yourself. But that's part of what makes the food at MetLife Stadium so appealing. It is what it is, and it's done well though it's still got a bit of a twist. That's by design, because, according to Pierce, “You cannot fake it here. It doesn’t work."
Now, if I knew something about sports, I would throw in a sports metaphor or inspirational quote here, but I don't, so instead, let me say that if you don't like football but you like food, you can find a home in a professional sports stadium, too.