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Jeff Houck

The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.

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Table Conversation: Sports Broadcaster Todd Kalas

Posted Apr 12, 2013 by Jeff Houck

Updated Apr 15, 2013 at 01:51 PM

Todd Kalas


Todd Kalas is making a salad.

In the media dining room at Tropicana Field, the stadium’s vendor, Centerplate, has unleashed a tornado of calories on the buffet line—a glimpse of the food available during the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2013 season.

House-smoked baby back ribs, Tampa Bay Rays batting helmets filled with cheese-drenched nachos. Steamed hot dogs with natural casings and sauerkraut. Fried beignets with raspberry dipping sauce. Buffalo chicken sliders. A 2-pound hamburger with a half-pound of bacon.

With all this taste-bud treasure at his disposal, Kalas opts instead for a plate of roughage.

This is his ritual before he goes on air to help broadcast the Rays games on Fox Sports Florida. A little salad before anchoring the pregame show, then a bigger meal during the first inning.

Like an athlete who watches his intake, Kalas, 47, is careful about what he eats before running around the stadium gathering interesting tidbits for the slower moments of the game. A gut-busting chili dog is not a recipe for enjoyable broadcasting without some sort of inevitable unfortunate gastric interlude.

Devoted Rays viewers accustomed to seeing Kalas’ always-in-control hair and sleek suits would expect this kind of discipline. With an easygoing manner, quick smile and a reputation for extreme levels of niceness, Kalas has the relaxed vibe of a guy who just came in from a great round of golf.

Beloved by fans, they frequently approach him as he winds through the Trop’s walkways, escalators and tunnels. They shout his name after he finishes reports. He signs autographs when asked. His light bulb smile is always at the ready.

But it would be a mistake to assume that he lives a vegetarian existence. Traveling with the team since its first pitch in 1998 has given him access to some of the great food in America.

We had a chance recently to sit and chat about food:

* * * * * * * *

Todd Kalas

Do you have a favorite food town?

Probably a mix between Chicago and Seattle. Chicago has great variety. They have some unbelievable steak houses. Seattle has a little different style out there. In-stadium, they probably have the best food, but they also have some good choices outside the stadium as well.

Do you have a list of favorite restaurants?

I would say my favorite is Gibson’s in Chicago.

What do you get there?

I usually get a nice steak. They have ridiculously good desserts, too. Usually a nice steak. It’s a good, long, hour-and-a-half, two-hour, sit-down, enjoy some wine- and-steak kind of place.

Seattle’s is probably Wild Ginger with a little Asian fusion. It’s between our hotel and the stadium so it’s very convenient to stop there for late lunch on the way to the ballpark.

In Boston recently we started to go to this place called… a little seafood place… on the way to Fenway. Basically they have this total seafood lobster in like a fishnet bag where you get lobster, clams, this whole whatever you want.

The jumbo… whatever you want. What do they call it?

Fisherman’s catch?

Something like that, with a hard boiled egg and a lobster claw and clams and all good stuff in there. I’ll remember the name of that place.

I’m guessing a lot of where you eat has to do with proximity to hotel and ballpark.

Exactly. All of these places I’ve mentioned are between the hotel and ballpark. Gibson’s, not so much. You go up a little bit.

Do you eat ballpark food?

Yep. You have to. A lot of it is press meals, but occasionally you’ll venture in and do some concession as well.

Are you a wine guy like Joe Maddon?

I enjoy a nice glass of wine every now and then. Absolutely.

You guys trade any wine notes?

He does, yeah. Every once in a while he’ll say, “You’ve gotta try this.” He hasn’t been drinking as much wine in the past year and a half, but Joe always kind of adapts to whatever the new flavor is. His favorite wine in 2013 would not be the same wine from 2012. He tries different varieties from different regions of the world.

It depends on where he goes on vacation, too.

That influences it. He’s been a good sounding board for asking what the latest hot wine is.

Todd Kalas

You do a lot of running around during the game broadcast. Do you have any food rituals? You don’t want to be in any distress or eat too much, I’m guessing.

Actually, I do. Especially at home. Sometimes you can make a wrap on the road and sometimes you can’t, but when I’m at home I eat my salad pre-game because I very rarely get a chance to eat a whole meal before I get into the start of the game. Then once I do my pre-game, I come up and do a first inning meal of whatever I can wolf down because I’m not on camera during the first inning. I don’t usually have as much going on while we’re on the road, so I usually can get it done in one fell swoop, but here it’s a pre-game salad and then come up for a quick bite.

Do you have favorite restaurants in Tampa Bay?

I’ve always liked Charley’s. I would say Council Oak at the Hard Rock. That’s probably my favorite steakhouse. I just went on Friday night for first time ever the new place Cooper Hawk. I went there because of the wines and then really impressed with their food. I got pork medallions that were crusted in a combination of maple, pretzel and horseradish. It was unbelievably good. Their salad with the house dressing was really good. They did a banoffee dessert with graham cracker crust and banana toffee. I though the wines were good, but the food is what would get me to come back. I was impressed.

During spring training, do you have to get yourself in shape culinarily speaking to get ready for the grind?

The one thing I’ve been doing, not just with this team but with USF basketball team, is that I try to avoid eating after games. That used to be hard to avoid. Like I said, you’re usually rushing to get a meal before the game and sometimes you eat at 6 and you get out of the game at 10 p.m., 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. I’ve been trying to avoid it, especially with the basketball stuff, because the team usually travels right after a game and they’ll throw pizzas on the bus. It’s just not good at 10:30 or 11 p.m. to be eating pizzas.

I usually eat later. My dinners are usually later anyhow. I’m more of a late-to-rise, late-to-bed person.

You go to work at a different hour than most people.

Exactly.

Summer Shack, by the way is the place in Boston. Joe [Maddon] actually was the one who told me about that place.

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