January 23, 2013

Taco Bell, basketball and shrink rays at the KFC Yum! Center

Photo courtesy of the only certified fiancée of Rick's Food Critique, Deb Oonk (@dloonk in the Twitterverse).
What would you eat upon first visiting a basketball arena named for the fast food formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken? KFC, right?

Wrong! Fried chicken doesn't go with sporting events. The correct answer is something a little more at home in the bleachers, like hot dogs, burgers or french fries. Or even nachos.

At least, that was my thinking during a trip this weekend to the curiously named and confusingly punctuated KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. I was there with my affianced to see our alma mater, Syracuse University, meet the University of Louisville in a college basketball game. But in an arena named for one of the food industry's major players, it seemed appropriate to set up a pregame session with some concessions.

A small problem: In a burst of poor planning, I snacked on a gas-station chicken sandwich during the drive to Louisville. And my better half had indulged in her own box of service-station nuggets. So we weren't ready to chomp down on any more chicken. It was a lack of foresight, I know. And it's one for which I apologize profusely to all of you reading out there in cyberspace.

Fortunately for us, the KFC Yum! Center isn't just named for Col. Sanders' favorite feeding fix. It also carries the banner of KFC's owner, Yum! Brands, which is a Louisville entity packing KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in its portfolio. Logos for all three of those restaurants line the arena's exterior.

So my betrothed and I settled on splitting some Taco Bell Nachos BellGrande. After all, nothing says Kentucky like nachos.

Not much about the Nachos BellGrande I was handed spelled "grande" or "big." To be fair, I wasn't expecting much in the way of portion size. I've eaten at my fair share of professional, faux-amateur, Division I sporting events, so I wasn't surprised at the half-plate of nachos I received nestled in a little black plastic oval.

Congratulations, walkie-talkie dude. You've photobombed the food critique!
More surprising was the size of the nacho chips themselves. At which point did Taco Bell write its chips into the script of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids?" The tiny triangles certainly weren't full-sized nachos, what with their longest sides measuring about an inch and a half (There's another of my failings on this trip -- I didn't expect to need my measuring tape). That's not a size designed for dipping.

The dipping lineup gave us pause as well. Our Nachos BellGrande came with ground beef, refried beans, diced tomatoes, nacho cheese and sour cream. It had no lettuce. Sure, Taco Bell's website tells me the sour cream was reduced-fat, but that will hardly satisfy the raging health nut in me that demands shredded iceberg on his imitation Mexican meals.

In years past, the included dipping slatherings would have overpowered Taco Bell's nacho chips. Tiny nachos seem to pack a powerful punch, however, as they held up well against the sog-inducing tandem of refried beans and nacho cheese. No fork was necessary to scoop up this snack until the very end, when it served to rodeo chip particles rather than scrape together limp corn sludge.

One final note on the arena Nachos BellGrande -- $8. Eight bucks. There's little else to say. Yes, sporting-event food is more expensive than its drive-thru counterpart. No, that doesn't make the hit on your wallet any less agonizing.

Overall, Nachos BellGrande net three sporks out of a possible five. The basketball, on the other hand, was top of the line. 'Cuse won by two in a game that went down to the wire. Let me also give a big thumbs-up to the Louisville fans who refrained from harassing those of us who were wearing Syracuse orange after the clock had struck zero. Several even came up to me to talk about what a great game it was. Southern hospitality, it seems lives on.

Now if only the Yum! Center prices were a bit more hospitable ...

Anyway, check check below for some cell-phone photography of our trip to Louisville.

The Yum! Center offers some nice views of the Ohio River.

Photos catch a giant milk-jug blimp flying around the arena before the game.

Contributor William Reinier (@SGTWillReinier) suggested a trip to Fourth Street.

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