The Ravens may be A-list athletes, but the lunch menu at their Owings Mills training facility is made up of familiar foods served in cafeterias across the country. Well, maybe slightly better. The soups and pastas are homemade, and one of the chefs was trained at Johnson & Wales University. And if, like health-conscious running back Ricky Williams, you bring in special ingredients, they'll cook them.
But there's no stuffed lobsters or slabs of prime rib. Think meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
"A lot of the players are away from their families — some of them for the first time," says Tenille Moore, the Ravens' director of food service. "They're looking for comfort food."
The Ravens Dining Room is comfortable, but it's far from fancy. And just like the gang at your office might look forward to taco Thursdays, the Ravens have favorites, too. Wednesday is particularly popular when players can get unlimited hamburgers, hot dogs and turkey burgers — a Ray Lewis favorite.
There are a few differences worth noting between the average office cafeteria and the Ravens' employee dining program. The Ravens get all of their meals free. And they actually like eating in their employee dining room.
There are plenty of dining options nearby in Owings Mills, including team favorites such as the Artful Gourmet and Bonefish, but the players seldom stray far from their campus.
"I get what I need here," Ray Rice says
On the eve of a game, players' movements and meals are restricted. But during the week, what each player eats is up to him. There are daily choices from the pasta bar, salad bar and sandwich station. A veteran employee works the sandwich station with the kind of dexterity scouts look for in a wide receiver.
Moore sees to it that the food prepared for the players is healthy. She has come up with a chicken lasagna, a player favorite, that substitutes cottage cheese for ricotta, significantly cutting down on the fat. But the Ravens' food-service team does not take its marching orders from a staff nutritionist or trainer. Neither does the NFL advise or prescribe menus for individual teams.
Team nutritionist Sue James reviews the menu. She won't veto items. Instead, she uses a stop-pause-go labeling system to inform players of the items' fat content. The case labels for high-fat items have red stickers affixed. Lean foods have green dots.
If lunch is good comfort food, things do get fancier at dinner. Players talk reverently about chef Nicholas Goff's apricot-glazed Chilean sea bass, which team owner Steve Bisciotti has said is the best he's ever had. Coach John Harbaugh is a fan of the cranberry chicken, and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano "basically likes anything Italian," Moore says.
Moore and Goff head the team that feeds the Ravens, week in and week out, from the start of training season into the postseason. Both are employees of the Classic Catering People, who provide all the meals at the Ravens training facility.
The food-service team serves breakfast Mondays through Saturdays, lunch Mondays through Fridays and dinner Mondays through Thursdays. While only the senior coaching staff might show up for Monday breakfasts, from 150 to 200 typically file in for lunch on Wednesdays and Thursdays, when the Ravens hold full practices.
"This is where they come to relax," says Moore, who insists she wouldn't be able to tell from the room's mood on Mondays whether the Ravens had won or lost on Sundays. There is a victory cake on Wednesdays, though.
The Ravens organization also provides free meals to its administrative staff, which is unusual among NFL teams, a gesture that staff members say is typical of Bisciotti's ownership style.
John "Mother" Dunn, the Ravens' assistant strength and conditioning coach, has been around enough NFL teams to know a good organization, or at least a good dining facility, when he sees one. None of the five other teams he's worked for, he says, has a dining program that compares to the Ravens'.
"Not even close," Dunn says. "We're talking vending machines."
But even players such as linebacker Paul Kruger who have never been with another team get the message about how the Ravens look after their own.
"I can't imagine getting anything better," Kruger says.