The Canadian-born Graves, who played for a decade for the Blueshirts, has become the unofficial mayor of the stadium. He stops to shake hands, make small talk and take photos with cooks, ushers and announcers, in just the first five minutes of our culinary tour of MSG. I can only imagine what happens when the doors open and the fans coming pouring in.
The most amazing thing is that he seems to truly enjoy each encounter and actually makes the effort to say hello to people. He certainly couldn’t be more well suited for his current role as a team ambassador. “This building feels like home,” he told me. And “it’s because of the people. You don’t have to go very far to feel that.”
And that’s not to mention that his love for the Rangers still runs very deep. During the season and playoffs, he’s at the Garden for about 30 games and watches the rest religiously on TV. “Everything is around Rangers hockey,” he admits. When we met up his family was coming to the game that afternoon to celebrate his son’s birthday. “The whole point is that he’s not going to go for lunch. He’s going to come here,” Graves explained. “We can’t wait to grab a burger and sit and watch the game.”
What was the food like during his playing days? “Back in those days you had some bagels and some coffee and maybe some fruit and that’s it,” he remembers. If it was a night game the team would go out for a lunch together near the Garden. But “it’s completely different [now].” These days quite a lot of thought is devoted to the food being served in the locker room to the current crop of Rangers. Graves points out that you’ll find protein shakes, fresh juice and even things like quinoa salad and kale being served. He says you can see the effect of this focus on nutrition and diet in the lightening quick speed of play. “The preparation that they put into the game now, like everything else, has been taken to a different level.”
Even after the game, players no longer have license to binge. “Post-game meals are now as important as pre-game meals,” he says. It’s “imperative that you refuel with the right foods.”
While Graves certainly still finds himself drawn to the stadium, he has no illusions about his ability to still play. “My days have been done for a while. I loved it,” he said. “I always say that wearing that Rangers jersey and playing on Garden ice was and will always be a privilege. But my body was done.”
And on the plus side, “I can say this now because I’m retired, one of my finer talents is eating and this is one of my favorites places to eat.”
Here are his three favorite dishes to order when he’s at a game at the Garden.
JEAN-GEORGES SIMPLY CHICKEN SANDWICH
One of Graves' favorites is this over-stuffed chicken sandwich, which is slathered with spicy mayonnaise, topped with fried onions, basil and house-made pickles, and served on a seeded bun. If you order one, just make sure to take a few extra napkins!
DREW NIEPORENT’S DAILY BACON CHEESEBURGER
“People who are here on a regular basis know about the Daily Burger,” Graves told me. “But the people coming for the first time, I say ‘make sure you leave a little room for a burger.’ And to a person, they say good advice!” It’s no surprise that he loves the burger, since he was on a taste test panel several years ago that helped select the current recipe. Of course, it’s best accompanied by an order of thick and crispy fries.
JEAN-GEORGES MARINATED BEEF SHORT RIBS TACOS
These tacos show just how far the food at the Garden has come. They’re made with slices of short ribs and garnished with habanero relish and onions.