Joe Skinner stepped off the light-rail train, checked his options like a quarterback surveying the line of scrimmage and made his call: a $13.50 Smack Shack lobster roll with cucumber, lemon aioli sauce and a touch of tarragon on toast. Leslie Gisi opted for an $8 "Hangover Hash" medley of eggs, broccoli and hash browns, while her buddy, Marc Huber, spent the same amount at the Stanley's food truck for what he said was a no-brainer: smoked brisket nachos.
So began the new era in Minnesota Vikings pre-game cuisine dubbed railgating.
Thirteen food trucks lined up side-by-side along the light-rail tracks near the Metrodome on Sunday morning for what Mayor R.T. Rybak hopes will inspire residents to leave the chip and dip by the couch and head downtown. It's the first of a series of steps he hopes will enhance the buzz around the new $975 million stadium coming in 2016.
"This is just what we wanted," Rybak said, checking out the fans lining up for everything from Spam sandwiches to Cajun shrimp baskets with sweet potato waffle fries.
Rybak was pleased to see folks such as Skinner and Lisa Savrie. Neither had game tickets but came to the eastern edge of downtown for the grub. Skinner, a technician at the medical examiner's officer near the Metrodome, rode the light rail from Lake Street, checked his e-mail at the office and chowed down before hitting a downtown bar to watch the Vikings upset San Francisco 24-13.
"Some of these food trucks are just off the chain," he said.
Sarvie rode her bike in from northeast Minneapolis with her daughter and her husband, both of whom were going to the game.
"I just came down to eat," she said, awaiting a beignet at the lime-green camper-turned-Cajun2Geaux truck. "This is like the State Fair, great variety of food and great people-watching."
Rybak said Sarvie and Skinner prove his point that "we're baking a bigger pie here." He acknowledged concerns from bar and restaurant owners, not to mention Vikings concessionaires, who might suffer from the food truck competition. More than 20 trucks are signed up for the next Vikings home game Oct. 7 against Tennessee, which starts at 3:30 p.m. and has food truck operators salivating at the notion of more sales.
The city waived fees to encourage the food trucks to join the railgating debut, but they all had to pack up after kickoff in hopes that post-game traffic would wander down what Rybak calls the Purple Path of 5th Street to downtown eateries and pubs to the west.
Several trucks had generator problems with extra equipment added Sunday. Some needed jumper cables to get power flowing. The Star Tribune parking lot at Portland Avenue and Fifth Street left a concrete chasm between the food trucks and the bulk of tailgaters to the north.
Some owners admitted that the crisp, sun-kissed weather was perfect Sunday -- and that their trucks might need winterizing to make it through the cold end-of-season days when demand might dwindle.
On Day 1, however, all were smiling and police reported no public safety issues, just some congestion from the two-block lane closure.
'This will be a hit'
"Every truck is better than the last," said Shannon Ficker from St. Cloud. "This will be a hit, especially when there's beer."
Rybak said the city is considering selling Minneapolis-brewed beers but licensing, open-container and competition questions have to be sorted out. Smack Shack owner Jordan Thoma doubts beer will be added this season, but Stanley's operator Luke Derheim said negotiations are ongoing.
"We don't want to take away from the bar business," the mayor said.
The scene along 5th Street was filled with good humor and good chow. Mike Hlady, 63, came down from Fisher in northwestern Minnesota to reunite with two of his sons, St. Paul firefighter Matt and 49ers fan Mason from St. Cloud.
"He fell out of bed as a kid and hit his head and has been a 'Niners fan ever since," his dad said with a shrug, as they all shared cheese curds.
Melissa Buganski, a nurse from Shoreview wearing a Randy Moss jersey despite his new employment with the 49ers, wandered down the row of trucks from 5th to Park Avenues, finally settling on red beans and rice. Her husband, Raymond, went for some jambalaya.
"Tacos were too cliché and it's hard to find good Cajun food," he said.
Railgating did provide a new way for Vikings fans to find disappointment. Just as 8-year-old Tiana Kastanos of Rogers was about to get her beignet, which she preferred to call a doughnut, the item was rubbed off the menu. Cajun2Geaux operators Lori and Tim Glover had been up all night preparing their Cajun goodies, selling out their supply of nearly 100 French market doughnuts.
"That's OK," said Tiana, who performed with 5-year-old sister Victoria at halftime as junior cheerleaders. "I got macaroni and cheese over there."
Their mom, Stephanie Kastanos, summed things up: "The variety out here is way better than the selection in the Dome and the prices are better, too."
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767