Ballpark cuisine is going Minnesotan.
We're talking pork chops on a stick, walleye on a stick and cheese curds a la State Fair. But we're also talking wild rice soup, Juicy Lucy burgers and a Murray's steak sandwich that marries ballpark grub with Minneapolis steakhouse fare.
After sampling dozens of Minnesota eateries and taking on the gastronomical feat of the State Fair, company executives of Delaware North Sportservice --the firm in charge of food services at Target Field -- are putting the finishing touches on the menus for the park's 28 concession stands and two restaurants in hopes of catering to the Minnesota palate.
"This will be my 11th opening day of Major League Baseball and my fourth club and I've never seen anything on a stick, except maybe a corn dog, anywhere else," said Pete Spike, general manager of food services at the Twins new outdoor ballpark in downtown Minneapolis. "It's amazing what you can put on a stick. It tastes that much better, I think."
And for wild rice soup, well, it's something you usually don't find outside the area or at a ballgame, Spike said. "There's going to be some cooler days at the new ballpark," he said. "A nice hot bowl of soup is going to taste pretty good."
Still undecided, however, is whether Minnesotan's darling -- the Dome Dog -- will make a comeback at the new park. "It's the Number One question that I get asked," Spike said.
Minnesota's love for the Dome Dog is all about the $5 value price and the quality of the product, he said. The quarter pound, all-beef hotdog, grilled not steamed, is unlike the sodium-heavy dog found in Chicago stadiums, said Spike, who most recently oversaw food service operations for the Chicago White Sox.
But putting the Dome Dog back on the Twins menu isn't a done deal, he said. "The jury is still out," he said.
Pricing also hasn't been decided, Spike said. But food service execs, mindful of the economy's pinch on people's pocketbooks, say they don't want fans choking over food ticket prices.
The tried and true of ballpark fare -- nachos, popcorn, peanuts -- will be there at the park. There also will be gluten-free and vegetarian items. And as for those familiar Minnesotan standards, executive Chef Pastor Jimenez said he'll tweak them with his own special touches. In a further effort to connect with fans, food and drink will be sold at concession stands and restaurants with names that speak of local fare and local sports heroes. For example:
•Mill City Grill will offer the Murray Steak sandwich and walleye fingers.
•Frankie V's [as in Frank Viola] Italian will serve up pizza, calzones and chopped salad.
•North Shore Creamery will sell soft-serve sundaes and Twins helmet sundaes.
•Halsey's [as in sportscaster Halsey Hall] Sausage Haus will feature hot dogs and Italian and Polish sausage.
•Señor Smoke's [as in fastball pitcher Juan Berenguer] brings a little International flare with Panama fare such as empanadas as well as nachos, burritos and tacos.
•Hrbek's, a restaurant behind home plate on the main concourse, will bring you the Rex Burger, a one-half pound burger stuffed with caramelized onions and pepper jack cheese, served on a brioche roll. You can order a side of Bloomington onions -- a special seasoned breaded and fried onion with a nod to Hrbek's hometown.
•Town Ball Tavern will feature its own version of the Juicy Lucy and a walleye sandwich.
The biggest change however, may not be what's being served, but how it's served. When Jimenez returns to his native Mexico, "they catch the fish and prepare it in front of you. It's all about freshness," he said.
In an attempt to bring that experience to the ballpark, Jimenez and Spike said fans can see the food being grilled as they stroll the concourses.
"That's different than many ballparks," Spike said. "It won't come from the mystery heat warmer underneath."
In many parks, Jimenez added, "You don't know where your food has been."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788