The reset button has been hit on the Metropolitan Club.
If that’s an unfamiliar name, there’s a reason: The gathering spot, perched above the outfield at Target Field, spent eight years as a season ticketholders’-only space, its popularity waning with each successive baseball season (remember the all-you-can-eat buffet? Anyone?).
Earlier this month, its reincarnation debuted. Great-looking Bat & Barrel is now open to anyone with a Target Field ticket, a wonderfully egalitarian nod from what is already a fan-centric ballpark.
It’s an honest-to-goodness restaurant, with table service (from super-friendly servers bearing efficient iPad ordering devices), cocktails, a great beer list and a wide-ranging menu. What’s not to like? If it weren’t high above the most well-tended stretch of Kentucky bluegrass in the seven-county metro area, it would rank as one of the city’s more energetic sports bars.
Delaware North, the catering giant behind Twins Territory food and drink, has taken a local’s approach to the menu, with chef Kurt Chenier borrowing dishes from a handful of local restaurants, then tweaking the recipes to adapt to the pressures of a kitchen facing 400 hungry diners arriving at basically the same time.
From Ike’s Food & Cocktails, there’s a well-appointed double-decker cheeseburger, and a two-fisted fried chicken sandwich — bearing some not-kidding-around heat overtones — hails from Red Cow. Both impress.
Murray’s, that bastion of old-world Minneapolis hospitality, chimes in with the menu’s biggest talker: a $59 steak. It isn’t popular, yet (“So far, I think we’ve sold more of them to food critics than anyone else,” Chenier said with a laugh), but it should be, despite that Gold Card price. Yeah, that’s some serious stadium sticker shock, but the 10-ounce beast can easily feed two, even three. And it’s delicious. It arrived cooked precisely to order; it cut like a dream. Each bite was infused with a just-right hint of smoke, and Chenier wisely dolls up the bland tenderloin cut with a blue cheese crust and a bacon wrap.
Chenier has a sense for the trendy. A pretty poke — velvety tuna marinated in ginger and soy, and colorfully finished with pineapple and avocado — hails from Baja Haus in Wayzata, and he’s also serving (via Hell’s Kitchen) a cheese-laden, double-decker Impossible Burger, the plant-based burger that comes remarkably close to replicating its beefy counterpart. There are classics, too: crispy-skinned (and generously seasoned) chicken wings and chili-slathered nachos.
A few entries don’t quite work. Slider-scaled, Cheddar-topped burgers (a Crave contribution) were the dining equivalent of a yawn, and the delectable texture and flavor contrasts that make the monster portion of chicken Parmesan ($21) at Red Rabbit didn’t quite materialize in its ballpark iteration.
In this group-friendly environment, it would be great to see more gastropub-like snacks — shareable charcuterie and cheese platters, for instance — and the desserts (all involving ice cream and clearly designed for efficiency) aren’t worth the calories. And following the example of that artful poke, perhaps less emphasis on the deep fryer. Does the world need another walleye fingers-and-fries basket?
No one will ever mistake Bat & Barrel as a bargain, although the prices ($13 to $16 for sandwiches paired with crispy beer-battered fries, $9 to $19 for appetizers, $8 for eight thoughtful, vegetable-focused side dishes) aren’t out of bounds, either.
Chenier also operates a counter-service spot inside B&B, and its small, ballpark-like menu is a step above the usual stadium fare. It’s also different from the rest of the restaurant: cheese curds, brats, wraps, a few salads, a poutine with a mountain of shredded beef brisket, a shrimp-heavy ceviche served with tons of tortilla chips.
Shea Design of Minneapolis has deftly re-imagined the Metropolitan’s enormous footprint. The space now makes a lot more sense, starting with a new eye-catching entrance on the main concourse, complete with a handy elevator and glass-enclosed staircase.
The central bar is topped by enormous screens that deliver an up-close-and-personal view of the game, and when the weather finally starts cooperating, the tall glass walls facing the ball field can be retracted, garage-door style, pulling the game’s energy inside. Shea has inserted all kinds of fascinating (and occasionally amusing) baseball-themed visual touches, without kitsching up the place into a Coopers- town iteration of the Hard Rock Cafe. Oh, and B&B sports the ballpark’s most comfortable restrooms.
Season-ticketholders continue to enjoy a few perks, namely the ability to reserve seats, both inside and out on the terrace overlooking the playing field. (Because it’s located in a facility scrupulously designed to separate consumers from their money, there’s a catch to those premium open-air seats: a $5 fee, and a $20 food/drink minimum.) But mere mortals can also enjoy B&B’s roomy, comfortable cocktail bar — it’s a reservations-free zone, as is its small outdoor terrace, which overlooks Target Plaza — and the place continues to serve for an hour after the game ends.
In the stands
As is the Twins ownership’s habit, a new season means a few food-and-drink tweaks throughout the ballpark, an admirable effort that keeps the experience from growing stale.
The big news this year is the introduction of the Holy Land universe (Section 107), the northeast Minneapolis destination for all flavors Middle Eastern. Snackers will enjoy the pile of fried pita chips served with a creamy (if slightly bland) hummus that’s garnished with a fruity olive oil and a shake of paprika; it’s a fine alternative to a bag of peanuts.
Kudos to the pita wrap stuffed with well-seasoned chicken shawarma, a garlicky yogurt sauce and tons of crunchy, vinegary pickles ($11.50), but the gyro version ($11.50) is less impressive, the thinly shaved meat a bit on the dull side, and the garnishes pulled from the rote tomato-lettuce-cucumber circuit.
Hot Indian Foods (Section 120), known outside Twins Territory as a popular food truck (and Midtown Global Market destination), continues to lend its street-food smarts. This year, it’s all about a spectacular, coconut-scented rice bowl ($11), tossing silky tofu and earthy mushrooms in a sweet-hot curry sauce and finishing with a colorful and crunchy carrot-cabbage slaw. It’s lively and filling and goes against every clichéd barb against the word “vegan,” and also makes me daydream about all the other food truck partnerships that could blossom in the ballpark.
I’ll admit that I still miss the terrific carnitas tacos that Barrio sold a few seasons back and the dazzling Korean fried chicken sandwich that was, for a brief and shining moment, the pillar experience at the first-rate Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen. The stand wasn’t open during this month’s pre-blizzard visits, which means I didn’t get a crack at its new chicken rice bowl and beef rice bowl. Next time.
On a particularly chilly afternoon, it was easy to take refuge in the “Hot Chocolate” signs hanging all over, but caveat emptor. Target Field’s idea of hot chocolate is warm water mixed with a sugary mystery powder. As a cup-shaped hand warmer, it worked. But the weak, fake-tasting concoction was the equivalent of thinking you were pouring half-and-half into your coffee but mistakingly grabbing the carton of skim. Charging a rip-off $3.50 is the topper.
Also depressing is the proliferation of Papa John’s single-serving heat-and-serve pizzas ($10.50); really, Target Field, you couldn’t at least go with a local frozen ’za? Heggies, headquartered in Milaca, Minn., makes pretty awesome pies. I also remain unconvinced of the appeal of shelling out $4.50 for a smallish cup filled with greasy SuperMom’s mini-doughnuts. In a city blessed with gifted doughnut makers, this is the best you can do?
It’s too bad that the ballpark’s biggest bargain — $1 hot dogs — is limited to a Wednesday-only schedule. And as long as I’m ranting, what’s with those kitchen-sink Bloody Marys served at Hrbek’s (Section 114), the ones garnished with the contents of a smallish delicatessen? Sure, the towering pile-on is total Instagram-bait, but novelty isn’t everything. Whatever happened to concentrating on delicious?
The biggest downer is the red Budweiser sign that looms from seemingly every vantage point. Yes, Target Field does an admirable job of reflecting Minnesota’s craft beer boom (although the prices, sheesh!), and yet the facility’s most prominent sign — after Minnie and Paul, of course — hails the self-proclaimed King of Beers. Of St. Louis, Mo. Money talks, right?