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Hits and misses: Rating the new food at Target Field

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: April 8, 2014 - 3:57 PM

A new baseball season means a handful of food debuts at Target Field. Here’s a rundown.

Although Andrew Zimmern has dropped the sensational goat burger out of the rotation at his ballpark AZ Canteen stand (section 119), he makes up for the loss with a trio of gotta-try newcomers. Why fool around with a mere hot dog when a ridiculously outsized slab of pork belly ($10) awaits? (Seriously, on the portions front, it probably exceeds the Surgeon General’s monthly bacon-consumption guideline).

As it hits the grill, the celery juice-cured meat (from Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, Minn.) bastes in its own shimmering fat until it reaches a optimum crispy-chewy stature. The bun gets a swipe of boisterous jalapeño jelly, and the crowning touch is a vinegar-ey cabbage-carrot slaw, its bright acidity elbowing a dent in the pork’s richness. It is, in a word, phenomenal.

Another winner is the Canteen’s smoked beef sandwich ($12). Think tender, slightly pink brisket and shoulder (twin cuts, get it?) that’s cured for 10 days, smoked and then shaved thin and generously piled on a buttered, toasted bun. There’s more of that excellent coleslaw, and a sauce of garlic and mellow dried Hatch chiles sweetened with maple syrup. Really nice, as are the crispy, super-seasoned cottage fries.

The stand — overseen with a watchful eye by chef Asher Miller — is also serving up what’s easily Target Field’s most refreshing nonalcoholic beverage, a not-too-sweet lemonade ($5) splashed with cool juice from muddled cucumbers and brimming with freshly chopped mint (vodka is available for an additional $3), a concoction that will no doubt prove its thirst-quenching bonafides when temperatures start to soar.

The smoked barbecued beef sandwich ($12.50) at the Carvery (section 126) is no match for the AZ Canteen version. Still, the super-juicy (and super-fatty) meat has a pleasantly smoky aura. It’s sliced to order and stacked to near-absurd heights on what turns out to be an unfortunately forgettable bun.

Meanwhile, the State Fair Classics stand (section 133) continues its novelty noshes theme with a pair of Iron Range delicacies inspired by Valentini’s Supper Club in Chisholm, Minn. The first stuffs peppery shredded porketta into a pair of crispy and, yes, oversized egg rolls ($8), serving them with a decent marinara sauce. The second flattens a generously seasoned meatball, sears it to a deep char, slips it into a drab potato bun and tops it, pizza burger-style ($10), with pepperoni, provolone and that same marinara.

It’s difficult to muster much enthusiasm for either (or for the $9 basket of so-so meatballs at the various Frankie V's stands), particularly when your nose gets a tickle of the tantalizing smoke that heralds the proximity of the Butcher & the Boar stand (section 140).

On Monday’s home opener, chef Peter Botcher — enveloped by that fragrant nimbus and the sounds of juices spattering against the grill’s hot coals — was painting hefty slabs of beef ribs ($12.50) with broad strokes from a wide, sauce-clogged brush. Talk about showmanship: Botcher totally upstaged the action down on the field, although the Twins’ 8-3 takedown by the Oakland A’s wasn’t much competition.

The meat, glazed in a sticky-sweet-spicy barbecue sauce and chopped into manageable pieces, barely hangs on the bone, and nearly each bite offers a bit of blackened crispiness chased by next-to mouth-melting tenderness. A few sweet pickle chips are tossed in to act as a kind of palate cleanser. A fork is provided, but this is definitely an eat-with-your-fingers delicacy. And a Target Field don’t-miss experience.

After several seasons of enduring dreadful ice cream, Target Field ticket holders will be thrilled to encounter a modest Izzy’s Ice Cream scoop stand (section 114), stocked with eight made-in-the-Twin Cities flavors of lusciously chilly goodness.

The good news is that co-owners Jeff Sommers and Lara Hammel are featuring their sublime salted caramel and divine (literally) “Church Elder Berry,” a rose-colored, five-berry (strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and elderberry) treat, originally formulated for Methodist dining hall at the Minnesota State Fair.

The not-so-great news is the price. A single scoop — capped with the shop’s signature “Izzy scoop,” a second, more diminutive dollop — goes for $7, served in a cone or a cup. Then again, sticker shock has been an integral part of the beer-buying economics at the House of Joe Mauer from the get-go, so paying a premium for premium ice cream is a relatively easy justification.

Memo to the Twins executive suite: More vendors along the lines of AZ Canteen, Butcher & the Boar and Izzy’s, please.

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