Just like changes to the team roster, there’s a semi-promising new lineup of food and drink offerings at Target Field.
Hats off to the Twins for making an attempt at showcasing Minnesota favorites. For starters, beer. Despite that gigantic Budweiser sign looming over left field, how great is it that local crafters have a place at the Target Field table? I was thrilled to encounter a seemingly endless line queued up the Surly Brewing Co. stand (section 124) for a tall, cold Bandwagon (a caramel-ey West Coast-style I.P.A.. brewed exclusively for Target Field, $7.75 and $8.75).
I also spied fans inside the comfy Town Ball Tavern enjoying glasses of Sweet Child of the Vine, Fulton Brewery’s wonderfully hoppy I.P.A. ($7 and $7.75) brewed just a few blocks from the ballpark. (Tip: During home games, stop by the Fulton tap room — 414 6th Av. N., www.fultonbeer.com — for beer and chow from an ever-rotating platoon of food trucks).
The Vincent Burger — a facsimile of the Gouda- and short ribs-stuffed delicacy served at chef Vincent Francoual’s Nicollet Mall restaurant Vincent — isn’t as widely available as in years past, although it’s still on Town Ball Tavern menu. Instead, all hail the Jucy Lucy-like concoction that is the softball-sized, mozzarella-stuffed “mega meatball” (Frankie V’s Italian, section 122). Plucked from Valentini’s, the landmark supper club in Chisholm, Minn., this year’s biggest attention-getter is well-seasoned, doused in a robust tomato sauce and piping hot. Still, $9 is a lot to ask, not that professional sports venues have ever been shy about separating consumers from their disposable income.
Pity the two sweet, hardworking but obviously inexperienced bartenders — most of the ballpark is staffed by well-meaning volunteers — who were fighting opening day blustery winds (inside Gate 34) while trying to keep up with the steady demand for Big Gingers (pictured, above), the refreshing ginger ale-based cocktail that showcases 2 Gingers whiskey, an Irish import from former Twin Cities pub magnate Kieran Folliard. It’s a tasty libation, no doubt at about that, although $7.75 seems a tad steep for a splash of Schweppes, a lime wedge, ice and a shot of hooch. Even premium hooch.
Another marquee Minnesota hospitality name, Leeann Chin, is camping out in Twins Territory, offering up a pair of Asian-inspired noodle stir-fries (section 126, $8.50). As is often the case, vegetarians are left with the snoozer, but the chicken version, jazzed with a sweet-hot red chile sauce, has slurp-worthy potential, particularly during chilly weather.
Comfort food seems to be a 2012 season leitmotif. The baked potatoes (Gigantic Baked Potato, section 101, $8.50, pictured above) not only double as effective hand-warmers — and healthier alternatives to French fries — but their formula, right down to the sour cream, salsa, bacon bits, Technicolor-tinted molten cheese and other toppings, exude a nostalgia (for 1980s food courts, anyway) that seems suited to baseball. Oh, and the portions? Gigantic.
At first glance, mac-and-cheese and the national pastime don’t seem like a natural fit. But it sort of works, particularly when peppered with a zesty Buffalo-style chicken and browned bread crumbs (Taste of Twins Territory, inside gate 14, $10.75). Better is the stand’s inventive take on the Sloppy Joe ($10, pictured above), a sesame bun stuffed with slow-simmered ground beef and bacon that’s topped with shredded pepper jack cheese and crispy fried onions. It’s a smart, tasty and, yes, sloppy, refuge from the ballpark’s incessant hot dog/hamburger culture.
In the buyer-beware category, I’d skip the overpriced and clumsily prepared garlic- and cheese glop-embellished fries (Hennepin Grille, $8), served in miniature plastic batting helmets. Who among us really wants to schlepp that greasy souvenir back home? Love the idea of deep-fried dill pickle chips (State Fair Classics, outfield, $7), but the over-breaded, fried-into-oblivion results didn’t impress. SuperMom’s bakery is hawking a half-dozen dry, cold mini- doughnuts in a cup (widely available, $5), but stick to the hot-out-of-the-fryer real thing at Lil’ Orbits’ accurately named Hot Fresh Mini Donuts stand (section 134). Same price, too.
The inclusion of the divine, St. Paul-made Salted Nut Roll (widely available) candy bar is definitely cheer-worthy, although the $4 price tag isn’t. It’s also nice to encounter Minnesota-made Barrel O’ Fun and Rachel’s potato chips, which begs the question: Why is Target Field’s ice cream selection (and apologies for beating the baseball metaphors to death) such a definite strike out? Surely someone in the Twins front office is familiar with Izzy’s, Sebastian Joe’s, Sonny’s or some other decent Minnesota-made ice cream. Joe Mauer is a Kemps spokesperson, for goodness sake. Perhaps someone on the payroll of the vanilla-loving catcher should make a few phone calls.