Yes, there's plenty of good food at Target Field. I don't know that I'd go so far as to invoke the word "locavore" when describing the ballpark's food offerings, but there was definitely an effort on the part of the Twins and catering partner Delaware North Sportservice to give the facility a unique Minnesota flavor profile.
That meant tapping a local sausage maker (Kramarczuk, in northeast Minneapolis) to provide first-rate bratwurst, putting wild rice (the state's official grain) front and center (in a delicious cream of wild rice soup, produced by Lunds and Byerly's), replicating famous dishes from nearby restaurants (a steak sandwich from Murray's, a stuffed burger from Vincent) and borrowing from the annual food-fest that is the Minnesota State Fair (cheese curds, pork chops on a stick).
Sometimes the local connection is more symbolic than anything else (invoking Twins legend Tony Oliva's name and Cuban heritage and attaching them to a Cuban sandwich, for example). Whatever the degree, it was a savvy marketing and menu-planning strategy, and it's often well-executed (Find my 10 favorite Target Field foods here).
That's not to say that the shiny new House of Joe Mauer doesn't have its concession issues. Here are some of my gripes, in no particular order.
1. Why is the cocoa so lousy? Should you find yourself in front of a Hot Beverages kiosk, don’t waste the $3 on the watery, flavorless hot chocolate (although, in its defense, it did arrive as advertised: hot, which will come in handy on those chilly April game days). This lapse in goodness is a mystery. The ballpark's coffee vendor is Caribou Coffee, which recently introduced a fantastic new line of hot chocolates, made using Guittard chocolate. steamed milk and real whipped cream. So why does the ballpark's cocoa have a total Swiss Miss vibe? Oh, and don't bother with the kiosk's oddly rubbery and aftertaste-laden biscotti ($3) either.
Overpriced, underwhelming: The soft-serve ice cream at Target Field. Would you pay $5 for this?
2. Here's the thing: The ballpark doesn’t do sweets terribly well. Witness the flavorless, oddly textured soft-serve ice cream ($4 and $5) at the North Shore Creamery stands. Memo to the Twins' front office: There’s this revolutionary new product called frozen yogurt; find it. Better yet, call up the folks at Sebastian Joe’s, Izzy’s, Sonny’s, the Pumphouse Creamery or Grand Ole Creamery and get scooping some great made-in-Minnesota ice cream.
3. Another dog on the sugar front: A cup of dreary, flavorless pre-packaged chocolate-chip cookies ($3), imported from Pennsauken, N.J. Yeah, New Jersey! Why not just settle for Chips Ahoy and call it a day? (Actually, they would be an improvement). Here’s a better idea: Cut a deal with Lucia Watson at Lucia’s Restaurant, maker of arguably the city’s most incredible chocolate-chip cookie, a big, buttery beauty packed with top-drawer Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate. Watson sells them for a buck at her Uptown Minneapolis bakery; I'd happily pay $3 for one at Target Field. Forget about the Racino; heck, that $2 price difference could probably fund a new Vikings stadium.
4. As long as I'm talking sweets, how about the Espresso/Bakery carts? Nice thought, so-so execution. A small pastry case offers up fancy-looking single-serving desserts, including tiramisu, red velvet cupcakes and fudgy, caramel-coated brownies. But are they worth $4.50 a pop? I'm going to go with "No." It does make me wonder, with Target's presence hanging at every turn, why the mega-retailer hasn't set up a stand to hawk its Choxie line of chocolates. (It's not a stretch: the store's Market Pantry beer-steamed brats are sold at the ballpark's Hennepin Grille, and they're delicious). Or here's a thought: How about selling Salted Nut Rolls and Nut Goodies? They're made in St. Paul by Pearson's Candy Co., and as candy bars go, they don't get much more Minnesotan than that.
5. All the chatter about localizing the ballpark’s food offerings kind of flies out to left field, literally, when that corner of the action is dominated by a gigantic Budweiser sign. I guess a Minnesota-brewed beer wasn’t willing or able to pony up the dough for that kind of action. Still, it’s to the Twins’ credit that local names like Summit, Grain Belt and Finnegans are being poured throughout the ballpark. That Bud terrace looks amazing, thanks, but make mine a Schell's.
6. Should a bottle of water really cost $3.75? Or, worse, $4? Come on. It's water.
7. Here's a little tip, from me to you: If you see the Senor Smokes sign, keep going. A pair of hard-shell beef tacos, finished with chopped iceberg and bottled picante sauce, has all the pizazz of a school cafeteria's Taco Tuesday.
8. Don't get me started on the stand's beef tortas. The empanadas (above) are even worse, they should be renamed Greasy Gutbombs. They underscore a point about deep-frying and Target Field. Best to avoid it altogether. Frying is an art, and it hasn't been mastered -- at least not yet -- by the legions of friendly, eager-to-please volunteer concession workers.
9. OK, Michelle Obama would be all over the idea of a fresh fruit at the junk-food haven that is Target Field. Me too, to a point. The price is right, just $1.50 for a Granny Smith apple or a fist-sized orange, and a fruit cup (melon, grapes, pineapple) goes for a reasonable $4. But that's the best a half-billion-dollar entertainment facility can do? How's about setting up a collaboration with the produce department at the Wedge Co-op? The store is less than two miles from home plate, and I bet they've got some delicious, seasonally minded suggestions for feeding health-conscious Twins fans.
10. Finally, I wish I could say that I got a crack at tasting the Dinger Dog -- my nomination for the worst-named food item at the ballpark (As hot dogs go, it's larger than your standard-issue dog, but shorter than a foot-long). But after standing in line for 25 minutes (and that's after I paid), I gave up and moved on; the kitchen was having a serious meltdown. Hopefully those service kinks will be worked out before opening day on Monday.
Have you visited Target Field? Which foods did you enjoy eating? Which made a less-than-favorable impression?