It’s probably not accurate to characterize the food-and-drink offerings at the new U.S. Bank Stadium as everything $1.1 billion can buy. The gigantic effort to feed 66,000 purple-clad people at the same time is bound to lead to some disappointments, and U.S. Bank Stadium is no exception.
But Aramark, the concessions giant that won the contract to run the all-important catering operations at the new home of the Minnesota Vikings, has made some savvy connections with local chefs.
The results frequently redefine the gameday experience, advancing it in exciting new directions. All memories of dreary Metrodome fare have been erased.
Aramark has wisely recruited local talent along the lines of Andrew Zimmern, Gavin Kaysen and Thomas Boemer, and their novel approach to stadium fare is winning, big time. Find the best — and avoid the worst — using our rankings.
Yes, it’s worth the inevitable wait. And, yes, it’s the same recipe that has made chef Thomas Boemer’s south Minneapolis restaurant such a talker. The crackle of the skin, the prodigious juiciness of the meat, it’s all there, and then some. Live a little and order the hot (as in, two-alarm) version. Best to buy it by the two-piece bucket ($16), because the sandwich ($12) is served on a dullard of a bun, one that isn’t worthy of Boemer’s handicraft. Another must is the full-bodied, caramel-tinted Slawhammer ale ($10.25), brewed by Bauhaus Brew Labs to pair with Revival’s signature achievement. Which it does, beautifully.
Location: Section 111
2. Lamb at AZ Canteen Rotisserie
This best-in-show stand — the work of Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” — is already changing the perception of stadium fare. If it were a restaurant in, say, the North Loop, it would be a runaway hit. “We put our best foot forward, not despite the fact that it’s a stadium, but because it’s a stadium,” said Zimmern. “People expect better food these days.” The element of surprise works beautifully here. How many other American professional sports venues feature cumin-marinated, slow-roasted lamb shoulder, the succulent meat ribboned with tasty fat? It’s sold by the shareable platter ($15, $20) or in a spectacular sandwich ($15), topped with a lively cucumber-Greek yogurt sauce. Fantastic.
Location: Section 121
3. Pork at AZ Canteen Rotisserie
Again, the crew goes above and beyond (and the effort shows), giving pork shoulder an overnight cure, then rubbing it with paprika, black pepper and other aromatics. During roasting, it’s basted with vinegar and brown sugar to insert a hint of just-right bitterness, then the tender meat is sliced thin and gets the same treatment as the lamb: on a platter ($15, $20) or in another swoon-inducing sandwich ($15), this time finished with tangy onions and a minty slaw. Wow.
Location: Section 121
4. Chicken at AZ Canteen Rotisserie
A very different animal from Revival, and just as satisfying. Rather than being fried, it’s roasted, yielding a crisped-up skin and plentiful, well-seasoned meat. Once again, it’s available for sharing ($15, $20) or in a sandwich ($12) format. The latter piles on plenty of pulled meat, charred onions and eggplant and a vibrant harissa-red pepper sauce that’s not so out there that a finicky Minnesotan won’t enjoy it. Even the bun is right on the money, a buttered and toasted golden-brown beauty from St. Paul’s Saint Agnes Baking Co. What’s missing? The refreshing and imaginative nonalcoholic drinks that Zimmern serves at his Target Field stand.
Location: Section 121
5. Prairie Dog at Prairie Dogs
So good that every time one is ordered, that crazy Gjallarhorn should blare in celebration. Just as they do at their Lyn-Lake restaurant, Prairie Dogs co-owners Tobie Nidetz and Craig Johnson have this Chicago ritual down to an art form, scrupulously presenting their own snappy-skinned, all-beef dogs in a strict Windy City-style format. It’s a veritable garden on a bun, with diced onion, dill pickles, sliced tomato and peppers, plus yellow mustard, celery salt and the all-important green relish. Like the stand’s other over-the-top hot-dog concoctions (try the one with bacon-onion jam and purple potato chips) it’s $12, and totally worth it. “Prairie Dogs is the closest you can get to Addison and Clark [Chicago’s Wrigley Field] without a ticket,” said Nidetz. Soldier Field, too.
Location: Section 122
6. Brats at Kramarczuk’s
There’s not a lot of Target Field-U. S. Bank Stadium food crossover, but this is a smart one. Because what says “Minneapolis” more than a sizzling, sauerkraut-smothered ode to pork from one of the city’s enduring family-owned food purveyors?
Location: Sections 140, 336
7. Beef tenderloin sandwich at Ike’s
For a little off-field dramatics, check out this stand, brought to you by the folks at Ike’s Food & Cocktails in downtown Minneapolis, Minnetonka and Bloomington. Watch as someone with superior knife skills carves into an herb-crusted, medium-rare, pink-in-the-center slab of beef tenderloin to order, shearing off a juicy trio of 2-ounce slices. The other building blocks are just right: a spot-on onion bun (from Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery in Bloomington) and sweet grilled onions that play well against a lively horseradish-infused mayonnaise. As a sort-of homage ($12) to the legacy of Charlie’s Cafe Exceptionale, it’s as old-school as it gets, and it’s terrific.
Location: Sections 119, 329
8. Italian sausage sandwich at AZ Canteen Hoagies
This remarkable stand — a collaboration between Zimmern and Gavin Kaysen, chef/owner of Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis — cranks out gold-standard portable fare. This beauty is a pinwheeled coil of parsley-packed sausage (made by Lorentz Meats in Cannon Falls, Minn., and a callback to a favorite from Zimmern’s New York City childhood), each bite popping with aged provolone and fennel. The topper is a flurry of sweet-hot red and yellow peppers and zesty pepperjack cheese, a flavor wallop that’s delivered on a toasted bun slathered in garlic butter. Fifteen bucks is a lot to ask for a (gigantic) sandwich, but this is no rip-off.
Location: Section 344
9. Pork sandwich at AZ Canteen Hoagies
Picture this: fennel-perfumed porchetta, sliced thin (and juiced up with pork broth fashioned from leftover bones from Red Table Meat Co. in northeast Minneapolis) and stacked high across on a sturdy roll. That would be more than fine all on its own, but then comes crunchy, vinegary pickled veggies (surely the first time the words “broccoli raab” have been invoked in a football stadium) and a mild provolone. Genius, at $15 a pop.
Location: Section 344
10. Frozen Hot Chocolate at AZ Canteen Rotisserie and AZ Canteen Hoagies
Another sharp example of Zimmern’s restaurant-cooking mentality in a stadium setting (“I paid $20 for a powdered hot chocolate at the Super Bowl, and I never forgot,” he said) is this ode to the cups of frozen chocolate milk sold at stadiums past. It’s essentially a frozen chocolate mousse, and how can that go wrong? It’s luscious and creamy, with a welcome bittersweet undertone, and the garnish, white chocolate-coated Rice Krispies, is spot-on. It’s also highly shareable, making its $8 price more palatable.
Location: Sections 121 and 344
11. Banana cream pie at Revival
Another must-try dessert, this time a single-serving approximation of the same Southern delicacy that’s served at the south Minneapolis restaurant. As with all cream pies worth their weight in calories, it’s notably fresh, appropriately garnished (dark chocolate, caramel) and brazenly irresistible. The $10 price? A tad steep, but justified.
Location: Section 111
12. Smoky Chicken Nachos at Twin City Foodies
It’s another inspired stadium idea: asking a handful of noteworthy chefs to contribute street food-esque fare. The topper is the clever play on nachos ($10) from chef Matt Bickford of Icehouse in Minneapolis. The emphasis on fresh, bold flavors is an immeasurable improvement over the mystery-cheese version that’s widely available throughout the stadium.
Location: Section 101
Jerk-Style Bacon Sandwich at Twin City Foodies
On paper, it’s genius: a decadent double slab of spiced-up, crisped-edged pork belly, stuffed into a bun ($10). But the stadium crew’s execution fell flat. The tenuously seasoned meat was mostly fat, and it was a race to the bottom between the dullard of a bun and the supermarket-style coleslaw
Location: Section 101
Fire & Rice
It’s a trendy idea that’s seemingly ripped from the food truck scene: big, hearty rice bowls ($10). But there’s a lost-in-translation vibe here. The veggies, pulled from what appeared to be a Green Giant medley, were cooked into near-oblivion, and an alleged “curry” sauce could have been plucked from a Lutheran church basement potluck. Better? The canned beers from Summit, Surly and Lift Bridge, although their $10.25 price tag isn’t easy to swallow.
Location: Sections 118, 310
Stone Arch Pizza Co.
The name suggests that one of Minneapolis’ leading pizzerias has been tapped to keep the Purple Horde in pepperoni. Wrong. Instead, it’s wildly overpriced slices ($8.50!) of Freschetta. Yes, the available-in-your-supermarket’s-freezer-case Freschetta. Granted, it’s from the Schwan Food Co. in Marshall, Minn., so there’s the local connection, but that’s a pretty flimsy standard. A $1.1 billion facility deserves better.
Location: Sections 134, 307
It’s nice to see this local player veering out of its comfort zone and offering spiked coffee drinks (make mine a cold press with Kahlúa and vodka, thanks). It’s also lovely to encounter a rare non- alcoholic beverage. But really, $7 for hot chocolate? Particularly one so timid that it has all the punch of a brown Crayola dipped in warm milk?
Location: Section 136
612 Burger Kitchen
There’s a lot to admire here. The burgers are built with hefty, obviously hand-formed patties, and call upon rich, sturdy buns. The cheese is gooey American, and instead of fries there are piping hot Tater Tots. But asking $14.50 for a single-patty fast-food burger (and $16.50 for a double) is more than a stretch. Those prices might be justified by adding a little more love, like toasting the bun, or delving into garnishes beyond basic ketchup, mustard and raw onion.
Location: Sections 143, 339
So great to see yet another familiar marquee (OK, the mini-chain is out of Texas, but with Minneapolis and St. Paul outposts), and tacos make for excellent stadium fare. These are no exception. There are three choices: feisty shrimp with tons of crunchy red cabbage and cilantro, crispy fried chicken with a punchy coleslaw or slow-roasted, chile-crusted pork with a cool pineapple relish. First-rate hot sauces, too, ranging from tomatillo (Minnesota-esque mild) to habañero (scorching). The only downside, and it’s a big one, is the format: strictly a three-tacos-for-$15 package deal.
Location: Section 310
North Star Grill
The place for Stadium 101-esque burgers, hot dogs and deep-fried delicacies. And it’s five bucks for an ice cream sandwich, one so forgettable that it can be had at any convenience store for a fraction of the price. The stadium’s frequently unimaginative approach to sweets is as frustrating as the scarcity of stand-up tables in the concourses. It’s also an oversight that could be easily rectified with a partnership by one of the many talented ice cream makers fattening up the populace of the seven-county metro area. Hey, Vikings, here’s a few ideas: Sonny’s Ice Cream, Pumphouse Creamery, Sebastian Joe’s, Izzy’s Ice Cream, Grand Ole Creamery, Milkjam Creamery, Honey & Mackie’s and LaLa Homemade Ice Cream. Call one of them.
Location: Sections 103, 124,132, 304, 313, 328, 345