After two World Series victories and nearly three decades of playing indoors, Twins fans’ long wait for outdoor baseball officially ends at 3:10pm today, when the first pitch is thrown for the home opener against the Boston Red Sox at freshly constructed Target Field. Hometown hero Joe Mauer is locked in for the next eight years; LEED-certified Target Field, with its facade formed of native Mankato limestone, has been declared the greenest ballfield in Major League Baseball; and the Twins have made an exhaustive effort to provide “regional flavors” at the ballpark’s concession stands. That’s all well and good, but will fans forgive the Twins for giving up the much beloved, “must have” Dome Dog, an all-beef Hormel-brand hot dog paired with a bag of Old Dutch potato chips? We think so. Here’s a quick run down of the options available at Target Field.
1. Hormel’s Dome Dog (with its trusty sidekick Old Dutch Potato Chips) is out. Schweigert‘s plumper, juicier quarter-pound all-beef Twins Big Dog and its companion Barrel O’ Fun Potato Chips ($5.25) from Perham, MN are in. The soggy bun is gone, too, replaced by a bun that seems sturdier and doesn’t tear apart with your first bite. Hot dog aficionados have a dizzying array of options, including the Original Twins Dog — a pork and beef dog made from the same recipe as the hot dogs served in the Twins’ pre-Dome outdoor ball field, Met Stadium; the Dugout Dog, a pork and beef dog in a natural casing; and the Dinger Dog, an extra-long pork and beef hot dog. Old Dutch hasn’t been completely banished from the new ballpark: Old Dutch is the tortilla chip of choice for the nachos, both regular ($4.75) and grande ($8.50). If hot dogs are too pedestrian for your tastes, Northeast Minneapolis’ own Kramarczuk’s Sausage Company is grilling their bratwurst, Polish, and Hungarian (a paprika-spiced sausage made of pork) sausages ($6.50) on site.
2. Though Budweiser prominently sponsors the roof deck (complete with fire pit that, together with the various outdoor grills, sends puffs of smoke wafting around the stadium), as well as the “Thirst Inning,” St. Paul’s Summit Extra Pale on tap and New Ulm’s Grain Belt Premium in the (plastic) bottle are back. According to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, 34 beers are on offer at Target Field, with prices ranging from $6 to $9. Gone is the old Metrodome pricing scheme where all tap beers, even premium brews, are priced identically.
3. If it’s a sandwich you seek, your options are numerous. Tony O’s Cuban Sandwich with Chips ($9) (named for Twins’ great Tony Oliva) was our favorite food item of the day, with its crusty, toasted bread, melty Swiss cheese, ham, roasted pork, and snappy thinly sliced pickles. Minneapolis-based Vincent Restaurant‘s Vincent Burger ($12) — decadent, stuffed with gooey smoked gouda and braised short rib — was solid: “Like a pot roast sandwich,” said one taster. Though we were tempted, we didn’t have enough room to try the Steak Sandwich with Garlic Toast ($10.50) from Minneapolis’ Murray’s Restaurant, but we did overhear the anguished cry, “What, no steak sauce?” of a fan who’d discovered the concessions had run out by the eighth inning. Other sandwiches that tempted us: Mexican torta ($8.5o), Italian meatball ($8.50), and pulled pork ($6.5o).
4. All that glistens is not gold. The Walleye Fingers with Fries ($9.50), for instance, were, unnaturally shaped like a McNuggets and unappealingly laden with grease. An immediate disappointment. One taster said, “It’s amazing how something this greasy can taste so dry.” I wished I’d opted for the Chicken Tenders with Fries ($7.50), which looked crispy and golden. The battered and deep-fried Cheese Curds ($4.75) looked adorable in their paper Leinenkugel’s-branded canoe, but one patron exclaimed, “That’s it?” upon being handed his order. I imagine he was expecting his cheese curds State Fair style: piled so high you always lose at least one…SPLAT!
5. If you’re bored by dogs, burgers, sandwiches, and foodstuffs battered and fried, it will still take you several games to work your way through all of your options. The Beef Tacos ($5 for two), Beef Burritos ($8.50), and Empanada ($8) all sounded interesting, all from the Señor Smokes stand named for beloved ’87 World Series hero and setup man Juan Berenguer. The State Fair booth boasted a Wild Acres Roasted Turkey Leg ($9.50) and Roasted Corn ($3) with char marks that whispered something primal to my inner cavewoman. I couldn’t find Minneapolis’ J.D. Hoyt‘s Pork Chop on a Stick, but I expect it would have similar primal appeal. And, of course, what is baseball without pizza ($6 for a slice; $18 for an entire pie), Calzones ($8), or Italian Chopped Salad ($8), all available at the Frankie V’s stand, named after Frankie “Sweet Music” Viola, Twins’ World Series MVP Pitcher? I plan to head for Minneapolis-based Loon Cafe‘s Ballpark Loon Chili ($6) and Lunds & Byerly’s Wild Rice Soup with Almonds ($6) at the merest hint of cool or inclement weather. I heard rumors of Asian Noodles somewhere, but didn’t run across them at Target Field or see them on the Twins’ online concession guide.
6. Dairy Queen is out, but the Ice Cream Helmet Sundae ($5) is back, as is the Waffle Cone ($5), but with Land O’Lakes’ soft-serve ice cream. North Mankato’s Angie’s Kettle Corn ($5) is roasted on site. We found the Carrot Cake ($4.50) and a Brownie ($3.75) from the Espresso / Bakery stand perfectly adequate, but not worth going out of our way for.
Twins Fans can say goodbye to Dome Dogs. And Astroturf. And straining to see fly balls against the white Teflon surface of the Dome. For good.
UPDATE, April 16, 2010:
We’ve finally had our chance to try the Murray’s Steak Sandwich with Garlic Toast ($10.50). The lines were long, and our wait for our sandwich, once ordered, was three minutes. The man in line behind me leaned in and said: “This will be worth the wait.” And, strictly from a gastronomic perspective, it was: tender slices of steak and a slice of melted provolone cheese, smothered in caramelized fried onions and served on a chewy ciabatta roll from Franklin Street Bakery. The garlic toast on the side was buttery and brittle, though too heavy on the salt. The portion of meat looked scant compared to the size of the roll, but it was satisfying, nevertheless. Still no steak sauce, though. When we asked, the cashier shrugged: “We don’t have any.” The good news is, the sandwich didn’t need it. The real question, though, is, the wait, and the price, worth it? The wait? Not if you really cared about baseball and the Twins were at bat. The price? At $10.50, the Murray’s Steak Sandwich with Garlic toast is exactly twice the price of a Twins Big Dog with Chips. The answer might just depend upon whether you’re here for the food, or here for the baseball.