If there’s anything that dulls this reporter’s pains of having just shelled out $450 for a pack of tickets to watch a 99-loss ballclub, it’s the prospect of some new food and drink at the ballpark. Here’s our scorecard of some new bites and sips for you to check out on game day.
Near The Field:
Stand-up Triple: Fulton Brewery Taproom
Open since March 10, the taproom at downtown’s only brewery will be expanding its hours to accommodate ballpark goers. Fulton’s Brian Hoffman tells us the brewery will open two hours before first pitch of all Twins games, except noon games, when they’ll open at 11am. They also plan to cultivate a regular food truck presence at the brewery. Check their website for a full schedule of hours and carts (Barrio Truck and Natedogs are slated for the home opener on Monday).
This is a solid triple. In fact, the only thing keeping this one in the park is the anticipation that pre-games at Fulton will be filled to capacity (this based on crowds we’ve seen at their limited taproom hours so far). But maybe the brewery is just obscured enough behind the stadium to keep the crowds manageable. We’ll be there either way.
Sacrifice Bunt: Cowboy Jack’s Saloon
The newest hitch on the western bar wagon train, Cowboy Jack’s is expanding into the Ahern’s space (the pub-that-never-was) on the corner of 5th Street and North 2nd Avenue on the east side of the stadium. According to owners The After Midnight Group, the new location will open sometime in the spring. Daily happy hour from 3-6pm will feature some $2 rails and cheap appetizers. Other game-day specials will include $3 Bud labels and a $5 bucket of 24 wings.
We score this one a sacrifice bunt – a small positional gain resulting from a negligible loss. It’s been a maddening two years, watching that corner with premiere ballpark proximity get built up just enough to look like a bar but not actually become one. Not that we think the metro is in dire need of another Cowboy Jack’s, but we’re happy that at least something is going in there and taking advantage of that prime rooftop space.
Ground Rule Double: The Vincent Burger
The Vincent Burger, that lovely round of smoked gouda- and short rib-filled deliciousness was one of the premiere items offered stadium-wide for the park’s opening day lineup in 2010. But it has since been relegated to the Metropolitan Club (for season ticket holders) and the Town Ball Tavern (second deck in left field, open to all ticket holders).
“We learned a lot that first year,” says Twins President Dave St. Peter. “To maintain that level of quality we wanted, we had to scale it back a little.” The nature of the jucy lucy means it can’t just be left to sit under heating lamps, so it’s been moved to the “sit-down” areas of the park. But if you get downtown early enough before the game, Vincent has it on his bar happy hour menu weekdays from 4:30–6pm for $8.
Inside The Stadium:
The new 2012 lineup from the Twins’ concession partner, Delaware North Sportservice, is full of highs and lows. For the most part, we think that many of the returning favorites (Murray’s Steak Sandwich, Kramarczuk’s brats, Tony O’s Cubans, and The Minneapple Pie, among others) may still outshine the best of the new bunch. But a select couple of newcomers will definitely make your normal rotation.
Double Down the Line: Food Network’s Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese and Bacon Sloppy Joe
The Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese is a rather bare-bones version. The bread crumbs give it a nice crunch, but the most noticeable flavor through the bite is onion, with the buffalo flavor coming on slowly at the end. We found ourselves for want of Frank’s Red Hot or something to give the dish a more pronounced kick. But it’s sure to appeal to a wide range of fans.
The Bacon Sloppy Joe (above) might be the biggest revelation of the new menu items. We were ready to deride what looked on paper like a half-hearted contribution to the bacon-in-everything fad. Not so. The bacon flavor is pronounced but well balanced with the beef. And it’s not too sloppy either, an essential plus for ballpark portability. In fact, the sandwich is as neat, trim and hearty as Joe Mauer’s sideburns. It’s served with a pickle and Fritos for you Sloppy Joe purists.
At $10.75 and $10 (or $16.50 for a combo plate) neither could be considered a value. They are, however, very solid efforts and should be among the first of the new menu items you try this year.
Pop-up to Shortstop: Deep-fried Pickles
Available from the State Fair Classics stand, deep-fried pickle chips from The Preferred Pickle come with a side of ranch. They score points for not being too greasy and having a nice crunchy bite. They fall short, however, on being sliced too thin. The pickles become emaciated inside the crunchy shell and the pickle flavor is lost in the breading. Not bad in a vacuum, but not even close when you compare them to, say, those at The Blue Door Pub.
The vastly superior breaded-fried vegetable on the block is the new Panko-crusted zucchini found at the Town Ball Tavern (below, left). Served with a spot-on, tangy lemon aioli, the lighter breading takes a backseat to the zucchini flavor. And though they’re cut into floppy strips, they still manage to maintain a more toothsome bite than the pickles.
Home Run: Local Booze
Target Field may have been the only part of the city the brewery boom hadn’t touched until now. Both Surly and Fulton will be on tap, in a cart near Section 124 and the Town Ball Tavern, respectively. And the Twins were determined not to raise prices on premium beers as a result of the new brands. They remain at $7.75 for a small and $8.75 for a large. 2 Gingers Whiskey has also joined in the fun, slapping their name on the former Twins Pubs and slinging Big Gingers. It’s another seamless local partnership and a definite plus for those who don’t enjoy waiting six-deep at Kieran’s bar during happy hour.
Intentional Walk (Wok?): Leeann Chin Stir-Fry
The stand that has been serving stir-fry in left field (above) has been given what looks to be little more than a branding upgrade. The chicken and vegetable stir-fry are now finished with Leeann Chin’s sauces, red chile and teriyaki, respectively. Both are very serviceable renditions that, much like the new Mac and Cheese, deliver a satisfying and middle-of-the-road noodle option.
Single Up The Middle: Loaded Potatoes
It’s not exactly an original, but cheers to a simple (and healthy-ish) premise done well. The potatoes come stuffed in four different variations for $8.50. An extra kudos for the inclusion of a jumbo yam topped with maple butter and crushed pecans (above, right).
Strikeout: Garlic Fries
These are quite average fries coated with an obscenely heavy dose of garlic and herbs. There doesn’t seem to be much merit to these and you won’t be making any friends in the row ahead of you after a few bites. We’re really just hoping for some eagle-eyed cameramen to follow the fries into the seats, in order to produce the funniest season in Kiss Cam history.
Balk: Valentini’s Mega Meatball
This is sure to be the most divisive new menu item of the year. Valentini’s, the Italian Supper Club of Chisholm and Duluth, offers a 10-ounce cheese-stuffed meatball served with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. The ball itself is somewhat dense, almost more of a meatloaf-like texture. But the meat has a full, peppery flavor, and is complemented by an unusually bright marinara.
This is to say nothing of what must be a terrifically executed staple up on the Iron Range, but we’re not quite sold on its viability as a ballpark food. The Mega Meatball may suffer because of the challenges, as St. Peter said earlier, of controlling the quality of cheese-stuffed meat on a commercial scale. Our sample revealed a small cavern of solid, lifeless cheese. Had it just been sitting too long? Probably. Other samples looked fresher, so like the Vincent Burger, it may be tough to get the timing consistently right.
Or is it even fair to compare the Mega Meatball and the jucy lucy? Is it just supposed to be a meatball and nothing else — are we expecting too much? Be sure to comment below on what you think of the Mega Meatball or any of this year’s other new items.