It’s probably best if we get my personal biases out of the way first. I think pretty much everything about the new US Bank stadium is gross. Its design and monolithic domination of our skyline is gross. The fact that I helped a billionaire pay for it is gross. The Wilfs in general are super gross. The NFL, with all of its concussed brains, is gross.
And yet this week, I found myself deep within the bowels of our publicly-paid-for sand crawler, in a vast, garish room that looks exactly like the inside of a Hummer-party limo as designed by casino bartenders. Along with a sweaty herd of Minnesota food and media folks, I spent a few hours cramming an insane amount of calories into my face hole.
This chum-bucket feeding frenzy, however disgusting in its own oddly delightful way, led me to discover what’s great about the new stadium, since it’s here now, and we might as well get over it and look at the bright side: the Vikings, Aramark, SMG, and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority have clearly gone out of their way to make an impressively strong commitment to partnering with Minnesota-born food brands and businesses. From small shops and emerging companies to big names, mainstays, and award-winning chefs, the roster is deep and broad — and most importantly, it features nine businesses that are owned by women of color.
Let that sink in for a minute. Nine! This kind of spotlight — a NFL stadium partnership — is typically reserved for the Caucasian men who receive disproportionate media coverage in our fair city (pun intended) … remember this fiasco? We give the Vikings and those in charge of these decisions some major points for diversifying their partnerships.
Sure, the big names are what will be trumpeted in most of the press. Andrew Zimmern looms large over the proceedings, partnering with Gavin Kaysen (of Spoon and Stable) on hoagies and rotisserie meats; Revival is bringing its excellent Southern-fried grub to the game-day masses; and Ike’s, Kramarczuk’s, Prairie Dogs, Rusty Taco, and Murray’s are all represented. Everything we tried from these beloved institutions, chefs, and brands was just fine. Zimmern’s AZ Canteen gave us an Italian Porchetta Hoagie that mostly delivered where his failure of a sandwich at Target Field did not; Revival’s fried chicken sandwiches and cheesy pork rinds satisfied appropriately; and all else was fairly straightforward, good, and non-gimmicky.
It’s an impressive bunch, yet it’s the presence of the lesser-known Minnesota businesses that is truly surprising, and most welcome. Among the minority and woman-owned and -operated outfits in the general concessions, there is Be Graceful Bakery & Catering out of Edina, serving specialty sandwiches, and Lola’s Café, which will be featuring their “Louis King” wings. In the clubs, suites, and catering operations, there is A Peace of Cake, Alimama’s Sambusa, Chocolat Celeste, Gramsky’s, Thomasina’s Cashew Brittle, and T-Rex Cookie Company. All women, all nonwhite, all Minnesotan, all delicious.
Yet another local concept, “Twin Cities Foodie,” was intriguing — despite the dumb name. A troika of great local chefs — Tammy Wong of the beloved Rainbow Chinese, Matt Bickford of Icehouse MPLS, and Shawn Smalley of Smalley’s Carribean Barbecue — are somehow tied together under this banner, and all of them had tasty stuff to share (Smalley’s jerk bacon sandwich stood out; Bickford’s excellent smoky chicken nachos hit the right notes, and Wong’s lemongrass meatballs were simple and tasty.) Whether this concept will rotate with different chefs or retain these three, we aren’t sure, but it’s a promising idea.
Still not Minnesotan enough? Fine — there will also be foods plucked from the Minnesota State Fair (curated by Andrew Zimmern, of course), and a collaboration with the Twin Cities’ Northeast Brewers and Distillers Association (NEBDA) to bring in beer from Fair State Brewing Cooperative, Northgate Brewing, Insight Brewing, Sociable Cider Werks, Bauhaus Brew Labs, and 56 Brewing. Also making appearance throughout the stadium will be Summit, 612Brew, Surly, Lake Monster, Lift Bridge, Fulton, and Finnegans. That’s a solid list of options to keep the MillerCoors swill at bay.
Taken together, this is a huge win for the Minnesota food community. It might be the most locally rich representation of a city’s food scene within any sports stadium in the country. We’re looking forward to checking it all out again while we watch grown men try to crush each other.