Target Field concessions a home run for the Twins and fans

Foodstuffs from around the Twin Cities really step up to the plate

When the first pitch is thrown at the Twins' home opener at the new Target Field next week, I won't so much be anticipating the first connecting swing—the unmistakable "crack" that echoes all the way up into the cheap seats—as I will my first trip to the concessions. I don't mean to disrespect the players' skill or athleticism, but pop flies make me nervous. And popcorn makes me happy.

I do have the Twins to thank for one of my favorite childhood memories: fall of 1987, Mr. Johnson's science class, a voice came over the loudspeaker announcing that, due to the Twins winning the World Series, school would be canceled the following day. We ditched our studies and headed downtown to toss tickertape on the likes of Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett, swaddled in fur coats and riding in convertibles.

But today, without my brother's collection of baseball cards to reference, I don't know any of the players. I wouldn't recognize Joe Mauer if he were wrapped in a towel and slathered with chocolate sauce. Fortunately, the new Target Field has something to draw those of us who don't know an R.B.I. from a barbecued r.i.b.: delicious things to eat.

Forget the Dome Dog: Kramarczuk's brats and sausages
Rachel Hutton
Forget the Dome Dog: Kramarczuk's brats and sausages
Schweigert's Big Dog
Schweigert's Big Dog

For years, the sports fan's game-day diet has been limited mostly to ho-hum hot dogs and plastic-cheese-topped nachos washed down with watery lager. Maybe, if you were lucky, your kids would share a few bites of their cotton candy. Still, knowing nothing else of stadium concessions, we thought of them fondly, less for their flavor than their novelty, as we scooped ice cream with those little wooden paddles that made each bite taste like tree bark.

But millennial stadium concessionaires have really started to capitalize on the food-sales potential of their facilities' enormous, captive—and hungry—crowds. With the Mets' new Citi Field offering tacos and lobster rolls and the new Yankee Stadium serving dry-aged steaks, the notion of passing the innings with a bag of peanuts or a box of Cracker Jack seems inordinately quaint. Somewhere in Los Angeles, a composer is penning new lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" that include Korean poutine and pomegranate molasses.

Last week, when the Twins and their concessions partner, Delaware North Sportservice, invited members of the media to sample some of the stadium's new fare, I spotted the first sign of improvement when I rode up in a service elevator. The guy standing next to me wore a chef's coat with a meat thermometer tucked into the pocket. Was it just for show, or were there actual cooks on the premises, making fresh food to order?

I know some of you are starting to panic: Don't tell me they've taken away all our favorite junk foods and replaced them with quiche and wheatberry salad! Yes, the famed Hormel Dome Dogs are gone, but you can still have one of four types of hot dogs made by Minnesota-based Schweigert meats. The so-called Big Dog comes on a hefty bun that won't turn into gooey mush with the slightest squeeze like the cheap ones do, but that seemed a little thick for even such an outsize wiener. Without tasting the dog and its predecessor side by side, we struggled to find concrete differences between the Bigs and the Domes. "It doesn't seem as bad for me as a Dome Dog did," one sampler suggested as she polished off a juicy bite.

While hot dogs may be as American as paying a guy $23 million a year to whack a ball with a stick, one of the best things about the new concessions is the expanded ethnic offerings. Former Twins star Tony Oliva has his own branded Cuban sandwich, which is stuffed with roasted pork, Swiss cheese, and pickles and pressed, panini-style, until the bread is toasted and the filling is warmed. Your seatmates may tease you for eating out of an Asian Wok takeout container, but the stir-fry of chewy noodles and fresh vegetables in a pungent, spicy sauce is worth it. Let it be noted that at least one—and likely only one—person in the history of stadium food was delighted by the idea of eating bok choy at a baseball game.

But as the Twins celebrate their 50th season in Minnesota, I'm even more excited about the concessionaires' choice to champion our regional cuisine. I haven't seen any hot dish—yet—but there are several State Fair classics, such as cheese curds, pork chop on a stick (modeled after J.D. Hoyt's Cajun version), and walleye on a spike—and, no, I'm not sure why the walleye is on a "spike" either. I can't quite picture myself spooning up soup at a ball game, even if it is Byerly's famously creamy wild rice slurry, but after nearly 30 years of watching the Twins play indoors, perhaps it was intended for fans who may not have calibrated their clothing for chilly spring or fall temps. If only they'd dish it into those plastic baseball caps like they do the soft serve.

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