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Xcel Energy Center foods 2018: All the new Minnesota Wild fare, ranked

Get this brat—it's a Hat Trick!

Get this brat—it's a Hat Trick! Photos by Emily Cassel

The NHL preseason is over, y'all. The real season starts now.

While the National Hockey League's been around since 1917 (and the Wild franchise since a liiiittle more recently than that), the food and drink options need to stay as sharp as the skates carving up the ice. So, of course, there are a bunch of rookie offerings in 2018. And we ate 'em all on Wednesday, to bring you the following veteran-eater verdicts.

This time around, we're debuting our patented Penalty Box!, Face-Off!, Hat Trick! rankings, wherein Penalty Box = bad, Hat Trick = good, and Face-Off = fine.

Admittedly, it's more clunky and less intuitive than the Strikeout!, Walk!, Home Run! system.

Take it up with the NHL.

General Concessions

Minnesota Brat
Apple-bacon kraut, horseradish mustard on a fresh wild rice bun, $11
We’ll say about this apple-bacon-cabbage mix what we’ve said about Christoph Waltz: Put that kraut in everything! But seriously folks, the savory-sweet ferment was perfect atop what could have been a one-note brat, adding a fresh kick to the meaty tube below. And speaking of kick: For a “Minnesota Brat,” the horseradish mustard had some real heat—not Minnesota Spicy in the slightest. It’s up to the fresh bun to bring the 'Sota, then… and it does, delightfully, with wild rice flecked throughout its squishy shell.
Verdict: Hat Trick!

Penne & Marinara
House-made marinara and meatballs tossed with Italian pasta and served with a cheesy garlic breadstick, $12
We didn't read the blurb above before chowing down on this, and so were delighted when, cracking into the accompanying breadstick, we encountered a cheesy surprise inside. Unfortunately, our taste buds didn’t turn up the promised “garlic”—which we expected after we did read the description—nor did we get salt, or parmesan, or anything in the way of seasoning. The penne and meatballs were firmly in “fine” territory, and you could perhaps salvage the dense, doughy stick with a deep dunk in your marinara. But should a piece of bread stuffed with cheese ever need salvaging?
Verdict: Penalty Box!

Barbacoa Tacos
Slow-roasted brisket, hand-shredded with traditional accompaniments, $13
Among the “traditional accompaniments” this soul-extinguishing taco touts is shredded iceberg lettuce, which is the first giveaway that what you’re about to consume is little more than a gussied-up variant of what you’d assemble yourself at a cafeteria taco bar. What should set these tacos apart is the brisket, but the meat is not only chewy, but somehow both bland and overly limey, which is kind of an impressive achievement when you think about it. If not so much when you eat it. Taco? More like tac-no.
Verdict: Penalty Box!

Super Slice
Italian pizza crust, homemade pizza sauce, and mozzarella, $8
Can it leap over buildings? Can it spin webs? Can it turn green and smash holes in the pavement? No, no, and... probably not. So unless you consider “making you not hungry anymore” a superpower, this slice is not quite as advertised. Granted, “Slice That Tastes Like a Better-Than-Average Frozen Pizza” doesn’t quite have the same ring, and it’d be hard to squeeze all those words on the display. You’ve almost certainly gobbled (and loved the taste of) a worse slice after a night of beers, and you probably will again. But you’ve got other options here.
Verdict: Face-Off!

City Burger
Fresh ground chuck and brisket seared to perfection and served on a fresh milk bun, $10 (single), $13 (capitol), or $14 (double)
Our critical faculties were toyed without throughout the City Burger journey. At first, we thought we’d grabbed the vegan Impossible Burger, and were astounded by its crumbly, juicy patty and convincingly beefy flavor. It’s as if the plant-based lab creation had forged a perfect diploma from Bovine University! Alas, we were mistaken: We were eating a classic, cow-based burger. And a pretty darn good one, too. The fresh chuck/brisket patty won’t wow anyone, but it’s sandwiched by a densely delicious bun and topped (or rather, bottomed) with snappy pickles. In the pantheon of sports-arena burgers, this one ranks pretty high, though it can’t compete with Target Center’s Parlor Burger—not many can.
Verdict: Hat Trick!

Michelob Golden Light Fan Zone

Spinach Dip
Piping-hot spinach dip with artichoke hearts and parmesan cheese, served with warm tortilla chips, $12
The barroom appetizer that’s easiest to get wrong, spinach dip is conceptually simple, but it can be a textural nightmare: congealed gloops and globs housing stringy bits of veggies. Thankfully, Xcel makes good on their “piping-hot” promise, delivering a smoothly rich dip that’s booming with parmesan and artichoke flavors. The thin, crispy tortilla chips prove study delivery vehicles, too. We tested the limits by greedily spooning a ridiculous mound onto a single chip. And ya know something? She held true. Many of the foods we sampled at Media Preview Day are partitioned off for the blue-blood suite attendees, so it’s nice to put this humble dip—available to all at the Mich Golden Light Fan Zone—in the win column.
Verdict: Hat Trick!

Chicken Florentine Flatbread
Fire-braised chicken, spinach, and diced tomato served on top of our Italian flatbread, $12
Each of the three rookie pizzas on the 2018 concessions menu were sort of forgettable, but the Chicken Florentine might be the most disappointing. The flatbread falls flat on a number of fronts: The braised chicken lacked any discernible sear, and it gets lost in a sea of finely shredded spinach that more closely resembles cilantro (and is juuuust the right size for getting stuck between teeth). We’ll concede that technically there’s no such thing as bad pizza—but when so many of the new concessions are so good, and when you can already get solid stadium pizza at Xcel, there’s no need to add this one to the roster.
Verdict: Penalty Box!

The Reserve

Chicken Osso Bucco
Frenched chicken legs, creamy polenta, gremolata, thyme jus, $16
In Kanye parlance, this is less stadium food, more French-ass restaurant food. The backbone of the dish is the Frenched chicken leg, AKA the chicken lollipop. Basically, it’s a tangerine-sized ball of dark meat ready to be plucked off the end of a bone. The skin crackles nicely as you dig in, but the juicy chicken is too aggressively seasoned, resulting in one salt-drenched lolly. These high-concept limbs rest on a passable bed of polenta. Admirable ambition, uneven execution. Our guess? Hockey fans—from the cheap seats to the suites—would likely prefer gnawing on egalitarian chicken wings.
Verdict: Face-Off!

Chimichurri Shrimp Kabobs
Red pepper fennel sauce, cilantro-pineapple slaw, brown rice, $16
These perfectly serviceable kabobs are going for a street-food vibe. The shrimp comes speared on a stick, covered in a green chimichurri that isn’t as bright or as fresh as what you might find at a food truck, but it does have some nice enough wisps of red pepper and jalapeño. The cilantro-pineapple slaw pairs well with the crustaceans, but a little heat or a kick of spice could take these skewers up a notch.
Verdict: Face-Off!

Meatball and Peppadew Flat Bread
Ricotta, pizza sauce, stone-fired flatbread crust, $14
As we all know, flatbread is just pretentious pizza. And if this adequate meatball, cheese, and sauce conveyance device pays suitable homage to its simpler cousin, its inclusion of the trendy, hifalutin peppadew pepper as well is an unseemly putting-on of airs. “But how does it taste?” you ask. Well, the crust is slightly tastier than that of the Super Slice, and the toppings have more character. But it’s nothing special. And you deserve something special. Yes, you do.
Verdict: Face-Off

Beef and Wild Mushroom Ragu
Slow-braised beef, mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes with potato gnocchi, $18
Just give us a damn brat! Fussy pasta dishes are not appropriate cuisine for watching toothless, 250-pound brutes slam each other into Plexiglas. Especially when they’re limp attempts at such dishes, like this one, featuring tough bits of beef and downright slimy knobs of gnocchi. The wild mushrooms pack some appealingly earthy tones, and the braising process does imbue the beef with some flavorful depth, in spite of the chewiness. The zingy sauce is pleasant, too. Mostly, though, this ragu falls victim to this ol’ truism: Keep white tablecloth fare far away from sheets of ice.
Verdict: Penalty Box!

Local Suite Menu Features

Revival: BBQ Board
A selection of Southern charcuterie classics, $7.50 per person
At City Pages, we’re friends to the vegan, often heralding their numerous new eateries popping up around town; our glowing Impossible Burger review (below) serves as further proof. At the same time, our lust for all things cured, smoky, and meaty runs deep—hence our beeline to Revival’s bloody charcuterie shrine. Melt-in-your-mouth cold cuts, sliced razor-thin, stacked into pillowy pink mounds atop toast. High-end sausage circles and beef sticks bursting triumphant with umami goodness. Pickles, golden cheese spread, and swine-packed pork rinds performing admirably as bit players on the BBQ Board. With the meat wizards at Revival curating the whole carnivorous enterprise, you know you’re in good hands.
Verdict: Hat Trick!

Octo: Seafood Tower
Lowertown’s own Octo Fishbar provides us with their take on a traditional seafood tower, $25 per person
Don’t let the hockey happening below fool you: The real on-ice action is these show-stopping, three-tiered towers of seafood brought to you by Octo Fishbar. The new-ish Lowertown hotspot from James Beard Award winner Tim McKee has already made a splash (sorry!) with its modern take on the classic tower—now, layers of chilled oysters, crab legs, clams, and peel-and-eat shrimp so jumbo they’ve gotta be on the underwater equivalent of HGH are available at Xcel. Is anything more decadent? But of course, the seafood isn't the only catch in front of you. These start at $45 at Octo, and they're the spendiest new offering here at $25 a head.
Verdict: Hat Trick!

[Ed. note: This is... right around when we had intense enough meat and faux-meat sweats to dispense with photography entirely.]

Pajarito: Tacos
A trio of Pajarito’s famous tacos, $17.95 per person
St. Paul is chock-full of tacos, but even so, Pajarito’s stand out. And they make it all seem so simple. The beef and pork are both tender and well-seasoned, augmented with fresh vegetables—what more do you want from a taco? The bad news is, Pajarito’s go down so easy you might not savor ’em as thoroughly as you should—a problem that has faced the taco aficionado since the dawn of time. (Or at least the dawn of tortillas.) The good news is, there are always more tacos. The other bad news is, you might swallow these way too quickly.
Verdict: Hat Trick!

Mucci’s Italian: Lasagna Verde
A unique twist on some of St. Paul’s best pasta, $16.50 per person
Is there any perfect food served in so many imperfect ways as lasagna? So many places manage to get at least one aspect wrong, but Mucci’s in St. Paul ain’t one of ’em. The noted St. Paul Italian eatery’s signature pasta gets a healthy twist with this green version: The white sauce moistens the ensemble without soup-ifying everything in sight; the consistency of the long-ass noodles is firm but not chewy; the veggies add flavor without imposing themselves.
Verdict: Hat Trick!

Bremer Bank Suite Level

Made in MN Package
An updated take on some of the fun food chef Kyle grew up with at family gatherings and potlucks, $52.95 per person
Much like a family gathering, these newbies were hit or miss. A balanced salty-sweetness made Debbie’s Peanut Brittle a crunchy delight; Fran’s Cheesy Potatoes were a bit soggy for our liking. Carey’s Taco Dip went too light on veggies and too heavy on what must've been industrial-strength Ortega taco seasoning, but Beverly’s Pot Roast could actually stand in for your Aunt Bev’s crockpot classic. No one was sure what to make of the jello, fruit, and whipped topping layer dessert billed as “Pretzel Salad.” We’ll dish out some bonus points for the cutesy names, though.
Verdict: Face-Off!

Impossible Sliders
Char-grilled, plant-based burger with cheddar cheese and chipotle lime aioli, $18.95
Impossible Foods has been blowing minds with their meatless meats. Uncooked, these guys look like real ground beef. Cooked, they can brown on the outside and stay a little pink on the inside—just like a real burger! Xcel serves them up in slider form: char-grilled, which gives it a crunchy exterior and a smokey taste reminiscent of summer grilling. As for fixins, the gang’s all here: melty cheddar cheese, crunchy iceberg lettuce, and raw tomato. The aioli is missing some of the complex notes promised in its ingredients, but it adds a crucial richness. Is this truly a meat dupe? No one's going to confuse it for cow. But this little burger does hit all the pleasure spots it needs to in order to be burger-adjacent, and it’s pretty damn tasty to boot.
Verdict: Hat Trick!

Impossible Meatball Grinder
Plant-based meatballs, marinara sauce, and fresh mozzarella, $17.95 per person
These meatless balls are light and airy—qualities not typically associated with meatballs. It’s not the fault of the meat substitute, however. The recipe might have gone overboard with the bread, making them mushy when they need to be dense. More “meat,” and maybe a chopped onion or green pepper, would help give these guys a bit of substance. As a standalone meatball, the serviceable marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese can be used to save the day. But when you plop everything into a sandwich, you’re basically getting a mouthful of dough.
Verdict: Penalty Box!

Impossible Dim Sum
Pan-fried potstickers and crispy spring rolls filled with Impossible plant based meat, $16.95 per person
This one's a conundrum. We all enjoyed the pan-fried potstickers; the outside has the right crispy to chewy ratio, and the filling inside has a nice mushroomy flavor. Paired with side sauces, these are highly munchable and double-dippable. The spring rolls, however, are really... weird. Spring rolls—even meat-filled ones—generally have some mix of vegetables inside. These dudes are overwhelmingly packed with one thing: fake meat. It’s an odd choice not to throw in cabbage or carrots or any veggie—there might have been a little onion in there?—and their omission makes for a one-note, overly dense snack.
Verdict: Face-Off!

Mozzarella & Heirloom Tomato Board
Exactly as billed, $12 per person
Are you someone who appreciates having a spread to graze on during the game, but who's tired of the same cold cuts and sliced cheeses? This board is for you. The setup is pretty straightforward: You’ve got sliced heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, some grilled eggplant, and fresh mozzarella, with plenty of shredded basil. Nothing wrong with that. The only miss here is the green sauce that comes with it. We think it’s pesto? But really, it didn’t taste like anything.
Verdict: Hat Trick!