Last year, three guys came together with little to no track record of hanging out or anything, and put themselves in a car for 5 hours, a Minneapolis hotel room for a weekend, and the close seats of Target Field for a game between the Twins and Brewers. The event was named Beersball, and it kicked ass.
This year, a fourth joined the group, and we decided that Minneapolis was more fun than trying to follow the Brewers anywhere else in the Midwest. (One of us is an actual Twins fan, which is as many Brewers fans in the crew; plus, I had unfinished business with a Minneapolis hot dog -- more later.) So it was back to the Twin Cities for another go 'round. Ben was kind enough to make everyone egg and cheese sandwiches -- a little bodega flourish for the road.
The main draw for last year's event was the release of a Target Field-exclusive beer from Surly Brewing. This year, that beer had been converted (essentially) into a canned release; instead of Bandwagon as the centerpiece of our trip, a pilgrimage to The Four Firkins was our first stop. We brought two coolers, and we filled two coolers and then some, with great beers that we can't get in Wisconsin. Still, a Surly release was the guest of honor, with four bottles of SeVIIn secured for our purchase by a friendly local (aka Elliot's mom).
After we retrieved our beers (and helped our secondary beer dealer move a desk in her condo), it was time to start eating. And eat we did, at the new-ish Glam Doll Donuts. I mean, it's on Eat Street! Raised doughnuts here are almost as dense as cake, which makes filling them a tough call. Unfilled yeast doughnuts were the way to go, with everyone impressed by both the maple bacon and the sriracha peanut butter varieties.
It was Pride Weekend in Minneapolis during this year's Beersball trip, and I arrived with not one but three beards. Okay, so that's just a facial hair reference (I was the only smooth-cheeked one), but I'm sure our server at Eat Street Social was making a guess or two about us given the all-cocktail lunch we had there. Chris' bacon-infused breakfast old fashioned was about as stereotypically masculine as our order got. But we're comfortable with our identities. Let's just say there was one drink at our table named the Ballerina, and it had a flower floating in it.
From Eat Street, we dropped the car off at the hotel; it was too early to check in, and it was almost game time. Amidst a riot of rainbow-colored wristbands and boas, we were positively beige. We killed time -- and a few pints -- at the Fulton Brewery tap house right across from Target Field, until heading into the ballpark. Where the Surly cart was our primary destination last year, it was a burger calling us this year.
Andrew Zimmern, food writer, chef, and television personality, launched a food truck in the Twin Cities at last year's Minnesota State Fair. Called AZ Canteen, it serves global fare including a custom-blend lamb/goat butterburger -- yes, like how Culver's does it, with a buttered and toasted bun. It is this burger alone that the Target Field AZ Canteen outpost serves, along with house-made chips and a hibiscus ginger punch. This was our first stop.
Shockingly, this was not many other folks' first stop; the line was nonexistent. The cabrito burger is topped with sun-dried tomato (perfect replacement for ketchup), grilled onion (a bit too tough), and pickles (I'm not sure I remember them at all), but it's really about the patty. It's juicy, seared nicely, and rich with a lightly goaty flavor. With that punch -- which was genuinely amazing -- the fairly steep price tag comes into context, and doesn't seem so bad.
We drank Surly beer and 2 Gingers whiskey and ate sausages at the recent James Beard Award winning Kramarczuk's. We pined for a bucket of cookies and more of that Food Network stand mac and cheese, but restrained ourselves. And the Twins won behind their up-and-coming rookie pitcher named Kyle, which was nice.
The ballgame experience last year was marked by, shall we say, a bit more conspicuous consumption. As a result, by the time we left Target Field to continue the festivities at Butcher and the Boar, I was in no place to belly up at a picnic table and put more things in me -- no matter how delicious they looked. I had to tap out for an hour or so. As a result, I missed out on the truly glorious-looking footlong hot dog on the Boar's outdoor menu. This year, thanks to a little earlier restraint, you could barely hold me back from ordering that sucker.
Butcher and the Boar was a semifinalist for this year's Beard Award for Best New Restaurant, and the biergarten alone earns them some strong praise. We drank Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA, and 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon (yes, a watermelon beer, and a spectacular one at that, like a radler crossed with a wheat beer), and Ben gave us (read: me) a beginner's lesson on drinking brown liquor neat. And that hot dog, served on a butter-soaked and toasted (but not greasy!) bun, topped with cilantro, mustard, mayo, red peppers, and a heap o' shoestring potatoes -- it's a riot of flavors, and the cilantro is so necessary, lightening things up nicely.
By the next morning, we realized we'd played more inside the lines than last year; none of us were all that worse for wear, even after a now-traditional pint at Brit's to close out Saturday night. Hell's Kitchen, a Minneapolis institution for brunch, was practically right under our feet, and descend we did. Elliot secured a cronut -- ahem, croKNOT -- from Angel Food Bakery (of course it's right above Hell's Kitchen) while we waited for a table, and while it was tasty, I have to assume the original is better; this wasn't anything I'd wait in line for.
Biscuits and gravy, cornmeal pancakes, and a thing that Chris got that I can't remember, were all rich and hearty, decadent as the name of the restaurant might suggest -- but I think we all came away firm in our belief that Madison has as good to offer as any of those. And with that, we hit the road home, stopping only for the essentials -- gas, peeing, and Corn Nuts. Y'know.
It seems like quick trips to the Twin Cities are in vogue. Reuters just published a fairly awful travel piece, "Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Minneapolis-St. Paul," which advocated, among other things, trips to the Mall of America and Potbelly for breakfast. Yes, Potbelly. The La Crosse Tribune had a better, if really familiar , idea: "Baseball and beer draw visitors to the Twin Cities." The two breweries it mentions, Great Waters and Minneapolis Town Hall, are unfamiliar to me, but good beer is all around -- as long as you're not shopping on Sunday. (Come on, Minnesota.)
The bottom line is that drinking, eating, and watching a little bit of America's Past-time in Minneapolis is a totally viable weekend itinerary, and not an expensive one, especially if you go with friends. I'm already ready for next year's trip.