Northland meatball gets spot on Target Field menuThe Minnesota Twins have added Valentini’s restaurant — maker of famous meatballs — to its list of providers of hometown fare at Target Field during games this year.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
It’s the size of a baseball, and that makes perfect sense to Carol Valentini as her restaurant steps up to the plate this year to offer a taste of the Northland to baseball fans in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Twins have added Valentini’s restaurant to its list of providers of hometown fare at Target Field during games this year.
Fans will be able to take on a 10-ounce meatball stuffed with cheese and covered in sauce that is inspired by a smaller variety (6 ounces) found at Valentini’s Supper Club in Chisholm and Valentini’s Vicino Lago in Duluth.
“Everything is big there,” Valentini said from the restaurant on Duluth’s London Road that she runs with Mia Valentini. “They’re looking for the ‘wow’ factor.”
Like most of the items offered at the park, the price will bring a “wow” as well. The Mega Meatball will cost $9, Valentini said.
“It’s comparable to other items,” she said. “One person who saw them said ‘My God, this will feed my whole family,’ ” she said with a chuckle.
Carol said that being in a business as long as her family has — Valentini’s began as a modest café in Chisholm in 1934 — you develop a few connections. “You make a lot of friends,” she said.
One of those friends worked in marketing for the Twins and had been looking for a chance to get Valentini’s into the food lineup. In February, a crew from the restaurants came down and presented a lineup for the food vendor and Twins executives. They picked the meatball for starters. There could be more products if it sells well.
“They were impressed,” Carol said. If the Twins were looking for homegrown food, hers was it, she said.
“I’m surprised it happened so quickly,” Carol said. The team found out they had been picked in March.
Rob Russo runs the Chisholm restaurant with Paul Marturano.
“I’m a huge sports fan, so this is a big deal,” Russo said. And if he can get a few games in while checking on the product, all the better.
The agreement with the Twins involves the use of the Valentini’s name and its right to check on the quality of the meatballs now and then. No money changes hands in the arrangement, Carol Valentini said. It’s a good trade-off, she said, for some publicity that she hopes will draw customers north.
The Twins have pushed for regional food and drink at the park that begins its third season this month. Other foods that will be new this year are deep-fried pickle chips from the Minnesota State Fair, mini-doughnuts, a baked potato bar, and stir-fry from Leeann Chin.
The Twins, who employ a chef to oversee the food preparation at the park, are using the Valentini’s recipe and are buying the secret spices that make the meatball an original, Russo said.
“They’re making a ton of meatballs,” Russo said as the Twins get ready for Monday’s home opener. The season starts Friday in Baltimore.
The Valentini’s crew tasted a batch of stadium meatballs last week and they deserved the Valentini’s name, Russo said. “They were outstanding.”
The baseball connection may not stop with the Twins. Carol said the restaurant business is talking with the Duluth Huskies about offering food at Wade Stadium this summer.
Along with the two restaurants, Valentini’s has a café at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth and a wholesale foods business. Much of the food is made in Chisholm, Russo said, to create consistency at the restaurants.
Carol Valentini was enjoying the crush of media Tuesday asking about the foray into Target Field.
“It’s fun,” she said. She plans to be at the opener Monday and will take the entire Valentini’s staff to a game in August.
Russo hopes more people outside of the Northland will get to know the family-run company.
“It makes the door open to the masses,” he said.