Gourmet food is front and center at Levi’s Stadium

08/24/2014 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 12:15 PM

To use a food metaphor, the San Francisco 49ers got creamed by the Denver Broncos in last week’s preseason game, the NFL debut of the new $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium.

Fans hope Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers will be more evenly matched. But if the on-field action fails to entertain, those who make the trip to Santa Clara always can focus on the food, which ranges from stadium staples (pizza, burgers, garlic fries) to artisanal fare synonymous with Bay Area cuisine (think Niman Ranch pulled pork sandwich with apple jalapeño coleslaw).

Other highlights include multiple vegan and vegetarian options, cheese and bread from Bay Area companies, one of the fanciest “frankfurters” you’ll ever devour and plenty of craft beer from local and regional breweries.

Levi’s Stadium’s food program was more than three years in the making, put together by professional chefs who toured other NFL stadiums, focus-grouped Niner fans and area foodies and test drove their many custom creations before they made the menu.

Centerplate, the company behind the concessions at Candlestick and AT&T, is running the show at Levi’s. The stadium is also working with Michelin star-winning chef Michael Mina, whose on-site Bourbon Steak & Pub debuted last weekend.

Mina’s restaurant is open to the public during away games and on non-game days. But when the Niners are playing at Levi’s, the place temporarily becomes home to Michael Mina’s Tailgate, a members-only club that offers a multicourse menu, bottomless booze and a $5,000-a-season membership fee. (After the game, the restaurant reopens.)

If that price causes heartburn, don’t despair. There are still plenty of more affordable items to try. Here’s a look at what’s cooking at Levi’s.

Order from your seat

Now for some numbers. Levi’s Stadium seats 68,500 people, and features 33 fixed concession stands and 64 portable concessions to feed them.

According to organizers, close to 80 percent of all food products will be sourced from within 150 miles.

Bay Area golden beets, smoked salmon from the Santa Rosa Smokehouse, meats from Neto Sausage in Santa Clara, olives from Lodi and bread baked by Le Boulanger in Sunnyvale are just a few of the locals on the roster.

Throughout the concourse, red signs with white lettering advertise food not usually associated with football: curry, vegan, steamed buns.

Those steamed buns come with pork belly and crispy lotus-root toppings. They also provide structure for portobello mushrooms. The pulled pork sandwich has a spicy BBQ jackfruit counterpart. There’s also rotisserie chicken mac and cheese, prosciutto and bocconcini on ciabatta panini and red velvet cupcakes.

In the club and suite sections, big spenders can sample shellfish at raw oyster bars and other unique offerings.

But many football fans just will want to find the franks ($6.25), garlic fries ($8.50), pizza ($8) and pretzels ($7) – all of which can also be ordered from your seat.

When fans sit down they can use the Levi’s smartphone application to see how long bathroom and concession lines are, and to order food for pickup or delivery.

The stadium, after all, is located in the white-hot center of the tech industry, and many of its constituents sport the red and gold.

“It’s really the experience and how you get them to want to come to the game,” said Zach Hensley, Centerplate’s general manager at Levi’s.

The mobile app ideally will move product more efficiently. Organizers estimate that they will sell 13,500 pieces of pizza on game day, 5,000 burger, 7,000 frankfurters and 12,000 garlic fries.

Two items worth noting. There’s no tofu in the building. And that thing on the bun? It’s called a “frankfurter” (not a hot dog) and it’s antibiotic-free, hormone-free and made with natural casings.

The food is designed to provide a sense of place, said Hensley. “It’s really about Bay Area culture and bringing it to life at Levi’s stadium.”

That goes for beer as well. While Anheuser-Busch is the sponsor, craft beer fans will also find reasons to cheer.

Levi’s also hosts handles for 40 other beers, including those for Stone Brewery, North Coast, 21st Amendment, Speakeasy and Anchor Steam. Most concession stands have beers on tap. Wine drinkers also have choices, with 15 options available.

Fried egg on your nachos

Mina, a James Beard Award winner, was approached by the 49ers’ owners about doing something different at the newest NFL stadium.

The result was an iteration of his Bourbon Steak chain, which has locations San Francisco’s Union Square as well as Las Vegas, Scottsdale and Washington D.C.

Open seven days a week, Mina’s stadium restaurant operates independently from Centerplate.

Just left of the grand Toyota entrance, lights twinkle in sizable windows. Bourbon Steak is a white-tablecloth experience with a sleek and modern pub component.

Inside, 70 high-def televisions display Niners games or other sporting events. Black-and-white photographs checker the walls and chronicle Niner history.

BS&P’s steakhouse side features dishes from Mina and chef John Cahill, including certified prime beef and Wagyu steaks (American, Australian and true Japanese A5), black truffle mac and cheese, lobster pot pie and heirloom carrot tortellini.

A 14-ounce New York strip costs $58; the A5 ranges from $32 to $42 per ounce (there’s a 3-ounce minimum). The “market sides” are additional and cost $10 each.

The more casual pub side offers a full bar with more than 40 beers and upscale takes on burgers, nachos and wings.

“You always try to do things that fit where you’re going to be, taking things that people are familiar with and doing them a different way,” Mina said.

The pub food also incorporates local ingredients and purveyors, said executive chef Gary FX LaMorte. Beef, for example, comes from Marin County’s Skywalker Ranch.

“We basically bought Skywalker’s whole herd,” LaMorte said.

All to build a burger fit for a lineman. The Gold Rush burger ($24) comes with creamy aged cheddar, not-too-crispy bacon, bacon marmalade and speared with pickles and peppers on a toasted bun.

“It’s the best of everything you’ve ever had on a burger,” LaMorte said.

The pub’s Smokin’ Double Barrel Wagyu dog ($18) has garnered a lot of media attention for its audacious ingredients. The links are outfitted with guacamole, pico de gallo and chicharrónes (a.k.a. pork rinds) and served with coleslaw, mustard and more pork rinds.

Adding to the menu are the nachos ($14), layered and stacked with homemade, crispy tortillas, guacamole, borracho beans, sour cream, charred corn salsa, chilies, cheddar and topped with a fried egg. The tower is sliced into fourths table side, and the layering allows the sweet-and-savory flavors to coat every messy-finger bite.

As indicated by its name, BS&P is big into bourbon. There are more than 20 brands on the menu, and they range from Angel’s Envy to Willett Pot Still (with Beam and Bulleit represented as well).

The beer selection is ample as well, a mix of local, domestic and international (Sierra Nevada and Chimay, for example). And just in case you’re feeling too fancy eating your Wagyu dog, you can always wash it down with the “brown bag special” – a 40-ouncer of Mickey’s ($12).

Of the many cocktails worth checking out, BS&P offers the “Pimm’s 49,” a zippy concoction made with “Zacapa rum, pickled cherry juice, strawberry Cocchi sweet vermouth and fresh lime juice.”

Mina’s pub is so dedicated to its bar program that it published its philosophy, which notes that “juices are hand squeezed daily” and “we use Mexican Pepsi for its clean natural flavors and because of its use of cane sugar instead of corn syrup.”

Both the bar and dining areas exhibit an airy, expansive feel, as does the open kitchen, which houses a rotisserie wall – big enough to roast a whole cow – that provides roasting for both restaurants.

“This is probably my most enjoyable kitchen,” Mina said. “It’s the Ferrari that’s in first gear right now.”

Mina said he’ll be inviting established chefs from opponents’ cities to cook with him.

The chef, who grew up in the Seattle area but is a 22-year 49ers season-ticket holder, plans to invite Seattle-raised Mario Batali for the Thanksgiving game against the Seahawks.

“There’s going to be about 200 birds hanging by the neck,” Mina said with a chuckle.

With the exception of home-game days, Bourbon Steak & Pub is open 5:30-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 5:30-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; the pub is open 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily for lunch.

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