I have been a 49er fan for over 25 years. During that time, I’ve attended Super Bowl games and victory parties, rubbed elbows with fellow fans, and observed celebrities and politicians lose their minds over an interception or a bad call against their beloved ’Niners.
Football and food were the great equalizers at all of these games but there was never a car trunk or portable barbecue in sight.
Which means that as much as I hate to admit it, I had never been to a tailgate.
That is, until November 23. On this red-and-gold letter day I was invited to the 49ers vs. Washington Redskins tailgate party hosted by Michael Mina, two-star Michelin chef and lifelong 49ers fan.
Tailgate is held on home game days at Bourbon Steak and Pub, one of Mina’s restaurants at Levi’s Stadium. This one-of-a-kind, $5,000-per-member club tailored for Levi’s Stadium season ticket holders includes endless amounts of food and drinks, access to Mina’s space before games and through halftime. You also have the option to travel to road games with the team and enjoy chalk talks with the coaches.
I was both curious and hungry as I crossed Marie De Bartolo Way on the northeast side of the stadium toward the gate. The thought of a specialized menu prepared by Mina and Guest Chef Jose Andres—owner of several restaurants including Barmini in Washington, DC—made my food writer’s feet walk faster and my stomach growl louder.
Mina and his family have been tailgating for years and even though this party was what he called “a tailgate on steroids,” I began to wonder what kind of a difference this James Beard Award-winning chef would even care to make with what is prosaically defined as “a social gathering at which an informal meal is served from the back of a parked vehicle, typically in the parking lot of a sports stadium.”
Oh me of little faith!
Whiffs of fire-grilled hot dogs and sizzling sausage filled the air around the outdoor deck. Cheerful fans were betting on the impending game while munching on huge bowls of homemade kettle chips. As much as I knew about tailgates, so far this seemed pretty typical.
Opening the door and stepping onto the bottom level of the 17,000-square-foot, threetiered space, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.
Loud, lively music and what seemed like a dozen HD screens airing pre-game highlights set the mood, while 49er cheerleaders mingling with guests let us know that we were in the ultimate fun zone.
Diane Mina, Michael’s wife and creator of her own signature Bloody Mary, was pouring generously from the bar. Her extraordinary libation combines home-grown, fresh-squeezed tomato juice and aromatic herbs with a secret spicy concoction. Garnished with speared green olives, peppers and prosciutto, this meal-in-aglass has gained a devoted following.
Beside the bar, providing a salty pairing for a spicy Mary, were country ham sandwiches withbacon jam and a mountain of fresh shrimp and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay.
On the second floor, Chef Andres, with his gregarious personality and showmanship, was putting the final touches on his dish of grilled crystal bread, Jamon Iberico and West Coast sea urchin.
Amidst delectables such as Bourbon Steak endive salad and truffle crushed sweet potatoes with fleur de sel, two 400-pound saddles of Wagyu beef from Skywalker Ranch—yes, that Skywalker Ranch—roasted slowly on giant rotisseries.
I wanted to begin chanting “serve the beef, serve the beef ”… then my carnivorous eyes saw it being lowered with a crane onto a wooden cutting board. In a playful moment, Andres and Mina cut off a chunk of the perfectly cooked Wagyu and fed it to each other.
Now, that’s entertainment! But the best part for Mina? Being perpetually surrounded with like-minded folks.
“It’s all about the 49ers fans,” Mina said. “And the feel in here is unbelievable. I didn’t know that it would be embraced as much it was.”
As I watched strangers sitting and eating together, creating new friendships, I discovered something truly unique about this Mina Tailgate. For once it’s not about how many start-ups you invested in, how many touchdowns you scored in your career, or how many movies you made. It’s about Montana, Hanks, Mina, Andres and Iaderosa (that’s me), eating and drinking together as a family–a family of fans who love their team, love their food and love their tailgate, Mina style.
Click here for more information on membership opportunities or call 415/GO-49ERS for stadium info.