Hot Dish “100 Favorites” for 2014-15

It’s a little late in response (though aren’t most of my posts usually nowadays?), but I do always love featuring the Trucks that achieved the graces of making City Page’s “The Hot Dish blog’s top 100 Favorite Dishes for the year. I wanna make it a yearly thing! No promises of course… I am quite fickle… and forget things… SURE I’ll have another shot of Vodka.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, awesome food trucks. Though quite a few of the ones to make the list this year were purely resulting of the Restaurants they generated, but it deserves featuring (and I need SOME kind of material to flesh this post out some… don’t look at me like that! I’m needy…). So, let’s see who made the list this year…

hd3

#77: Taco Cat with “The Larry”

They may not be an actual truck, but their street food soul shines bright, plus I recently did a quasi-review on them and feel they deserve continued honor in that respect. And their tacos are rather awesome, as is evidenced here through City Page’s feature of The Larry, a pile of Chicken, Chorizo, and Cheese stuffed inside three double-wrapped masa tortillas. Of course it’s the one that I didn’t get…

#62: The Curious Goat with Goat Cheese Curds

Their menu is quite frequently changing with whatever local ingredients they can get their hands on, but it’s not often one won’t find at least a few dishes with goat meat and/or cheese on the menu. And they take this latter up to an epitome of experience by lightly frying curds of it and serving with roasted butternut, some spring onions, and a drizzle of honey (my new favorite cheese curd companion forever). Again, something I dearly need to have at some point… here’s hoping for a rally.

hd2

#55: Smack Shack’s Shrimp and Grits

I may still hold strong reservations and annoyances about this truck (don’t ask me why, I’ve probably lost proper reason for it long ago), but one can’t argue their food always gets results in those willing to spend the extra buck to attend their mobile or standing business. Usually getting renown for the lobster, this year highlighted one of the best southern combos to ever grace the table: Shrimp and Grits. I know, the last word strikes terror and disgust into many a heart, but done right than oh my god… I’m still vary happy to have gotten it at Surly myself.

#54: World Street Kitchen and The South Side

Not surprising to see them on this list again, this time for Brunch! The restaurant location serves out a dish composing of a bile of hashbrowns, ‘secret sauce,’ and some big chunks of lamb topped with basted eggs (which, if they’re PROPER basted eggs, are easily the most sinful and delicious way to eat them whole I swear).

hd1

#39: Chef Shack Ranch with the Big Boy Ranch Plate        

I almost probably shouldn’t even be mentioning these gals on the post today, since the restaurant focus has almost NO connection to what the truck turns out, instead serving out bigass servings of classic BBQ. And it’s not a bbq joint without a giant parchment-paper-lined platter dolloped with practically one of everything, like grabbing a charcuterie board at the more hipster-ish locations but with hot, soul-fulfilling smoked meat… and more of it. As it’s apparently some of the best bbq in the Twin Cities, this little selection of pork and beef moved itself rather high up on the list.

#25: Hola Arepa’s Corn Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

Of course the local famed belter of the stuffed corn-dough sandwich is now turning out a dessert version, stuffing sinfully smooth vanilla ice cream in a sweet cookie dough filled with butterscotch, fritos, and corn flakes. Why didn’t they have THIS at brunch!?

hd

#7: Hola Arepa and the Beef & Plantain Arepa

That’s right, they got on twice! (And they’re not the only ones, damn Spoon and Stable… making me want to go to you when I don’t have enough moneh) And fitting we end on something that actually could come out of the Truck itself, their classic masa ‘flatbread’ bun stuffed with sweet, soft plantain, rich beef, tasty pickled onions and of course some sauce. It then gets kicked up to 11 when eaten in restaurant and served with those amazingly thick, crunchy Yuca Fries that I just think are perfect. No wonder they’re at the top of the books.

Well, that’s the second year for me done and taken care of, we’ll have to see how the following 2015-16 season goes. Will more trucks move to restaurants and fill the brackets, or will a resurgence in interest for starting mobile operations take precedence? Find out next time (he says in announcers voice as if he was coming back to this in a week and not a whole year)!!

Sir Baldys

20150416_115317

http://www.baldysbbqmn.com/
https://twitter.com/dinkytownbaldys

Main Location: St Paul

Starting in Lakeville and then opening a Dinkytown location back in 2011, Baldys BBQ has expanded nicely as their business popularity grew. Obviously their quality of bbq has created a strong enough fan base to have developed a want and need to access it closer to the Twin Cities for ease of meat and sauce delivery. And now this need has vaulted them, four years later still, into the next phase of business life as they go Mobile.

Moving onto the Food Truck scene, the pink pig in the black shirt (that’s right, they got a mascot suit, all fear the piggy) premiered Sir Baldys earlier this year. Extending into the St Paul area (I got them on a visit to Regions Hospital, apparently one of the new ‘hot spots’ for trucks this year), it seems they’re looking to spread the word of their bbq even further into our state!

Which shouldn’t be so hard to do, considering how much this big Pink(ish? Very much in front at least) food box on wheels stands out. Though visual appeal comments notwithstanding, it’s the menu that will really spread their food to the customers. You won’t find any ribs, wings, chops, or piles of meat on a styrafoam container here. This BBQ Truck focuses purely on Sandwiches piled with their classic items. Pulled Pork, Chicken, and Brisket all come into play between two buns, one can also find their handmade Italian Sausage. Of course there are options for traditional sides via Baked Beans, Potato Salad, and Coleslaw.

20150416_115800

Of course sauces come in standard on a side table (set up on the other side of the sidewalk, I didn’t even notice immediately! I mean, saw the table and a box on it, of course my mind paid no attention… stupid mind…), with 4 of their home recipes available for topping your meat, if that is how you are so inclined. I tried a bit of each and enjoyed them all for various reasons.

Gotta love a warm, blue-skied sunny day for BBQ. Let’s get to it.

Food: 9

                As always, you can and should never try to get an idea of a BBQ joint with just one menu item, and luckily for me it was easy to grab two sandwiches in one go today. First up, the Italian Sausage, which I chose to top with the Pepper and Onions option (and totally forgot to take a picture of! Gahh, whyyyy!? So ashamed… please accept my apologies for this). What can I say about this besides… indeed, it’s a proper sausage. The flavor and spices were great, exactly what we should expect from an Italian weiner, the meat was moist, and oh yes it had that SNAP from the casing. Sliced in half, 3-4 (wasn’t paying attention, too into the food) of these long demi-links are piled haphazardly, in a fun way, on top of the soft white bun, creating a mass of something that makes you ache to just squeeze hard in your fingers and shove into the mouth. Pretty good. I did enjoy the addition of the veggies; though obviously cooked somewhat, they still provided that nice vegetal crunch and texture to add to the experience. Not much FLAVOR addition from them though, would be perfect if they were able to get a grilled char or something on them.

Moving onto the Brisket, also enclosed in that same bun; not toasted, instead capitalizing on those cravings for super soft white bread typically reserved for sloppy joes and, well, bbq. Now, having recently had ANOTHER Brisket Sandwich at a Previous Truck, this was quite interesting, providing a completely contrasted style to production. Sliced thin and mounded generously between the bread, let me just start off by saying that I LOVE the flavor. The beef, the smoke and those flavors of whatever cure they use can be tasted obviously, and is much superior to the ‘other’ brisket sandwich in that way. Properly toothsome, teeth cut through the flesh like it should with good bbq; it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, ‘fall apart’ in a super-moist bundle, keeping its form through biting, but it bites through easily without ruining the form. This is the standard for Ribs and other similar long-smoked items.

20150416_115713

That said, it’s not perfect in the slightest. One cannot ignore the thin hard edge of fat, or gristle, or whatever it was which hung on most of the meat. Tough, chewy, stubborn, this part would have us dragging in extra pieces of brisket with each tug of the choppers. It creates an annoying and unpleasant interruption from the amazing flavors and OTHER texture which I can tell is right, but can’t be fully experienced now.

It can be and is often said (in a way) that good BBQ should not NEED any sauce, like any meat, but only use it to make things even better and complete the taste balance of sweet-salty-bitter-sour (and sometimes umami… makes it feel like “y” for vowels). So far I feel that this is easily applied to the food today; I could have easily enjoyed the Brisket on its own with nothing else (sans the gristle of course).

Last note, the Beans, my Side of Choice. So far, probably one of my favorite baked beans that I’ve ever had, though I don’t have a lot. Beans were properly soft and tender, without turning to mush, and mixed with 2-3 pieces of bell pepper which brought a welcome extra flavor. I very much appreciated how it wasn’t just HEAVY sweet molasses/brown sugar, bbq-saucy stew. The sweetness here was more controlled and mellow, a bit of that noted spice flavor that still reminded you of the bbq sauce. I’m still… wishing and hoping for more depth, more complexity and exciting flavor, but not as much as other versions I’ve tried. So it may just be me.

Holdability: 7.5

                 Having every entrée automatically transformed into a sandwich immediately increases the street food value factor here, and though they are all served in a basket, and made with piles of multiple cuts which can fall out easily (especially with the already noted chew factor in the brisket option, not to mention the veggies in the sausage sandwich, though I expect the pulled pork is kept very tight), the two of these normally full-negative factors actually combine to assist in walkability. Just know that, of course, one will still need both hands and will likely be spending time picking off fallen things from the basket. And unless one REALLY slathers on their bbq sauce of choice, there’s little actual mess factor to attend with napkins. The main considerations come into play when one gets a side or combo along with the main protein, which I expect to be a regular action unless one has a goal for order minimization, which CAN still be walked without issue but really highlights best in a sitting down situation.
20150416_115501

Price: 8.5

                  Solo, the sandwiches come in at $6 or $8 (latter for the Brisket only), with a nice helping of Onions and Peppers to any of them for an extra $1 (which I am seriously only NOW realizing. Seriously, I did not notice this on my day there, and when he asked if I wanted them on my sausage I just thought it was a complimentary option, like slaw or no slaw… I’m a touch disappointed right now to be honest). For an extra $3 one can grab a combo of any drink, side, and drink (not sure if Lemonade-Iced Tea counts… I really should have picked that, damn last-minute rush choices…); basically, sammy+side with free drink. Overall really nice, relatively low price range, and I feel fully worth it, except for maybe the extra veggie cost… debating still.

Speed: 9.5

With everything kept in proper warming bins, the food offered picked to all work well with this storage style, all the wait one has is for the meat of choice to be scooped onto their buns and whatever side ladled into a cup. Absolutely awesome.

20150416_115622

The TOE: 9

                  A great culmination of different factors mentioned, smooth operation, a fun little personality and attractive wrap job; maybe a little more ‘pizzazz’ in menu display or something else would be nice (it does feel like there’s one small point missing), impression might not be TOO lasting, but to be fair I think that’s an issue that most BBQ Trucks should be likely to feature considering, well, they all focus on the same kinds of food. It’s difficult to get that true intrigued edge of “special/uniqueness” to them that other mobile styles are able to play around with, so I don’t hold it against them in the slightest. That said, this is easily my favorite BBQ Truck that I’ve encountered in Minnesota so far.

Tally: 43.5/50

20150416_120836
Final Thoughts

Of the few BBQ Trucks that I’ve paid visit to in the Twin Cities, Sir Baldys has easily proven to be the most successful within their transition towards the food truck business. I certainly suggest anyone craving a down-home, simple bbq/meat sandwich on a soft bun should definitely consider them as their option. Ideal for grabbing a quick, well-priced sandwich to just eat on the go, or spend a couple extra bucks for a sit down enjoyable bbq-style lunch.

Italian Sausage, with the Peppers+Onions, and the Pulled Pork are going to be the best way to go in my opinion (Brisket is totally pro+con action, you’ll have to decide on your own based off what you know about it now). I wish I could try EVERY side so I could get a full idea on them… what I can safely say now, I imagine all 3 (no I do not count the chips) are ideal versions of the sides, so whichever you usually like going for do it. For those absolutely unsure… Potato Salad is calling out to me. OR, to take things up a notch, grab the Coleslaw and pile it on top of that pork sammich. Make it a happy day.

Correction for Home Street Home and Lunch By The River

Good day peoples! Hope you’re all doing well. I received an interesting email today from my friends at Home Street Home, one of my absolute favorite trucks on our street. Apparently they had been reading through some of my posts recently and brought something important to my consideration.

To keep things simple, a couple years back I did a post on one of my visits to Lunch By The River, the little weekly St Paul gathering in downtown by a little coalition of our local, amazing trucks. At the time there had been some talks and rumors of extending the days to Tuesday and Wednesday as well. But the main thing to know, in terms of what I was made aware of, is that during the article I had made mention that the gathering was attributed to the MN Food Truck Association (or at least alluded to the possibility).

I was wrong. They have no involvement in it at all. A lot of work goes into LBTR, but every bit of it is done by Home Street Home. I could detail this myself, but I really think that they say it so much better themselves, so here’s part of the email I got.

“It’s silly but I wanted you to know that we are 100% responsible for every aspect of Thursdays LBTR and we are NOT a member of the Food Truck Association. Back in 2012 we spent almost two months petitioning the City of St. Paul to get the spot we did. Then we selected the trucks and got the parking permits.

Every year we organize what trucks will be there for the season, collect their certificates of insurance and furnish them to the city.
We then write and send out a press release of when it will start and who will be in attendance.
We find and schedule the music.
Every month we call in the permits and then call a different department to order the no parking signs.
We pick up the signs for the month.
Every week we have to post the signs by 9am on Wednesday and then call the city to let them know it has been done.
We bring the picnic blankets, set them out, collect them at the end and take down the signs.
We collect the money from the trucks and pay the parking bill every month.
We deal with any and all other issues that arise including parking issues and trying to find replacement trucks when one of the regular trucks can’t make it.

We do all of this at no extra charge to the other trucks besides the parking fee that we all pay. It is a lot of work especially when your already working 70-80 hours a week trying to keep your truck running well. We don’t need credit for it, we’ve never expected any. It just hurt to read that someone else got credit for something we have worked so hard at over the years.

I hope you don’t take offense to any of this. I love your website. I think your journalism is fair, accurate and entertaining. I have spent many hours over the years reading through and enjoying it. I just really wanted you to know that us alone are 100% responsible for Thursdays on Kellogg & Robert and always have been.”

My Intense and most Sincere apologies for this slip-up, I take full responsibility for making a false assumption that wasn’t actually researched. What HSH does is a really cool and amazing thing, and despite what they say I think they deserve all the attention, credit, and thanks in the world for setting LBTR up every week come summer. I hope they can forgive me in this, I wish them the best of luck in the coming year, and I will try from now on to keep my mistakes to a complete minimal. If there are any further, however, I please ask anyone reading to bring it to my attention.

Thank you all for your time, again my apologies in this.

PS Did I include the last little blurb from their email just to make myself feel and look good? Yes, yes I did. My ego demands it. Muahahahaha

Brunch at Hola Arepa

20150412_115009

Getting to Hola Arepa’s Restaurant in Uptown, across the street from the legendary Pat’s Tap, was a long road in coming… now granted, I never paid attention to when they opened, so I don’t know HOW long a road, but I can figure at least a notable few months right? Having only two days off a week doesn’t help either, especially figuring they aren’t open on one of them (who’d figure it was Monday and not Sunday? Good thing there’s Brunch). But I got out recently so yay.

20150412_115014

I’m going to start off by saying this, I mean I expected them to be good of course (there’s a reason the truck’s been so popular), figured a really sweet Mexican lunch ‘sandwich’ spot reminiscent to a truck experience, but I didn’t think they’d be THIS good. Hell this was a TRIP on level with a trip to Pizza Luce, and you know how good they are.

20150412_115055

Especially during Brunch, which happened to be the time me and my dear sister ended up making it there. It was here that I discovered, to my intense satisfaction, how popular the spot has become, garnering a half hour wait for a table for two (so one can safely say that, unlike the truck, not the best spot for those trying to get in and out fast, at least unless you get to brunch early). Not that we minded, it gave us the opportunity to grab some rather badass cocktails.

20150412_115520

Here comes my first happy surprise, seeing a menu full of fun, modern Craft Cocktails reminiscent to some of our favorite finds at local bars such as NE Social, Pat’s, and Marvel. For my sister, the Seasonal Horchata Cocktail, based off a house-made ‘spiced whey horchata’ with flana cor 4yr rum, bitters, and cinnamon. A fantastic, thought-provoking improvement on the classic spiced rice-milk drink in the form of a ‘milk punch’ (look it up, they’re delicious and I want to make one). For myself, because the sister already grabbed the cocktail I wanted, something with the name of Paradise (okay, I forgot to steal or take a picture of the menu, thought the website would have it okay!? I was wrong) filled with Tropical flavored Aged Rum, Bourbon, Vermouth, Bitters, Lillet (if I remember correctly), and other cocktail things.

20150412_115515

Smooth, delicious, refined, definitely a great thing to sip on the benches outside during a beautiful sunny day. I absolutely love the pineapple flavor it got; subtly present, not super bright or artificial, just that deep tropical undertone lifted up and fused with the aged rum and whiskey spirits, mixing with the botanical-infused spirit elements to bring body, sweet complexity, and that amazing mouthfeel.

20150412_124825

But it was gone, and we got a table, and another cocktail was deserved, thus I grabbed an “Hola Fashioned” based out of well-aged rum with a dash of smoky Lagavulin Scotch to subtly tie in to the original cocktail, giving it just a light, subtle bit of that whiskey barrel-aged whiskey essence in the back while the rest fills with that delicious mix of orange aroma and rich sugar spirit. The sister got a seasonal Sangria, Red, with blueberries and another fruit. Let me just say, sangria is almost never something I crave or ever really FEEL like drinking unless it’s just in a fridge at a party (or offered to me), but THIS is one I’d go back to.

20150412_115052

But that’s enough talking about booze, let’s get to the actual food. There’s been plenty of articles written about this already I’m well aware, in fact I do wish I could go back for the Chicharone and Arepitas dishes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy my own experiences right?

20150412_125026

It’s not a trip without an Arepa, and I got to grab one I had yet to experience so far, of the ‘Breakfast’ Variety. Stuffed with a Fried Egg, Beans, the white cheese Cojita and some Tomatoes + Aioli, we decided to take the next step and also add in Pork. Which I’m glad we did, because without it I would imagine it’d be a very flat, not-so-full sandwich. Along with the meat, it certainly met the basic requirements, though I feel I’ve found more enjoyment with their other arepas (more of that rich, juicy experience, plus the dough today felt a little denser than usual). The real highlight of the order, though, was the Yuca Fries. God these fit literally every feature that I look for in PERFECT fries (at least of the thick-cut variety). Crunchy and crispy outer crust, soft pillows inside (maybe a bit more starchy than the really fluffy white potatoes), and big, these were a delight, especially with a side of aioli.

20150412_124955

Main Course happened to be Cachapas (yellow corn pancakes) and Fried Chicken; the latter a drier style with thick crust, truly ideal in those ‘chicken and waffle’ experiences when you just wanna cut it up and get a big piece of peppery fried batter in every bite of food. The pancakes came super soft, naturally savory-sweet highlighted from the corn sprinkled on top, and acting as an amazing base to carry the flavors of the accompanying egg, bacon, jalapeno… and of course that syrup. Easily the best part on that plate, for it truly completed that smorgasbord flavor of the ‘full pancake breakfast’ we expect, and without needing to cover the whole plate in calories. Just a few drops over my giant forkfuls of food, and that distinctly unique and deep chipotle-maple flavor could be picked up amongst everything else. It was classic, yet modern, yet traditional in a different way, and all executed well to convene in a mass that hit everything I wished for at Brunch (unless I’m craving hash brown skillet sorta thing, but that’s another day).

20150412_125006

Let’s move on, two more small items to get through (btw, yes there was leftovers… not much, but some nonetheless). Nowadays I love granola, yogurt, fruit and honey in the morning, and their version is easily now one of, if not MY, absolute favorites. A simple Yogurt Flan (baked custard, panna cotta, etc) with fresh Blackberries and a Cornflake-Pepita ‘Granola,’ which if anything was more of a candied mix of the two, with some sort of syrup on bottom (my money’s on a flavored Agave, but who knows? Maybe it was just honey based). Whatever the details were, it was good, and a perfect way to have a little dessert at breakfast time; I want more of the ‘granola,’ that was just sweet and crispy and addictive, they need to make an actual cereal out of it.

20150412_125018

Despite that, I had to try a certain actual dessert, the Mini “Churro.” Both I and they use the quotation marks for good reason, because I’m pretty sure they don’t use the same crème-puff-style dough which churros are usually made from. It came out more… actually, now that I think about it, it was basically like a coffee cake. A really good one, covered in a thick layer of cinnamon-sugar, and then served with a chocolate-coffee sauce on the side. Which, may I say, was DIVINE. Silky, smooth, with that teasingly bitter flavor that makes you think of classic Mexican Cacao, all to dip and pour over your little ‘churro,’ which ate nicely (if not messily, and yes you MUST use your hands for this or you aren’t a proper Hombre). It’s not a churro on any real fashion besides the fry job and cinnamon, but it is still good for what it is.

20150412_115104

And that thus concludes my little round-up of my first, and hopefully not last, visit towards Hola Arepa. I know I don’t have to wish them any luck, so instead I shall simply set my feet, look forward, and continue on towards the next meal, wherever it shall take me. Certainly I hope you can do the same. Good Luck and Good Eating.

The Sizzling Wagon

20150402_115247

https://www.facebook.com/sizzlingwagontr/info
https://twitter.com/sizzlingwagon
Main Location: St Paul, Etc

With a long winter come and gone, having issued itself as a large dry spot in my own personal culinary adventures, the transition into the 2015 truck season couldn’t have come sooner. Though my work schedule still keeps me from almost every good brewery night visit, the rare and good occurrence for a lunchtime adventure is still there when the weather is good and the recent newcomers are out.

And so it was a week ago, on a sunny day with plenty of time to kill, that I found myself driving down to Region’s Hospital (which, btw, so not parking friendly to outsiders trying to seek the truck out… mainly for those already in the area, but oh well that’s the truck business) to visit the Sizzling Wagon, thus well and truly kicking off my 2015 food truck year. I should technically feel guilty for not getting down to the truck last summer after they actually opened, but it seems I’ve lost that feeling of shame for my blog lateness a looonnggg time ago.

Besides, why feel shame when I can simply delve into the delicious pit that is a new food truck menu? And this one offered up quite an interest as I attempt to figure out the best description for its ‘theme.’ Serving up a small variety in different griddled and fried foods, each familiar in the street food and bar scene with certain kicks to bring it up a level, making my mind finally settle on a typical gastro pub feeling with some BBQ interest. To be more detailed, one could also claim they offer similar styled options as today’s Gastrotruck, but with a more deep-fried bar-ish feeling.

20150402_120013

This of course includes Onion Rings, a couple Burgers, a classic Cheese and the “Sizzling” (fried onions, jalapeno, sirachi bbq and coleslaw), and a Pulled Pork Sammy, but no doubt the most popular (and signature) items revolve around the Beef Brisket Sandwich and seasonal Shrimp Tacos. Sides, besides the onion rings, of course contain simple Fries and Pico de Gallo w/ Tortilla Chips. New and changing items are expected, all to be likely revolved around the similar requirements of being slow-cooked, griddled, and/or deep fried and served with their signature bbq and/or slaw.

Now, to make it short (because I’m probably getting rusty at this), let’s get into 2015’s first full review!

20150402_120117

Food: 8.5

                A Brisket, a Basket, a HOLY F@#%ING GOD LOOK AT THAT MONSTER!! That is a big, thick slice of braised beef! Now THAT is how you make a proper sandwich, and oh god was it good; rich, juicy, and covered in their special BBQ Sauce featuring Sirachi, the final result being something more bright and tangy with that unique, almost fruity (but not really) edge to it. With the Slaw on top (which is optional, but really why would you say no if it doesn’t cost more?) it creates an experience rivaling some of the best pork belly sandwiches that I’m hoping all those reading have had at least once. I WILL say, there is a very noticeable, thick layer of fat in here; which I myself have no problem with, I’ll delight in something bad for me, but even I admit that it might be on the ‘too much’ side, and can easily understand why it may turn some people off.

I didn’t get this alone, having ordered a side of Onions Rings because 1: I’ve become almost obsessed with them now when I go someplace new, and 2: in debating a second item, it was between this or a whole $10 for another entrée… what can I say, sometimes I’m cheap. And I’m glad I did, for I can’t help but love an absolutely perfect onion ring, and these are almost there! Good crispy batter, soft tender onion inside that doesn’t completely pull away with a bite (a couple sorta did, but not like those bad rings do), a clean cut through, and even a seasoned salt on the outside for extra flavor. Though, it did feel a BIT greasy, making it hard to eat the whole thing; definitely something that either needs a good beer next to it or a group of people to share.

20150402_115949

Speaking of fried things, the actual Fries coming with the Brisket… meh. Typical fried potato strips, similar to those found in an in-n-out but without the character, not bed but not exciting or exceptional, just something to have on the side.

Now, Let’s talk about what I DIDN’T have. I did get a chance to snap a pic of the Shrimp Taco, covered in fresh slaw and veggie goodness; it looks enjoyable, especially considering the shrimp, a-la Fish Tacos, come in as crispy deep-fried nuggets. I would imagine why this is popular, my only worry is whether or not it offers itself as more than just good fried shrimp and coleslaw in a flour tortilla (I’m sure it does, it looks good). The Chips and Pico on the side look on the same level as the fries, basic and tasty with everything done how it’s supposed to be but nothing exciting.

Oh, and considering how the brisket turned out, I would imagine the Burgers probably don’t suck, especially the one with the onion ring. At all. Gimme?

20150402_115553

Holdability: 6.5

                 Individually speaking, items like Onion Rings and Tacos seem to hold up tightly in their basket, with the Burger and BBQ Sandwich options offering up the typical extra delicious saucy drips along the fingers. And of course the automatic transition of these single items into combos with fries or chips-and-salsa create the extra bits of attention and effort in the matter (besides the tacos and, perhaps, pulled pork and simple cheeseburger, a few of these eat best when seated).

Price: 6

                  All main items come in at $9 or $10 (for both Shrimp, which I understand the added cost of seafood, but I really wonder if this fried shrimp REALLY comes in at the noted high cost), the main exception being the Cheeseburger which offers itself up at $8, and though it’s obvious this noted extra step up in cost (compared to other trucks) is due to the automatic add-on of certain sides per item, the lack of interest I myself found in these makes me sorely wish for the option for grabbing the single main sandwich/taco for less (why can’t we just keep the combo option separate with most of these trucks?). Currently I also wonder if I could have switched out the fries for onion rings for only $1-2 additional instead of having to pay a whole $5 for the basket… something that I should have asked (darn me), but I did need to see the quality of their fries anyways I guess. Getting a basket solely of Fries or Chips+Pico comes in at $4 and $3 respectively.
20150402_115257

Speed: 7.5

Average expected wait for the items served, seemed to have been handled quite smoothly, though with little to no line at the time for proper reference when busy.

The TOE: 6.5

                  The street-ish faire food, sirachi bbq sauce, and almost exceptional onion rings and brisket sandwich offer noted points of intrigue amongst the foundation built from the personality of the worker’s and business (name, design, etc), but so far as I’ve experienced nothing else sticks out after that. I am so far quite happy at the quality of the food, but my drive to visit it as a truck has yet to rage bright and hot, even with my curiosity for their other items. Maybe it’s the similarity in style with today’s bar food, maybe it’s nothing, or maybe the salt containers aren’t lined up (old college reference, best to just pretend I’m speaking gibberish), but either way it’s only gotten this far for me.
20150402_115234

Tally: 35/50

Final Thoughts

A striking red truck serving idealistic Gastropub BBQ faire, Sizzling Wagon ironically sees itself rarely close to a local beer source. But if you ever spot it outside a taproom, that’s the time to head on over with friends to share some grub, alcohol, and good times. This is the kind of truck ideally visited when really making a day/night out of it.

For the best experience, get the Brisket Sandwich or Sizzling Burger, and see if you can answer the question on swapping out for those Onion Rings (if you can’t, get a basket for a few people to share… heck, maybe you can even ask to NOT have fries for $1-2 less, who knows?). Of course other options are surely not to disappoint, the Shrimp Tacos offering a much better pursuit while trolling the streets.

A Foxy Afternoon

20150330_142806

Getting back into the food-adventure swing of things, I’m really hoping to be able to check off some of the close-by Truck-staurants off my list. And lucky me just the other day I finally got to head down to Foxy Falafel’s little café for lunch!

20150330_143140

I imagined it’d be bigger, but I don’t mind, love that small little café atmosphere; these sorts of deals really do fit the food truck persona the best, plus they’re probably a bit easier to afford than the bigger stuff! And Foxy’s is situated in a little brick shop just up from University and Raymond, in a setup that almost looks like it used to hold antiques or a yarn-spinner’s directory. Hooray for setting up a place with some personality!

20150330_143339

20150330_145425Now, for those reading who still haven’t been there yet (I’m sure I’m the last one, but just in case), the menu is set up in an interesting, fun way. Main entrees are chosen a-la Chipotle, where you pick the ideal protein of choice (3 different falafel flavors, a mix of each, and some actual meat options in style of chicken shwarma, gyro, and lamb), figure out if you want it stuffed in a pita, salad, or ‘platter,’ and which of three delicious sauces you want to top it with. One can then choose to accompany this with one or more of various sides (hummus, beet slaw, baba ganoush, etc), cookies and other dessert.

20150330_145431

These can of course be accompanied with some awesome local draft beer, wine, or other drinks. All of which has been drawing up on two very attractive chalk boards! Sadly I wasn’t in the mood for grabbing a refreshment, though I wish I was; they seem to have a very interesting looking Root Beer in their fridge, that always peaks my tastebud curiosity.

20150330_143833

20150330_144347What I DID start off with was a bowl of cheese curds; not what I planned, but seeing them on the menu intrigued me, and I haven’t had any sense the State Fair as it was. And I’m glad, for one thing cuz they’re my favorite style; lightly battered, still warm and gooey with a BIT of grease (but not overly); of course they used amazing local organic curds for it too. They were tossed in Dill before frying, but truth be told I could barely taste that even when looking; I wish they got some fresh dill on it after frying, really bring that fresh flavor in. But oh god, I’m now indebted to the place, because I’ve discovered the wonder that is fresh cheese curds dipped in honey. I’m gonna have to eat them with that every time now.

 

As for the main, I still gotta order the classic street-foodie pita option (hey, it came with fries); Beet Falafel which I’ve been very much wanting to try since I found out about them a few years back; and the Green Tahini sauce (tahini w/ lemon and herbage). Of course the falafels were good; crunchy outside, VERY tender and soft inside, nice little different flavor with the beets (I’m surprised with how ‘fresh’ it felt, vs the deep earthy flavors I normally attribute), and with the other filling ingredients and sauce it made a nice mouthful.

20150330_144817

That said, I’m very glad I was eating this in the café, because that pita did NOT want to stay together! It ripped and tore, fell apart once, and was a bit of a mess even when trying to keep that paper around it. Though, in this setting, I don’t care about that so much, just thought it should be made of note. The tahini was nice, not as vibrant in flavor as I was hoping, but a pleasantly smooth, lightly lemony-herby paste to moisten things up with. It was great with the fries (which were good for soft-style fries, a shame they don’t go for crispy texture on it though). Overall it was a tasty little sandwich lunch, eaten at a time and place that was great for enjoying the good weather day in, and I’m glad I got to go at it again after so long.

 

Vellee in the Skyway with Burritos

20150316_115410

You know what the sorta funny thing is? There’s at least… what, 5 (likely much more) food truck restaurants and other standing operations that have opened up in the past two years that I STILL have yet to get to in the Twin Cities, and yet I literally only found out on Twitter about Vellee Deli’s Skyway place, located in the Baker Building off 8th and Marquette, on day 2 of their opening and I’m able to make it out there a week later! Well, guess it was the straw that broke this camel’s back, thank god I’ve finally broken down and accepted the need for using Twitter (shudders); I mean, I can’t miss out on my favorite truck’s new operation can I?

20150316_114339

And I’m not the only one apparently; whether it’s die-hard truck fans, other hipster-like foodies glued to twitter, or simply skyway workers really looking forward to the different, delicious fair, the line out the opening was well and long! Let’s hope it stays like that, as it should; if there’s any skyway food business that should stay successful for a long time, I think Vellee deserves it (who cares about the boring fast food companies?).

20150316_114901

An open-air kitchen filled with more than double the number of people that worked in the truck dealt with this line rather fast, serving out the large menu drawn in chalk, the same as on the truck but with a few extra, tasty items. I of course had to try one of these newer items myself, grabbing the Tofu Burritio (made with curry, zingy cream sauce, and some mushrooms and lettuce) and Chips w/ Pineapple Salsa.

20150316_120719

Yeah yeah, the guy who complains about the logic of ordering chips and guac from a truck got some here. Well it’s a sit-down restaurant so I have the right! And it was quite tasty… was a bit surprised seeing the tomato base, figured it’d be more ike the typical Caribbean, all-pineapple with some mix-in salsas, was very much worried about the flavors being too muddy/mixed… but it actually tasted really good. Fresh, tart and lightly sweet, tangy, not thick and very crunchable on the chips.

20150316_120456

Then there’s the burrito, I mean who can complain about their burritos? It’s practically an indulgent sin, but vegetarian… and after just coming out of a month of vegetarianism, I’ve found new appreciation for the product that is Tofu, along with other non-meat-based thingies. Safe to say, scrumptious and nummy, the only reason it took me 10 minutes to eat being because I had an 8-minute phone call after I started! Plus I can’t say no to a good dish of curry and rice… I’ll admit my nerves waned slightly at the notable inclusion of simple lettuce, but it fully heightened the experience (I need to stop doubting lettuce… I blame taco bell).

20150316_120748

Well, it’s no different than my other ravings on Vellee’s offerings. As always, I wish them luck and good fortune in all their ventures, and hope those reading get the chance to try their Minneapolis Skyway location sometime soon. Just remember it’s only open 10-3, like all the other locations up there (think they’ll start complaining about losing business to food trucks now? Haha). Now, what truck restaurant to visit next…

 

Oh, gotta love a fully stocked quality soda bottle section while you’re at it, no matter where you go.

20150316_120000

Eastlake Craft and Taco Cat Quasi Review

tchttp://www.tacocatmn.com/
https://twitter.com/tacocats

Sad to say, the past winter, in combination with the full-time job I’ve acquisitioned into, has bulldozed my daily schedules and habits to one which has fully kept me from my beloved food truck explorations for the longest of times. I worry that I won’t be able to make it out to try some of the new entrepreneurs, let alone catch up with ones I still have yet to reach after last year’s premier.

But this spring feels so revitalizing! Just recently finishing up a month-long vegetarian diet project (which I’m now regretting not featuring in my Other Blog), getting used to the new hours, my wallet not feeling as dry and stingy as before, and with the weather taking a noted turn for the better, that flexible sense of adventure and exploration finally re-set itself in my soul and fingers. Restrictions no longer seem to cling to me anymore, leaving my wandering tastes excited for the new possibilities as I make my plans to get back into the food scene of my much loved Twin Cities.

20150315_163237And with my first full day off of work after this amazing weather hit, I just had to go to a taproom, so I headed down to the Midtown Global Market to visit the newly-opened Eastlake Craft Brewery, a fun venture started 3 months ago that focuses on some Belgian, IPA, and unique styles, including a fully Vietnamese-flavored and styled beer called “Eye of the Tiger.” Besides beer, the place offers Dean’s Kombucha on tap, tasty on its own but even better when utilized in a “One Two Punch,” whereas they’ll do a half-and-half mix of your chosen beer and flavored kombucha (I tried the Tiger with some Blackberry, subtly spicy sassy sour super sipper, num). But that’s a review for another time, which I’ll probably hand over to Eat.Drink.Dish, what we really need to talk about is the food!

20150315_155139The reason I chose Eastlake, in the center of uptown as it is, was to finally achieve an experience I, and many other Minnesotans, have been telling myself I’d do for over a year without actually making a proper attempt: Taco Cat delivery. Yes, those gurus of the stuffed tortilla that started in the southern area of Minneapolis, solely relying on a bike delivery services and sarcasm. Despite being based out of a kitchen in the Global Market, TC still has no ‘proper’ pickup, requiring you to stand outside of the building to then have your tacos delivered by bike. Despite the simple requirement of having to be anywhere in uptown, the cliché of everyone talking and raving about Taco Cat without having actually tried it yet has still stood strong in our cities (well, at least I’m no longer part of those statistics).

I wanted to take a picture for the feature, but my guy wasn’t wearing his jersey today (the bearded bastard!!), and I couldn’t find any good ones online of their delivery guys wearing anything besides winter coats, so here’s a picture of a cat in a taco costume!

tc1

D’awwwwww

20150315_151606

It certainly is yet another great taproom food, the guys offering a few basic and unique topping-laden tacos, along with options for Nachos and Burritos filled with choice meats. Going for two items today, I chose the Ruckus, a mint-chimichuri and pickled radish-topped steak, and the Outlaw, slow-cooked pork with kimchi and typical salsas. Each order comes with Three decent-sized tacos, great for sharing or just stuffing your face (and, of course I checked, no we cannot do mix-and-match orders… thus why I ended up having to buy 6 tacos just to try two menu items… at least my next home lunches aren’t gonna suck). Of which, both of these certainly displayed how Taco Cat has gotten its reputation for scrumptious street food.

Two quality, soft layered masa tortillas stuffed with juicy, tender meat, I mean come on. The pulled pork was easily one of the best, juiciest that I’ve had in the street food game so far, and a great base to build a taco with. Steak was nice and typical of most but, on the other hand, when I hear grilled steak, I want something… more. Give me some crust, texture, something more than cooked beef cubes (they’re good cooked beef cubes mind you). But my mouth was overall quite happy with what I put in it.

20150315_151814

Oh, and can’t forget the salsas! A green salsa verde with the steak, a chipotle-based number for the pork, both of them so devilishly good… especially the latter, so smoky and rich and indulgent, I just want to slather it all over the pork and just stick with that.

20150315_151910

They may not be an actual food truck, thus my choice to delegate them to the Quasi-review circuit, but they’re fully delved into the core of street food in our cities, and I’ve been wanting to try them anyway, so there.

                 Food: 8 – What I’ve already mentioned, I also found that the fun toppings I was so excited for, such as the kimchi and mint chimichurri, barely came out. When having it plain (no salsa), I was able to get a subtle mint on the steak, but that was the biggest personality inclusion. I really wish they stood out with a ‘POW’ like they should. Can assume similar meat and flavor qualities across options.

20150315_151142              Holdability: 8 – Tightly bundled tacos, easily transportable in their aluminum wrap (and doggy delivery bag)

Price: 5 – Certainly higher than typical taco trucks, even for the simpler offerings, and forcing us to buy 3 of the same at a time keeps bills higher, especially when sampling multiple items.

Speed: 4 – Great for bike delivery I’m sure, but even when ordering outside the kitchen makes a 10-minute wait. So, compared to food trucks, not the best.

Toe: 10 – What? I like the name… and it’s funny reading their website’s Q&A section

I don’t remember if I usually have a ‘final suggestion’ section in these Quasis anymore, but I certainly wanna say that, if you ever have the chance to hang in uptown and place an order, do this: Order as a Group, so you can try a few different meats, split the costs, and have a smorgasbord of fun to try. Don’t go for the ‘special’ tacos with the different toppings; instead, just get the plain (pork or chicken ideal) and smother in those amazing salsas… I mean seriously. I bet the nachos and burritos are pretty gangsta too (yes I just said that); and safe to say, these are best enjoyed at breweries, coffee shops, or other fun outdoorsy sit-downs in uptown.

tc2

Well, that’s about it for now, I’m gearing up for some more brewery visits and other upcoming fun! Enjoy this amazing season all of you (unless for some reason you’re reading this in winter… in that case, so sorry… maybe build a snowman and watch Frozen?)!

Waiting for a Rocking June at Motley’s

SAMSUNGPlenty online local papers and blog spots have already reported and written about this who knows how many times by now, but I wanted to still get in my congrats and shout-out to one of my fav’s, Motley Crews Heavy Metal Grill, and their upcoming restaurant project! That’s right, the brew-centered food truck is getting themselves a stand-alone serving space on June 1st, and I sincerely hope I’ll have the opportunity in my schedule to stop down as soon as possible once it opens!

The new digs will be located on Holyoke Ave in Lakeville, with an interesting twist to the operations, which I was very glad to hear about. Cuz though I do love this truck so much, it is a bit difficult to imagine themselves transferring to a restaurant idea… plenty of other trucks one can see no problem, but simple messy sandwiches and bar snacks, hmm. Could certainly picture some café or one of those quick-service places like the classic Philly Joints in their hometown, but we’re talking an actual full restaurant here. And then I find out that half of the space will be shared by a local craft brewery (which one is still unknown), thus keeping that perfect pairing we all love so much.

That’s about all there is to say about this upcoming venture. I wish the best of luck to these guys in their next step, and can’t wait to stop on by for some awesome brewery-centric faire!

(Here’s a couple other articles on the topic)

http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/news/2015/02/17/motley-crews-food-truck-will-get-a-permanent.html

http://minneapolis.eater.com/2015/2/17/8052245/motley-crews-heavy-metal-grill-from-food-truck-to-lakeville-restaurant

Top 20 Food Trucks, 2014

2014-05-10 12.55.00

Thought I’d change up my “Top” post this year, since it’s become so difficult for new trucks to push into the ever-higher scores of the best 10, and with all the great trucks out there, I thought I’d offer a quick feature of the top 20 food trucks in the Twin Cities. This is again based purely off of the ratings developed through my reviews, and I admit that perception of the ‘best’ is very different for each person. Not to mention, sadly, there’ve been a few trucks that came later on in the season I never got a chance to get to, so who knows what it’ll look like when I get to them (hopefully we’ll find out next year!).

So, here they are!

20140501_175614Placing #20, tied at 44pts: Fro Yo Soul, Hot Indian Foods, Undead Frank’s Zombie Bites, and Hola Arepa

A veritable cornucopia of styles, two new kids and two veteran’s, one that pumps frozen dessert and another that sizzles masa dough sandwiches, Indian burritos to deep fried goodies a la Psycho Suzie’s. My favorite example of the metaphor that is the Food Truck community.

Sharing #18 with 44.5pts: B52 Slider Squad and Jake’s Street Grille

Two maestros of the mini burgers end up sharing the score, offering juicy, hand-sized meat patties for our cravings.

Three-way hit at #15th place, 45pts: Home Street Home, Rusty Tacos, and Cupcakes on the Go

A couple of my long favorites in dessert and variety along with a veritable army of taco offerings.

20140828_113746#12th place, another three-way (there’s gonna be a few, and yet this is still family friendly!?) at 45.5: O’Cheeze, SCRATCH!, and Bachelor Farmer’s Sausage Cart

Two newbies slide in as we FINALLY get the grilled cheese business that the Twin Cities has desperately needed, not to mention a craft hot dog stand sitting outside one of North Loop’s favorite institutions. But of course SCRATCH still stands strong as it always has and will be with their awesome sandwiches.

#11, one of the few solo spot participants nowadays with 46pts (yes, I should probably stop being so generous with points and give more demerits to spread truck ratings apart better… sue me): AZ Canteen

Though they got bumped out of the top 10 last year, Andrew Zimmern’s amazing mobile station still holds a strong spot, both on the street and in my hear (cue adorably cheesy music).

And for the Top 10! Once again the list belongs to:

csh4#7th Place, 4-way tie at 46.5pts: Chef Shack, MidNord Empanada, Tot Boss, and Café Racer

#4th Place, another 3-way split at 47.5pts (can’t believe I haven’t gotten a 47-pointer yet): Eli’s Donut Burgers, Moral Omnivore, Paulette Bakery

#3rd, 48pts: Vellee Deli

#2nd, 49pts: NateDogs

And as always, #1 at a whopping 50.5: Potter’s Pasties

With luck, this coming year will show some amazing new guys willing and able to shake up the rankings a bit more, and with even better luck I might be able to try them out! Otherwise I might have to simply ignore next year’s rankings.

Thanks for dealing with me as always, hope this year is culinarily amazing for you all! Good Luck and Good Eating!