Neato’s Burgers

neatos

www.neatosburgers.com

https://twitter.com/NeatosBurgers

Main Location: St. Paul

             My second stop on what I’m thinking of calling “The Storming River Lunch,” (see Home Street Home)Neato’s is one of a pair of Burger-focused Trucks. The beef is ground by Stasny’s, using locally-sourced meat, then pattied by hand to be grilled for you.

            These fellas are then topped with a variety of fun, unique, pre-designed garnishes by the working chefs. Besides a clichéd deluxe, one can find a jalapeno-popper style with raspberry jam, a peanut butter-pickle with mayo, and a Mexican corn with lime mayo and cotija cheese.

            Here’s the thing: that’s not the draw.

            All these burgers are juicy and tasty, but customers both new and old come around for a whole different reason. This is one of the few places in both cities (restaurants included) that makes fries cooked in rendered duck fat. Served with homemade garlic aioli (fancy word for any flavored mayonnaise), these babies have recently made quite a few local Top Ten Fry lists. They even put them on one of their burgers (along with duck-fried onion).

Neatos-Burger-fries-500x333

            Did I mention you have to order these separately? Not automatic; and allows you to just get fries, yum.

            You combine the fries, burgers, and milkshakes made with small-batch ice cream, and you get that nostalgic, 1950’s diner food; kicked right up to 11 (that’s one higher than 10 you know). It’s even served in the red and white checkerboard paper.

Food: 6.5

Note: changed from a previous score of 8.5

             The burger itself is easily better than the average, though I can’t rightly place it in the top list as a standalone. However, they have an amazing series of burgers with interesting and delicious toppings, which are sure to elevate it to a pretty decent level. I haven’t had a milkshake (No longer true, see my thoughts on it Here), but come on… it’s a milkshake, when have they ever been bad? Or neutral even?

             Now, the duck fat fries… they’ve had some issues with them in the past, but those have been resolved and now yielding to a more consistent deliciousness. They lack complete crispyness (still have a bit with the skins, which is sorta nice), but it’s a good kind of soft, and the fat comes through in a properly subtle way (only a bit, but you don’t actually have to search for it). The aioli they serve with it is absolutely perfect combo, really strong, fresh garlic flavor to stand up and highlight that duck fat cooking.

Holdability: 6.5

             Getting things individually holds less issues, but you don’t order a burger without the fries… fries without the burger maybe. The problem with this, sometimes fry and burger come in separate baskets, as opposed to basket + fry baggy (what I got). Burger itself is the traditional slightly-messy pile, not the most compact eatable item.

Price: 8

              Prices are controlled around the concept that burgers and fries are ordered separately. As such, all burgers are only around $6, with $4 for the simple cheeseburger ($3 for hamburger), while fries cost a few dollars as-is. This makes great cost control for those only going for one or the other, and an affordable-on-the-higher-end when doing the “combo.”

Speed: 8

             As a burger place, can take a bit to cook properly. From the sound of it, potatoes are single-fried as opposed to double (first fry done much earlier at low temp for tenderness, second fry done to order at higher for crisp), which usually takes a little longer to cook through, though I could be wrong here.

The TOE: 10

            Once again, we find a truck that goes nostalgic, this time with pure burger diner, while kicking multiple qualities up to a delicious notch. Not to mention duck fat fries is always a sign of putting in the extra effort to make something fantastic. It’s also a prime example of those small, simple items with just that “something” added to them that magically lifts the entire truck in our minds (I’ve alluded to this idea before, see R.A. Mac Sammy’s)

            Hmmm, I’ve mentioned this twice already, but still don’t know how to describe it simpler. I think I’m going to make up a word for it. Since both times have been in this particular section, think from now on I’ll call them… “Toe Rings.”

                        Tally: 41/50

Final Thoughts

            Unless you’re able and planning to come back one or two more times, go for one of the special burgers. Any of them are good, dependent on taste. HOWEVER, the Mustard Tiger uses Duck Fat Fries as a topping, so you can try both without having to order a whole basket separately.

nburger

           If you’re going to be coming back, then I would start simply with the deluxe; two slices of cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion. Burgers like this are always a great way to get a full view on a kitchen; how thick is the burger, how juicy, what ratios of bun-topping-cheese-meat do they use? All this and more can be learned by such burgers (for some reason I imagined old Obi-wan Kenobi’s voice when I read this in my head).

          The duck fat fries are a must get for yourself. Whether you are or aren’t hungry for a burger, when you go by Neato’s for the first time order some fries to snack on. Don’t always get the chance for duck fat fries, so take them while you can and determine your level of love.

         Do I even have to do a shpeal about milkshakes?

R.A. Mac Sammy’s

rms1

ramacsammys.com/

https://twitter.com/RAMacsammys

 

Main Location: St. Paul, Office Buildings, Etc

            Upon opening and debuting a Truck, it ends up very rare that any paper or internet-based publicity will choose to report. This leads to many Food Trucks relying solely on building a reputation and clientele on their own, through word of mouth. A very unique truck it is that can acquire immediate recognition.

            R.A. Mac Sammy’s was one of those trucks, its name and food being exclaimed and written in many a web-based local updates; a paper article or two as well.

            The reason? R.A. Mac Sammy’s peddles out that ubiquitous mix from a box loved by both kids and adults alike throughout the entirety of the Nation. Of course I’m talking Mac n Cheese, that warm, gooey mess of noodles and dairy. Served countless number of ways from stirred on the pot to baked in a restaurant with who knows what added to it, this dish always tends to draw its crowd of fans wherever plated. Yet if there were to be any region within the U.S. to appreciate it more, that cold-winded, comfort-food loving Midwest we all call dear would stand tallest.

            Mac’s takes advantage of this deep-seated nostalgia wonderfully, offering a simple-yet-flexible set of options for your choosing. One can have the seasonal Macaroni, a special mix of chosen ingredients to that month, or the simple Mac… built with any other ingredient you want, from hot dogs to jalapenos to broccoli to bacon (is there any doubt they wouldn’t have bacon?). These are offered in large or medium/small orders, dependent on your craving.

rms3

            With only a 4-burner stove and small griddle to cook your order from, Mac’s has developed of genius way for customization while turning out a high order volume. Cooking the entirety of noodles with the creamy, tangy cheese sauce in 1-2 large pans, all added ingredients are then grilled on the flat-top. Piled on top at the end, along with a sprinkling of pre-toasted breadcrumbs for that familiar crunch of the home-made baked noodles. One can dig and mix as you please.

            Besides the Mac n Cheese, they also offer Smoked Bratwurst and two griddled sandwiches; a Grilled 4-Cheese, and Meat and Cheese of some sort. Homemade brownies available occasionally, great for office workers looking for lunch and dessert.

Food: 9

            The noodles are tender without being too soft, the cheese of the white and creamy variety, a small amount of tang; the toasted breadcrumbs offer a good texture. Sandwiches I have not tried yet, but from their chef-born inspirations, I would be shocked if they’re anything less than cheesy goodness.

rms2

            Though griddling the additional ingredients on the side is a very smart and necessary protocol for them to do, the sad truth is that no doubt loses a small amount of that beautiful effect achieved from slowly cooking everything together in that bubbly cheese sauce. Delicious as it is, they are unable to reach the peak of Mac n’ Cheese-dom that many restaurants have shown.

Holdability: 6

             Mac n’ Cheese is mac n’ cheese, can’t really do anything besides holding in some box or bowl. Now, as far as other similar street food items go, this one is a little easier to eat from the box with a fork. The cheese IS nice and gooey, with little to no mess.

            For the walkability-concious, the sandwiches should offer less problem, grilled cheese especially. Yet even they are served in a basket with chips; both hands will be needed. I can’t bout for the holdability of the Grilled Meat, Cheese, etc sandwiches.

            It certainly does make one think; how much greater their menu would be if they offered a Fried-Mac-on-a-Stick of some sort. Maybe wrapped around a hot dog or brat beforehand… I say we start petitioning and suggesting, see if we can get them to add it!

Price: 9.5

            $8 for the Special and $7 for the classic, with a charge of only $4 for the “mini mac”.  50cents per addition, cost can build up enough for consideration if you’re getting a large (which I rarely find need of). Less of an issue for those only getting 1-2 things, but for the foodies like me who crave abundance, it’s something to think about.

            On the lighter side, both the Brat and Grilled Cheese stand at $5, keeping for different options.

Speed: 7

             Still fast for a Mac n Cheese, but when you have a small line of orders in front of you, it can take a while to get to the group of tickets with your order. I was quite time-conscious when I ordered, and ended up standing there for longer than I wanted. Best ordered when there are still only very few people in line at the time of purchase.

The TOE: 9

             Very unique and well executed Truck that pulls at the strings of comfort we all keep in our stomach. The only thing that’s noticeably missing is that ONE unique-yet-simple, pure-street-food related item that you can’t find anywhere. That kind of menu item is always a special occurrence, and you shall see me allude to it every now and then. For sometimes, somehow, it is only that one small item that magically lifts an entire restaurant or truck to an entirely different level in our minds and hearts.

             Despite that one thing missing, and believe me they aren’t the only truck without it, R.A. Mac Sammy’s has been welcomed to our City with open arms. The truck is now here to stay, to the happiness of all our cravings.

                      Tally: 40.5/50

Final Thoughts

            Warm and comforting, the Mac n Cheese is that perfect street food when you’re out in the cold Fall and Winter (one of the few trucks that stays out most of the year). Of course, any season I would suggest jumping on the rich noodles; custom order on your first visit, get the seasonal on the second (if you like how it sounds). After that go for the sandwiches.

            No matter what the situation, I would not suggest your first visit be anything but the actual Macaroni. If you’re looking for a more portable item between bread, go somewhere else until you’ve had the true heart of R.A. Mac Sammy’s. 

            Oh, and get the half-order; the full is a LOT.

Foxy Falafel

ff3

foxyfalafel.com/

https://twitter.com/FoxyFalafel

 

 Main Location: Minneapolis, Markets, Etc

            Located at a variety of set scheduled locations during the warmer seasons, Foxy Falafel has quickly become one of the cities’ favorite stands. Quickly evident as Citypage recently named them the best Falafel in MN

            A student of holistic health and lover of falafels (street foods too), Erica Strait sprouts her own chickpeas for the middle-eastern delight (currently I am doubting it is used for every single falafel, especially after the restaurant opened, but still). These little balls of ground chickpeas and spices are then fried crispy and place in a hollowed out half-pita, ready to be topped with her homemade sauces and pickles.

ff6

            Besides the regular falafel, they also serve up ones flavored with Curry and Beets; though they aren’t always in rotation. I didn’t see them the day I was finally able to make the trip. Hummus and pita chips are served as-is or as a combo platter with the falafel, not surprisingly.

            The ingredients are fresh, the food is spicy and flavorful, and the textures are that fun blend between crisp and fluffy. Foxy Falafel is a sure can’t-miss team in the world of street food.

Food: 8.5

            They use good pita bread, which is then filled with exactly the sort of thing one wants for a falafel. On the front of the truck are three different sauces paired alongside a few seasonal pickles. I suggest you dab a little sauce on a finger and try it out to determine which one you want. Oh, and just put every single pickle you can find on there; which are always sooooo good no matter what food truck does them.

ff7

            I haven’t had the beet or curry, but the beet falafels have such a deep, inviting color to them; I can’t imagine that they’re screwing them up.

           My one concern is that, for whatever reason, when I got mine they sort of “shoved” the falafels, smushing them together into mostly one form. It really deserved the name “Falafel Burger” that was written on the blackboard. It still tasted fantastic, but ended up taking away a decent amount of that great crispiness factor that a good falafel is known for, which there already wasn’t much of anyway (despite taking so long to fry for some reason).

Holdability: 8.5

           An iconic street food, falafels in pita bread has great transportative capabilities. With the pita’s width and the sauces, not to mention the paper lining which covers it almost entirely, you’ll probably wind up needing both hands for some of it. However, still an easy and enjoyable experience it is.

ff5

Price: 8.5

           $7 is the price for each of their falafels, hummus and pita are less, and the combo of course comes at more. All in all, a pretty good deal for such a quality product.

Speed: 5

            I actually find myself very perplexed at this score myself. For whatever reason,  the day I visited, despite being the only one in line, it took quite a while to make my very simple falafel. I would expect, with how many they have to make, that it wouldn’t really need that long to fry (if they form it in balls to order, that experience in doing it quickly is assumed). My guess is that it was a random thing, however my score must still be affected by it; especially since after all that wait my falafels had barely any real crispiness to them.

             If you find most of your experiences are much different than mine, please inform me and I will gladly change this rating.

The TOE: 9.5

            Not only is Foxy Falafel selling a ubiquitous street food that no other truck has even touched, they are doing it WELL. The simple act of having such a large, colorful and well known falafel stand, offering up different flavors, embodies many core attributes of what makes many successful and loved Food Trucks. Proof of this simple fact is shown in their ability and NEED to open up a restaurant based on the same foods, getting the culture following to fill it up.

            Foxy Falafel is another true pinnacle in MN’s Food Truck scene. It stands alongside so many others as an example of what great people can do.

ff2

                        Tally: 40/50

Final Thoughts

            If they’re nearby, it is absolutely worth the trip to drive down in the summer, order a falafel and snack on its deliciousness while enjoying the open market sun. Definitely try the Beet or Curry versions if they have them. I’m not much of a pita and hummus person when it comes to restaurants. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, the combo platter is a good COMPLETE meal.

            Ignore the lemon-basil water unless it’s really hot and you need/want a drink with your food. It is probably quite tasty, but otherwise I don’t see a need to actually order it.

Dandelion Kitchen

dk2

dandelionkitchen.com/

https://twitter.com/dandelionktchn

 

 

Main Location: Minneapolis

            The second of Nicolette Mall’s mainstay catering “trucks,” Dandelion Kitchen offers fresh-produce sandwiches with a high focus on local and organic. Next to that, they also make their very own Sodas, with flavors from Basil Lime to Rosemary Grapefruit. Due to the true pickiness of quality organic ingredients, their menu will shift and change throughout the season.

            At least, they say it does… personally whenever I walk by I keep seeing the same things; it’s probably only one or two items that change. Since their start 3 years ago, the menu has slightly expanded with more options (and two more sodas). Keeping the original Grilled Ham and Brie, BLT w/ Avocado, and Roast Chicken, Dandelion has added Charcuterie to their arsenal, offering a Copa and Duck Confit now.

dk1

            A note to consider, Dandelion often tends to be one of the first stands to call it a day with even the slightest of weather changes. They rarely, if ever, are out during rain, cold, or sometimes just grey clouds. Obviously one can say this about a lot of trucks, but even those will often stay and consider things for a bit before leaving. I literally once read a twitter from Dandelion saying that they had traveled all the way down to Nicolette, set themselves up, were getting ready when it started to rain. They then, without a second thought, immediately packed things up and left; despite all the time and effort it takes for a truck to set up for a day, and without even seeing if their might be SOME people early on who would have wanted food.

            Part of this little blog that I’m doing revolves around all the little things within this food truck world that I react to, then sharing it with everyone who reads this so that I’m not the only one aware. These are things that, I believe, should be known by the reader and searcher. Even if at the end of the day it doesn’t mean anything.

Food: 5.5

            I really hate putting a score like this; the ingredients are so fresh, such good quality, and taste so good individually. Their sandwich ideas are pretty good too, and have a great potential for being that great, refreshing lunch to have in the middle of summer. However, both times that I went there, I just ended up being immensely DISAPPOINTED.

           Here is why: the bread. It is a very good quality peasant bread, I won’t deny that, but it is just not good for sandwiches (least off all the delicate, fresh kind that Dandelion makes). The bread is literally so tough and chewy, my jaw started feeling sore at the end of each session. Sadly, that’s not all of it either; the combination of ingredients in the sandwich has great potential for something fantastic… but it has always fallen short.

dk3

          There has always been “one little thing” that skewed the end result in such a way that you want to collapse in sadness… cuz it was so close. The BLT had way too thick avocado slices which overwhelmed the delicate heirlooms and farmer’s bacon, and the mustard on the Chicken Sandwich did the same. Dialed back a little bit, each of those sandwiches would have been amazing (minus the bread); but they didn’t, and they weren’t, so you got what you got.

           Normally I would have scored lower, but there is one very bright point in this place: the sodas. They are so refreshing, so flavorful and perfectly crafted; it is worth a trip and small wait in line just to get one on its own.

Holdability: 7.5

            Despite some disappointments, the sandwiches are still perfect street food. Slid into a Dandelion-colored paper sheath, it is not that difficult to walk around and eat; sandwich in one hand, soda in the other. Due to the nature of them, however, the ingredients may fall out a little easier than others (sandwiches are split completely from side to side, not connected on one side like a hot dog bun; the general style that most street food does for longer rolls). Not to mention that one may often have to grip with both hands just to bite through the thick, chewy bread.

Price: 9

            Around $6.50 for most menu items, which were made with good organic ingredients, is ultimately a pretty good deal. The range stays pretty close from what I remember as well, so at least it doesn’t stretch the wallet.

Speed: 7

            On their site I see reviews and hear mention of how they get your order out “fast and quick,” however considering the kind of line I see most times I walk by, and the kinds of sandwiches which need to be assembled, I am highly doubting that. Fast for them maybe, and possibly quick for their type of food served, but there are certainly quicker alternatives.

The TOE: 8

             Disappointments in the food aside, Dandelion uses fresh, local ingredients to make a variety of street-easy sandwiches. They have started playing with delicious charcuterie, and seriously they MAKE THEIR OWN SODA; which I believe is held in some kind of pony keg too. You really get the “feeling” of a healthy, natural sandwich shop when you go there. For that they excel, for a good many food truck is nothing if you don’t feel like you have been transported somewhere else.

             Oh, and their truck is a big, noticeable bright yellow.

                         Tally: 37/50

Final Thoughts

            When I do a “food truck day,” I always love to stop by here as my official “drink truck.” If the line is short enough, get one of their specialty sodas to sip on a hot day or to enjoy with another Truck’s food (get the food first, otherwise the soda will be gone by the time you get to it).

dk4

            Until there is confirmation by them or somebody who has eaten there that they have officially switched to a much more suitable sandwich bread (for either some or all), I would avoid the food entirely. The soup would probably be good for a cold, rainy day… if they’re still out.