Midnord Empanada Truck

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http://midnord.com/ 

https://twitter.com/MidNordTrucks

Main Location: St. Paul

             Started by Minnesotan Phil Gaffney, a 4-year veteran in of NY food trucks, MidNord serves traditional Empanadas. Various offerings changing daily, Phil offers both traditional Ecuadorian and Minnesotan fillings. On any given visit, one can find Tucuman Beef, Cuban Pork, Juicy Luicy, or Mac and Cheese, and that’s not even half of it. They also offer Tostones, a Central/South American side involving smashing pieces of Plantains (really savory, starchy bananas) and frying them.

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            MidNord doesn’t just stop at savory though, the menu also contains a seasonal dessert-filled empanada. Examples of these include Apple Pie, Pumpkin, and Nutella-Banana. All served, much like the savory, with their own accompanying dipping sauce.

            My first experience of MidNord luckily happened to be on their debut day during the 2012 Canterbury Food Truck Event. Since then they have settled their days of business with St. Paul’s Downtown, adding themselves to the already impressive lineup.

Food: 10

            Okay, they are REALLY good. Fried to order, Tucuman-style Empanadas are rich, flavorful, a little complex with the spices, and just plain juicy. The Mac and Cheese is HOMEMADE, and not just generic “Cheese+Noodles=It’ll work.” This is a creamy white cheese mac, mixed with chives, perfectly cooked noodles… you want to have it as is, and they shoved it inside a dough of deep fried, savory goodness. I do believe they change the mix seasonally, though, so you make get a richer Cheddar-based one in the Winter. They then served both of them with respectful sauces; a flavorful chile broth for the beef… I forgot what for the Mac, but it was good.

           Apple pie made sense to me, but then I got it, and saw that “Hey, this is made in the same really savory dough as the others… it’s not even rolled in cinnamon-sugar or anything…” I was put back quite a bit, it didn’t seem like it would work.

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           Then I had it.

           It worked. Don’t ask me how, but it worked. It was delicious, the filling wasn’t the gooey apple, just tender and spicy and rich. Dipped in the spiced caramel, it was the perfect self-indulgent, guilty street food dessert.

           Nice and crunchy, the empanada has that nice fried-dough crust, a little thin and soft on the inside to perfectly hold the insides. The little pressed edge is nice and big, too, giving you that extra piece of crispy dough with the rich filling.

           As for the Tostones, they’re flat and crispy, but sort of just taste like regular potatoes; used to be a worse. I like the fact that they now include one with each Empanada order. I guess I like a different kind of plantain though, for having as-is.

Holdability: 7

           A little surprising, not to mention disappointing, considering the traditional hand-held design of a proper Empanada. However, they end up served two in a basket, very hot inside from the friar, on the side of which is a little plastic cup with the dipping sauce. The lid is already snapped on tight, and you have to maneuver to take it off, keep it steady, try to dip and eat it without spilling any. Considering they use very flavorful broths for many “dips,” it can be quite tricky.

           At the least, the empanadas themselves hold up very well when basket-separated.

Price: 9

           The empanadas are very well priced at a good deal, offering two each with an order. Though it is very tempting to grab a Mac and Cheese and/or a Dessert along with your main choice, which will easily add to costs.

Speed: 8.5

           Have to wait for them to fry, but that doesn’t take too long.

The TOE: 10

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           Empanadas are a great focus for a Food Truck. Phil really takes the chance and potential to stuff them with a good variety of very creative, flavorful fillings. It succeeds in so many of the same ways that Potter’s does, besides their smaller size and basket serving. My favorite aspect of this truck is that the Mac and Cheese and Dessert-based options BOTH act as individual Toe Rings. They give that experience of going up to the menu, taking a quick look and stopping as you see them, your thoughts filled with nothing but “Ohhhhhh I have GOT to try those.”

            I am very happy and thrilled to have these guys as a part of our Food Truck family, and hope you get the chance to experience them soon.

Service: +2

            Normally baskets come with two empanadas. On my second visit, though, I wanted to try both Mac and Apple, but didn’t want to buy 4 whole empanadas, not to mention pay for all of that. Considering that, the Chef gladly made me a basket (well, two separate to help me tell) of one each, and priced it for a regular basket cost. It’s a great Service quality, and I think they deserve an extra couple points because.

                      Tally: 46.5/50

Final Thoughts

            Can still be used on the go if only grabbing one item (orders of more can be wrapped individually and put in a bag), they’re really great when you can stop and sit on a bench, rest on a post, etc.

            Though I love the Mac and Cheese, I would suggest starting with a different item, probably one of the Tucuman’s. If you can and want to, grab an Apple Pie or whatever dessert they have at the time to. Save the Mac for its own special showcase later.

            Skip the Tostones, they’re not really good enough to buy a whole basket on their own.

Cruzn Cafe

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www.cruzncafemn.com/

https://twitter.com/CruznCafe

Main Location: Events?

            A phoenix rising from its flames, Cruzn Café returned to the streets last year with new, unique food items and special drinks. Starting out in the Downtown Minneapolis area, Cruzn left their main haunting ground after the first year, switching their focus to special local events. The sudden disappearance puzzled me, depriving me of my favorite Mexican Cocoa for which I cuddled in the cold Minneapolis mornings on my way to class.

            Highlighting themselves with a focus on drinks, Cruzn advertises Italian espressos, Smoothies, and Mexican Cocoa (a wonderfully sinful blend of cocoa, cinnamon, and ancho chiles). With their recent menu change, Lemon/Lime-aids and Sun Brewed Ice Tea join the team as refreshing additions in our hot summer days.

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            The change mostly deals with additions, so most other previously served items still remain. These involve a few simple options of oven roasted pulled pork/chicken, a couple hot dogs, and nachos, some of which also have pulled pork or chicken (your choice) on top.

            Though I haven’t seen or tried the new menu myself, rumors and pictures showcase the use of smoked and other meats. Dishes include a spring roll, some sort of corn dog (I wanna try), tacos, and garlic roast beef to name a few. What I CAN tell, in regards of flavor, is that every picture I’ve seen looks scrumptious.

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            Note: the rating that follows is purely based around my experience with the truck before the change, with slight consideration to what I have heard. I plan on, and can’t wait to find the truck again this coming year to fully sample and understand their new approach. Upon which I shall make any changes necessary.

Food: 8

            I’ll level with you; the ballpark-style food they serve is decent, but it’s only mediocre in the wide variety of Food Truck-offered selections. The new menu is quite set to change this, though, so expect a possible upgrade in the near future.

            Again, the real focus here are the drinks. All well done, the smoothies are delightful, the espresso is dark and rich, and the Mexican Cocoa… ohhhhhhhh the Mexican Cocoa… I still have dreams about this. So rich, with that drier, really COCOA flavor (not chocolate, cocoa, there’s a difference), sliding down your tongue with those noticeable hints of spices dancing along with it.

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            You will have an option to have it made with water or milk; DON’T DO MILK!! This is a very traditional drink, and should be enjoyed that way, with hot water. You can have a milky-creamy hot chocolate from any old pre-made powder, treat this one special. Oh, and don’t do whipped cream on the top unless you’ve already had it plain and want a little more fun on the second or third go-round.

Holdability: 7.5-9.5

            This is a bit of a change for me (guess I’m being influenced by the truck, haha), and this is probably the only time I’ll ever put a score like this. I was originally thinking of scoring this higher; drinks are quite obviously one of the easiest walk n’ enjoy items, and any food they serve only needs two hands with little mess. But then I realized that, for those going that full experience, it can be hard to get food without getting any of their drinks, and vice versa (especially now with the new menu additions). As such, finding a place to sit can be imperative; if you’re lucky to get two items that both require only one hand, you’re made, but those are much limited.

            Because this is the only truck where both drinks and food are such an integral part to the experience, I’m placing a small score range instead of the usual. The final score then is dependent on how you yourself would order from here.

Price: 10

            Very good prices, the food range from $2.50-$7 options, and all drinks will be only $4 at the very most, and those are for the large (which I still haven’t had much of a need to get anyways). Cost-friendly is a definite.

Speed: 8.5

            It’s only one person behind the window, so be wary of crowds, but all-in all orders don’t take too long. Food items are the simple kind and made quickly, while most good drinks need a minute or so to create. Many of the newer good ones are easy-pour, though.

The TOE: 8

            For me, ballpark food just never really screamed “Food Truck” in that special sense. Very good street food it can be, but there’s that slight generic-ness that can bring the special feeling a bit down (unless of course one’s able to really unique-it out). Word of the new Change gives me a lot of hope, though, and a lot of props I think should go to Cruzn Café for continuing to try and improve and grow. There are many Food Trucks that just stick to the same menu items and dishes since they’re successful and have no “need” to keep striving for new; it’s a little refreshing to see one making new risks like this.

           I might have scored this a little lower, but Cruzn really does have quite a Toe Ring on their feet, that Mexican Cocoa. Always worth a visit.

                         Tally: 42-44/50

Final Thoughts

            Always get one of their drinks when you visit, especially the Mexican Cocoa. Do that on your first trip there, then if you want to sample others, save its purchase for the cooler months. Of their older menu items, I would simply just avoid as-is, though the Dirty Dog and Nachos look like they could be quite fun, especially if you’re looking for that ballpark-type lunch item with a twist.

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            Definitely try the new menu; a lot of good things that I’ve seen and heard, and I need more feedback as it is, haha.

Simply Steve’s

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https://twitter.com/Simplysteves

www.facebook.com/SimplyStevesFoodTruck

Main Location: Minneapolis

            The second of our cities’ Burger trucks, Simply Steve’s offers a well-seasoned variety of options between buns. Offering very traditional and familiar combinations, they also offer sliders, burritos, and just recently Tator Tot Hotdish. One could say that on the days their blackboard isn’t filled with burgers, the style is warm, filling comfort food.

            Biggest highlight of Steve’s, in my opinion, is that fact that they are currently the ONLY Food Truck that serves breakfast with such attention, and all day too. Both burritos and sandwich items, these easily rival their lunch-mirrored selves with little effort.

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            Quite often parked near the Cupcake-to-Go car in the early days (sometimes still), the two often made quite the lunchtime combination. Now one might need to do a bit of searching for that sweet treat, as Steve’s doesn’t offer any sort on their menu.

            Not that they need to.

Food: 7

            Everything there is juicy and made properly. The sliders I had were full of that cheesy goodness reminiscent of the only reason one likes a Mcdonald’s Double-Cheeseburger, except the burger is good too. Breakfast burrito is flavorful and spicy from the red sauce, eggs are fluffy, all in all great in its simplicity.

            Probably the highlight of the menu, though, is the Cajun Turkey Burger. It is actually juicy and tender, while still being completely cooked. As those who have eaten turkey burgers at home will tell you, that is a really difficult thing to find. But there is no dryness, no feeling of “ehhh,” nothing like that; it is a properly cooked Turkey Burger in all sense of the world.

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            Now, here’s where I differ from loving them. Though everything is cooked properly, the flavors derived and added to them are all… average. Cajun spices on the Turkey was muted, the BBQ, though tasty, lacks anything really special. The highlight of the sliders was the fact they were juicy and cheesy, but that was the main craveability point. They aren’t doing anything WRONG at all, but at the same time they simply aren’t doing anything else.

Holdability: 7.5

            Many a two-handed item served, the easiest to walk with are the sliders. The burrito is served in foil wrapping, but the sauce and wet fillings tend to drip down QUITE noticeably (more so than the ideal “fun licking of the fingers”), so napkins are required.

Price: 9.5

              All items range from $4-$6, with a possible $7 on special additions (menu does change and switch now and then), so a great bang for your buck.

Speed: 7.5

             Average speed, good for burgers, nothing to complain about.

The TOE: 6.5

            They are a really good Food Truck, properly constructed, but much like their menu items I feel just “lacking” of that certain special something when I go there. Props are given for serving breakfast, and why the score isn’t lower, but more than that is needed to garner that special “feeling.” Ultimately I would pin this to a certain generality in the menu, as well as a failure to truly stand out amongst the many Pillars we already have. Maybe it has something to do with the fact it sort of reminds me of a Lays Potato Chip truck…

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            Again, don’t take this the wrong way. They are a good truck that makes great food, and should certainly be visited at least once. I myself just don’t have any plans to go back again and again.

                        Tally: 38/50

Final Thoughts

            For those on-the-go and looking for a small sample to get a “feel” for them, the sliders are a great choice. Turkey Burger should definitely be sought out and tried for those who haven’t had a REALLY good one yet.

            But the real gem here is when one is out late in the morning and haven’t had their breakfast yet. Grab the Burrito and a few napkins, and enjoy on the way to work; it can be scarfed down quick if in a rush, but has enough flavor to be enjoyed across a few minutes (that’s a long time for me with food… I do love it so).

Fork in the Road

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forkintheroadtruck.com/ 

https://twitter.com/forkNroadtruck

Main Location: St. Paul

            “The Big Orange,” Fork in the Road has settled itself into a St. Paul truck staple, being one of the first Trucks to receive news attention after their release. Focusing on familiar foods with their own house-made additions and twists, Fork offers a variety of different options that switch daily. The bulk of their menu containing sandwiches of one type or another; such as grilled, subs, sliders, hoagie, taco, etc. They also serve soups and salads, both pasta and leaf styles.

            With no real singled-out area of protein, a trip to Fork can yield any type of meat-laden option surrounded by bread (or tortilla). Guinness-braised Bratwurst, pulled chicken and pork, meatball and salmon sliders, cured sliced meats in a sub… one can find practically everything you would expect to on the street.

            So many options, it is difficult to determine which ones really shine above the others. From many reports, though, the sandwich to get is the Grilled Cheese with BBQ Pulled Pork and Caramelized Onions. They also sell a Buffalo Chicken Sanwich, BLT with Avocado-Mayo, and Guinness Chili.

            Not to mention they do love using Texas Toast for some of the sandwiches (and no, not the thick, frozen kind we find in the supermarket… I think).

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Food: 7.5

                The Pulled-Pork Grilled Cheese really IS good and yummy, with that perfect grill and the whole nostalgia+ thing going on; and it’s hard to not like something with caramelized onions. From the continued business and sound of the menu items, I doubt there are very few things that simply aren’t well made and add up to a good lunch.

                I very much appreciate what it is they do, but I find overall the food tends to lack a bit of… “soul,” of “focus,” that a lot of  other Food Trucks have in spades. I would go on, but I think it’s best to read the TOE section for a full explanation and understanding of where I’m coming from.

Holdability: 7.5

                Sandwiches are served cut, in a basket, surrounded by potato chips. Luckily they’re usually easy to pick up, at least the grilled ones are. I am not too aware of the hoagies and salmon sliders, those may be more iffy.

                I cannot imagine that the salads are ones which you would be walking down the street to enjoy; those seem more “find a nice bench or go back to the office” items. Soups are a little easier, supposing one only gets them and nothing else. With their hardiness though, I don’t see that as an issue.

Price: 9.5

                Very good prices, $6/$7 for full items (you can get salads in half orders, which cost $4), and I would say it easily makes a great deal for the food options being served.

Speed: 8

               Pasta salads and soups made ahead of time, grilled sandwiches come fast, and others come at the expected pace, leading to a good speed.

The TOE: 6

              Fork in the Road has a big tendency to stand out from a crowd; the color really brings out that positive quality for them. Also, I think this is another case where the name used actually ADDS a little bit to that dining experience.

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             As to the food, after a bit of thinking, I actually sort of like the idea of the pasta salads; it’s nice to see a place that does them well. Salads in general for Food Trucks always puzzle me, but these are a good addition, and there are always people that want a salad with lunch. Soups are never a problem, and I love the fact that they use Guinness instead of a regular Ale; brings that rich, dark chocolate and coffee flavors that work so well in chili.

             When I talked about the idea of “generalities” in my review of Gastrotruck, this is what I meant. Go on Fork’s website and look at their menu, and you’ll see what the problem is:

             There are way too many things there.

             Now granted, they only use a small amount of those options each day, but every single menu option is different. The only common ground is that MOST of the items are sandwiches, and even those you have Italian, Southern, Bar Food, Salmon, Fresh, Meaty, EGG SALAD… there’s no focus. They do a taco and a wrap; not TACOS and WRAPS, just a single of each.

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             All of these are good, solid menu items, but they distract from any attempt to try and solidify what exactly it is they do. There isn’t a single thing on here that really FEELS that special, and nowhere near are they to having a Toe Ring.

            I personally think that they should draw some of these options back, figure out what works best and keep those, with maybe a couple more new regular items of a similar style, just different formula. As for ideas, I’m not them, I can’t say where their hearts lie, but if it was me I might consider doing a mostly Grilled Cheese styled concept. The BBQ Pork Grilled is a really good sandwich; it needs to shine among a group of its own kind, not shouldering itself with a mass of differences. Plus, the cities don’t even have a Grilled Cheese-themed Restaurant (which is surprising, I mean come on we’re Minnesota). A truck like that would stand out COMPLETELY and add that great uniqueness to the entirety of our Food Scene and Culture.

            So keep the salads and soups up, and let’s hope that there is some more streamlining with the main menu items.

                     Tally: 38.5/50

Final Thoughts

            Okay, let’s get salad and soup out of the way: stick with the Pasta Salads, particularly I might try the Orzo if they happen to have it on. You can find a decent leaf salad in most restaurants, but the pastas done well are rarely handled. All their soups are the rich, belly-filling ones, but I would stick to the ones that lay on the more extreme end in that respect. Guinness Chili and Loaded Baked Potato are easily gonna fill that need for the down-home beer drinker; not to mention fill your stomach for a really low price.

            After looking over the menu, here are my suggestions for sandwiches:

  • BBQ Pork Grilled Cheese (no more explanation needed, just good)
  • Meatball Sliders (easy to walk and eat, smoked gouda gives a different, tasty note)
  • Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (for the bar food lover, creative twists on this are usually fun)
  • Santa Monica BLT (for the health conscious; on a whole wheat, avocado + blt is almost always a good, balanced combination)

A Cupcake Social

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https://twitter.com/ACupcakeSocial

http://acupcakesocial.com/

Main Location: Minneapolis

            Moving to the streets in 2012, Cupcake Social is the second of Minneapolis’ dessert-based Trucks. Bigger, periwinkle blue, and presenting itself with more of a gourmet “flare,” Social really brings that oh so popular “high class cupcake” trend to the street.

            A little smaller than Cupcake on the Go’s, they’re a little more suited to carrying and eating on the street. Large variety of flavors (quite extensive, as one can see on their website’s menu), they usually offer 5 or more flavors on each trip. All of which are displayed on a hanging television for easy and convenient viewing.

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Food: 9

                Very carefully created, focusing a little more on the concept of finesse. The cake I had was light and spongy, with a very well balanced mix of frosting and filling. Not quite as “scrumptious,” at least the simple white cupcakes aren’t, they’re more that feeling of a fun little “treat” to have between lunch sessions.

                The cupcakes I saw during my visits were all of the simpler kind. Not sure if they only use those styles for the truck, or if it was just one of those days. I’m expecting and hoping for the latter.

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Holdability: 9.5

                 As I said, a little smaller than the other cupcakes, so more of that holdability.

Price: 8.5

                Low-priced item,  that idea of charging certain prices for a simple cupcake stands out more. Though this may just be due to Truck design.

Speed: 10

                Instant cupcake upon payment.

The TOE: 7.5

               Very big, well-designed truck with a snazzy way of displaying their menu and product, Social produces a really light, relaxing way of doing business. Its bright colors and smiling faces beckon with the same appeal that many successful cupcake shops seam to do.

               That, however, is where my issue seems to lie. Social has a lot of points and auras that deem it a proper Food Truck, but it FEELS like a Cupcake Shop, a business. Blame that little focus on the Gourmet, it took away from some of the feeling of the “street.”

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                         Tally: 43.5/50

Final Thoughts

            For when you feel like a little treat but don’t want to find a shop in the skyway. No particular suggestion of flavors, just look for what suits you and hope it’s there.

Snowy Night at the Palace

     Snowy nights always seem to bring out a form of antsiness in me; I can never really stand doing a regular nightly routine during the only positive aspect of our Winter (well, that and killing off of those damn insects). And these last couple days of empty nights and beautiful falls have done nothing but made me want to go out somewhere interesting.

     Luckily for me, my recent “tabs-keeping” on the many Trucks which I still need to visit has clued me into the happenings of the N.E. Palace. With their kitchen currently under hijack by the Awesome Eats guys, I found myself a place to spend an otherwise boring couple hours, listening to music and chowing down. So, I braved the already couple inches of light snowfall, headed in the opposite direction of Rush Hour (had to make a quaint little move over to University though… Central was being a bit of a pill), and made it to the little bar off of Lowry.

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     It’s a small fella, with a 15-ish seating bar on one side of the room and a few booths on the other, which is only about ten feet away. The back is taken up by a small, warmly lit stage which hosts comedians on Tuesdays and Live Music on Friday. By the time I got there, Wain Macfarlan’s band was already tuning up their washboard, wash tub, banjo and other random instruments for the night to come. Their first tune was “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky,” and the rest were other songs probably from the same era, and I’m sure I was the only one in the bar that didn’t recognize them… damn my generation and its music.

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     Simple, old-fashioned, local dive bar all the way, one goes in and immediately senses that 90% of the people there are consistant regulars. Bar is stocked basically, beer is all mass-produced brands, and there isn’t a tap in sight; not going to find anything local, artisinal, special, or micro; this is the place you go to slam down something cheap and alcoholic, just like in the good ‘ol days (did I use the right spelling for that?). I myself got a Rolling Rock, just because I don’t think I’ve had one yet… and I didn’t feel like ordering water.

     Now, the FOOD! I was SO excited when I saw Awesome Eat’s Bar-style menu online, couldn’t wait to order (which was done by the Food Truck guy wandering around the bar himself… do not try doing this through the bartender). Before I continue, let me say this is NOT an official Review of the Truck; last time I ate there they were doing Tacos, then Bar Food… I have no idea if the menu at Palace is even going to have ONE of its items on their Truck when they come out again in Summer. I do hope they at least do those Coconut-Crusted Onion Rings though… they didn’t have any when I went on Friday and I wanted one soooooooooo bad… almost cried, but the bartender was giving me stern looks as it was…

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     -ahem- anywhooo, I decided to go for two things instead: Cheese Curds and the Spam Trucker. Now, if you don’t know what a Trucker is… I don’t blame you, I think they may have made up the term. Just think of it as a glorified Grilled Ham and Cheese with more meat, some slaw-type topping, and french fries shoved inside. Damn it was good, and artery clogging, though I felt like I could have used more Spam… and cut into thicker pieces, not the thin Gyro-like slices. The fries are tossed with a load of parmesan and dried rosemary, and have that softness and flavor very similar to some of the more upscale restaurants that serve, like The Red Stag. Though, sadly, they have absolutely no cripsyness or other texture to them…. like The Red Stag.

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     Now, I’m not much of a Cheese Curd person… I like them, but the over-handed greasyness turns me off. Plus, although one can easily classify differed Fried Curds as better or worse than others, they’re all basically the same; same batter, same thickness, almost always same kind of curd. However, I VERY much revelled in AE’s Curds, because there was an actually noticeable difference; the batter was thinner and closer to the curd. Simple, but it created a much different experience than usual. They also paired it with this thick-as-paste spicy marinara sauce that made the experience so much more tasty, and helped eliminate Fried Cheese fatigue as you try to work through the giant pile.

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     I hate quite the leftover pile of Curds and Fries by the end, which I got a To-Go Box for…. and then proceeded to forget at the Bar, which I only realized halfway through my drive home through the snow. The urge to bang my head on the wheel was very hard to push down.

     All in all, the music was lively, food was satisfying, and it was a great place to hole up during a Snow-Filled night. I’m thinking of going back some Tuesday to see how the Comedy fairs. Anyone wanna join?