Chef Shack

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http://www.chefshack.org/index.html

https://twitter.com/chefshack1

Main Location: Minneapolis

            To many of us who dutifully followed the Food Truck scene soon after that particular law passed, Chef Shack holds a very special place in our hearts (and stomachs). One of the true “founding members” of the first Minneapolis Food Truck group, in business long before the law even passed, Chef Shack is truly the God-Mother of our entire Truck Culture.

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            Using ingredients from Co-ops and Family Farms, Chef Shack sticks to the organic mantra, cranking out their own versions of classic street food. Grass-fed Bison Burgers with housemade ketchup, Beef Tongue Tacos (if you haven’t had beef tongue, stop saying “eewwwww” and grab a taco; seriously, it’s basically just like roast beef, but better), Tempura Soft Shell Crab Sandwiches, Trailer-made Ice Creams, and what they’re most known for: Indian-Spiced Mini Donuts.

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            They also carry quite a few menu versions for those with a more vegetarian taste. Black Bean Burgers and Sweet Potato Tacos are a common sight; I’ve had the latter, and let me say it is just as good as any other taco out there. Handmade desserts are an ever-changing experience, usually involving a classic pie or cake shoved into some ice cream cone or bowl for easy walkability (sounds like something Fozzy Bear would use to rate his jokes).

            A Note of warning, or at least anticipation: they currently have at least two trucks, and neither of them focus on the same foods. Both surrounded by flashing Fair Stand-Style light bulbs, the Red Truck employs all the main food items. It is the White Truck that sells the mini-donuts, along with a smaller menu of other items. Luckily the latter is easy to determine; it has “Mini Donuts” inlaid above the windshield.

Food: 9.5

            I have never walked away from this Food Truck unsatisfied. All proteins are cooked and prepared very well, served alongside flavorful toppings and sauces. Vegetarian items are just as quality driven, not losing any spots to the proteins.

            The real highlight, though, are those Mini Donuts. Completely reminiscent of those old State Fair stands, they are soft, hot and fluffy, with that real clean-oil taste of the friar all good donuts have. I think there might be a touch of wheat in the flour mix as well… or at least a slightly-coarse, darker grain.

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           The Indian Spices in the sugar coating are very gentle and subtle, only appearing when you search and pay attention to them. Though, I sort of keep feeling that they’re a little TOO subtle; I want to taste more of them. It’s a good flavor, and since they focus on it, we should really be able to taste it, so long as it doesn’t overrun our senses.

Holdability: 9

            Depends on the item, but one can tell that all menu options are made with the focus of eating with your hands while walking. A little sad that this isn’t the case for every truck.

Price: 9

             Noticeable range, but it has never gotten that high. Mini Donuts, desserts, and other special items are priced very low, so it’s quite tempting and easy to grab multiple things.

Speed: 9

             Faster items such as Donuts and Tacos mixed in with those needing to-order cooking; the speed overall remains clean.

The TOE: 10

             Chef Shack is almost literally the kind of Food Truck that other Trucks look to model themselves after; well, at the very least, it should be. The light bulb designs are nostalgic of Fairs as a child, the food is local, menu small, and the owners are clearly putting themselves into everything being made. Not to mention those Mini Donuts are the first, and possibly most perfect, Toe Ring to hit Minneapolis’ Food Truck options.

            The aura of being at a True Food Truck is a hard thing not to feel whenever you visit, and they deliver it well.

                       Tally: 46.5/50

Final Thoughts

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            Look for the White Truck, because Mini Donuts are a must-have for every single visit; they just make you happy. If you cannot find them, then try to see if they have any interesting desserts for the day. I haven’t had one yet, but they’ve caught my eye a few times as something I want.

            You need to try the Beef Tongue Tacos; again, stop it with the Eww, it’s not that bad. In fact, it is absolutely delicious, they make a good taco with them. Don’t forget to top it with whatever hand-made pickles they have for the day (they do a lot more seasonal variety with them than other Food Trucks from what I’ve seen). Besides those, I would probably put main highlights around the Bison Burger and Soft-Shelled Crab.

            For Vegetarians, this is one of the best options for Trucks, next to Foxy Falafel of course.

Sassy Spoon Truck

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www.sassyspoontruck.com/

https://twitter.com/SassySpoonTruck

Main Location: St. Paul

             A holistic registered dietitian, Sassy Spoon owner Tamara opened up the truck to share her love for cooking while offering balanced, healthy, yet hearty Minnesota meals. “Wholesome food with attitude,” as they describe it; lately it seems this takes the part of asian flavors in the menu items. Examples of their offerings include Braised Beef w/ Mashed Cauliflower, Sweet Potato Hash Browns w/ Fried Egg, Wild Rice Salad, and Soy/Mirin Meatballs or Pork with Ginger Slaw. Daily, only two or three of their menu options are made available, though this may increase at events, written on blackboard.

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            With that particular approach to natural and holistic, it’s not surprising that Sassy offers vegetarian options. Besides the Salads, the Hash Dish, which contains sausage, can also be made with Tempeh. A product made from soybean and, sometimes, grains, tempeh is used in quite a similar way as tofu, but with a much different flavor and texture. It’s certainly a product one should try whether vegetarian or non; a little richer, with a crumbly, chewable texture like cooked ground meat.

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            All of this wrapped up in a giant, violently pink Truck.

Food: 7.5

            Simpler style of food, the slowly cooked meats are very rich, flavorful and satisfying. Egg on a hash brown is always a good combination, especially with sausage. The salads I haven’t had, but I would expect them to be pretty good versions of their style, though not something I would go for.

            I particularly liked the cauliflower mash; it’s a really nice substitute to potatoes. The positive flavor aspects come out well with the creamy additions.

Recently tried a Pork Taco. They use a really tasty Masa Tortilla, and the Ginger-Slaw was good(as expected from a nutrition-focused owner), but the Pork was disappointingly average in quality, sort of dry. So apparently there are some dishes one needs to watch out for.

Holdability: 4

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            These are NOT dishes made to be carried. Everything shoveled into a to-go box with an ice-cream scoop. This is something one usually saves until they get to a bench or back to the office.

            They do have Devilled Eggs with Bacon that can act as easier walk-around eating for the travel-concious, and there is one occasion where they made a taco.

Price: 4

(Note: previously changed from a score of 3)

            Main drawback in my opinion. They charge way too much for their menu items, usually in the $9/10 range, and these are often for dishes that are only composed of some meat and a vegetable garnish in a bowl.

            The problem is that there is no real justification for this price. As a student of the culinary world, I know about costs for products and services, so I can tell you a couple things. 1: there’s no way that their food cost is any different than certain other trucks that are still selling complex items for $7-9 at most. 2: there is no way service cost should even come into play, as the most that ever needs doing is frying an egg or griddling some meat. Other than that all items are pre-made, kept warm or cold, and scooped into a box for the order.

             One could possibly argue that other trucks can afford selling for less since they have more business, however one of the reasons why a place usually has LESS is due to prices. Just a thinking point.

On a recent note, I have seen ONE $7 item, that being for a Taco made from a simple Pork and Slaw dish (Note, the original dish, which cost $10, was just the pork and coleslaw in a bowl).

Speed: 8.5

(Note: Previously changed from a score of 9.5)

             At the very least, wait is minimal, but with the recent change of cooking more things to order, it can vary by item. Main items it becomes a consideration are the hash, frying the egg, and the Pork dish, where they griddle the pork before topping with mounds of Slaw.

The TOE: 4

             I very much appreciate what Sassy is trying to do, and I still think the food is very hearty and delicious. The goal and focus of providing a Food Truck experience that is still well balanced and nutritious is not only a great goal, it provides that uniqueness and special quality that one searches for.

            However, the prices are too high, the food itself isn’t really suited to the Street in any sense, and many items feel like not only are they ripping you off, but are purposefully using the point of “nutrition” to avoid turning it into what could be a fantastic street food item (why don’t they put the Meatballs and Slaw in a sandwich? It makes so much sense, and makes so little when left alone in a bowl). Also, I personally don’t quite see what it has to do with the word “Sassy.” I feel like something is lost in the translation afterwards…

                       Tally: 28/50

Final Thoughts

            Here is my main suggestion for this Truck. Buy whatever menu item suits your fancy, take it back to your home/office, then eat it later for dinner or breakfast. It sounds fickle, but the prices work a little better when you consider it a different meal than lunch. Plus, the meat dishes heat up VERY well, and the salads will keep cold without much or any issue.

            If you really want to get food from them, look to see if they have any Devilled Eggs of a Taco. Easier to eat while walking, they’ll have just the same attention and as other menu items, cost less, and act as a really tasty snack.

Bloomy’s Roast Beef

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bloomys.com/

https://twitter.com/BloomysRB

Main Location: St. Paul

             The first time one visits Bloomy’s, they would swear that it was based off of an actual restaurant and diner somewhere. They would be wrong, however, just as I was. Bloomy’s is a one-of-a-kind, pure Food Truck, only selling classic Roast Beef Sandwiches and other diner sides.

            Using locally and quality sourced sirloin, Bloomy’s cooks it slow with handmade rub, slices, and uses it in a few simple and traditional sandwiches. Everything on the menu is made in house; they even smoke cheddar for their Longhorn and Jessica. The sides include Mashed Red Potatoes with Homemade Gravy (pure pan juices from the
steak), Mac n Cheese, and Purple Coleslaw.

             It’s all pretty simple and old-school, but that’s just their style.

Food: 8

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             The Beef is very good, exactly that nice, meaty-garlicky flavor one expect in a properly made roast beef. Buns are soft, coming from a good local purveyor to wrap the sandwiches in a nice way. Gravy and Au Jus are made directly from the sirloin’s cooking juices, just how they should be, and come out rich and delicious. Smoking your own cheddar just creates this… oooohhh so good result.

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            Mac and Cheese did not impress me that much; tasted very much like a regular side you would find in a KFC or other fast food place, maybe a little better. Makes me wonder how their other sides are. I’m guessing the mashed potatoes are still just as good as they sound.

Holdability: 4.5

             Individually speaking, sandwiches are a pretty good option for walking and eating. However, these are always served in a paper bag, so one has to try and dig in, get to the sandwich, still hold the bag while eating… Then, one has to deal with the fact the roast beef has a lot of residual heat to it, so it can be a bit tricky to hold. Then we have the sandwiches with peppers and dripping cheese on top, and that’s without getting to the French Dip, which should always be dipped in the au jus (thus, should be eaten sitting down).

            This is all before considering that the usual order is probably going to involve getting one of their sides in addition. This leaves to a result that can’t really be eaten on the street, unless one purely focuses on a “one at a time” strategy, which can still be difficult since you still have to hold the bag in one hand.

Price: 7.5

             Small, plain 1/4lb sandwiches are $5, with cheese or bacon costing $1 extra each. The larger, 1/3lb sandwiches with toppings are either $8 or $9. Sides are $2 each.

            All in all it’s a good range of prices as-is, but it can easily add up when purchasing toppings, sides, dessert, etc. Which, let’s face it, is hard not to do.

Speed: 9

           Everything being premade, sandwiches mainly just need compiling, maybe some melting of the cheese, and wrapping. Sides are all simple to place, as are desserts.

The TOE: 8.5

           I’m not actually sure how exactly I feel on this Truck. That traditional, homemade, quality feel of an old Roast Beef Diner really bring a lot of those qualities that one usually finds in a good Food Truck. Yet I feel that overwhelming Diner-ness also brings the Food Truck experience back a little bit. Think it’s safe to say that, currently, one should probably ignore this Truck’s rating and figure it out yourself. At the least, it has enough TOE to keep it in the proper, top end.

                       Tally: 37.5/50

Final Thoughts

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            Your first visit should stay simple; sample the plain 1/4lb sandwich to see how you feel about the Roast Beef. Grab a side while you do; ignore the Mac and Cheese, go straight for the Potatoes with Gravy.

            If you find you like the beef, go back later and get one of the bigger sandwiches. Any of them look good, so go with whatever style you prefer (still need suggestion? French Dip, have it with that beautiful Au Jus). When a dessert is sought, I doubt theirs would not be satisfying, so go for it.

            Ultimately a good experience for a quick-grab, slightly-looser with the wallet lunch that will probably be brought back to an office or similar.