SFC: Stale Victories

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                We all know this guy; simple, square, flat, wrapped in 10+ layers of plastic like it’s a Dexter victim. That boring, generic chocolate brownie one finds in crowds of coffee shops, catering parties, and, sadly, many a food truck wanting to offer “dessert” but too lazy to make anything more complicated than a cookie (not that there aren’t some pretty damn good cookies out there…). So at one point or another we end up buying one or getting it for free (maybe from a dis-interested friend), put it in a purse or a shelf/cupboard and forget the thing for a week or so, now giving us a stale, hard brick of chocolate and flour. Completely inedible.

                Or is it!!?? (Dramatic music, flashing lights, and other cheesy stereotypical occurrences)

                After my mother took out her own little square of tooth-breaking baked goods, I sought to think up a couple ways to transform this disappointing phenomena into an edible delight! And I think the obvious answer involves the one good quality that dried and stale goods bring to the table: Absorbency.

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                Yes, we now have a product that can soak up any delicious liquid we desire without immediately turning into mush like a “fresh” brownie would. Like here, you could put it in a bowl and cover with a little RUM! Or any other liquor/liqueur you desire; I even found a Brownie-flavored Cream Liqueur at a store the other day. Now we have a delicious, booze-soaked chocolate wonderfulness perfect for eating as-is, crumbling on top of another dessert, or warming up and serving with traditional Ice Cream and Nuts (you’re gonna love my nuts… okay I’ve officially watched too many of those shamwow and slapchop commercials).

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                Then again, we could take this soaking property up another notch and apply it to that warm, comforting home classic, Bread Pudding. It’s always made best with stale bread for the custard to soak in anyways, why not use some stale brownies as well?

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                We start off by, of course, dicing our brownie into good-sized chunks.

                After this, we find other things to fill out our bread pudding; sorry, as much as I’d like to make one purely from brownies, we need some other, lighter things to make a complete pudding. That doesn’t mean all bread though; I only used two slices of that. I also added some leftover cinnamon-caramel-topped cake that was made from a box (yes, you can use cake in bread pudding! And French toast!). Put it to some actual good use.

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                Pop those into a bowl off to the side and get started on your custard. Since I’m doing this off-the-kilt, and not following a specific person’s pudding recipe, I had to figure out what kind of base I wanted myself. You can use practically any ratio of the basic ingredients you want, I’ve seen ones where, for the same amount of milk, one person used 6 eggs and another only 2. Same thing with sugar.

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                All we need is milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt for seasoning, maybe some other dairy (cream, half n half, sour cream, etc), and in this case some of that tasty rum. I started out with 3 eggs, as I had enough richness from the cakes and cream I was using up, so didn’t need much eggyness.

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                Mix that with the sugar, ½ cup for me, pretty low compared to other recipes, and any booze you’ve got. Most of these pudding recipes don’t require the whole whisking of eggs before adding milk thing, you can easily just whisk everything together in one go, but I still enjoy the little bit of preparation beforehand.

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                I myself used up all the leftover cream we had (1 ½ cups, damn) and finished things with some milk for 2 cups of liquid to add to the eggs.

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                Once finished, we can pour over our cubed bread and cakes, making sure to give a few stirs to make sure it gets in everywhere. I’m not too sure of specifics, but I would guess Ideally you want the liquid to come at least ¾’s of the way up? Maybe just a bit underneath the top, like this…

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                But of course I decided to just add all of it, so it looked like THIS instead. Probably a bit too much… though the end result was quite fantastic, so I guess it didn’t matter, haha.

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                Let this soak on its own for at least 10 minutes, I myself like leaving it for a couple hours in the fridge. While this is going, you can get your pan (whatever kind will hold the amount of bread pudding you have) VERY well buttered, or lined with parchment paper if you want, and turn the oven on; considering how much custard I had, I wanted to ensure I baked this low and slow so there wasn’t any chance of curdling/overcooking, so I left mine at 300F. 325-350F should be a good temperature range as well for others.

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                Pour it into the pan, making sure to spread things about even (I had some brownies that just congregated in the middle) and bake it as long as needed, checking every so often to ensure the middle is cooked through. Check with a toothpick, not to see if it comes out clean but that what DOES come out isn’t still batter; some moist pieces of bread may still stick on if cooked well.

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                And there we have it; a thick, rich, dense yet very moist and creamy bread pudding studded with rum-soaked brownie pieces and just filled with goodness. Great to spoon on top of some ice cream, maybe with caramel sauce, or just enjoying as-is too! It actually sorta reminded me of a chocolate chip cookie but in pudding form. Though now I realize I’m probably gonna need to make a post about what to do with stale cookies… alright, off to figure that out now (sigh)…

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                As always, Good Luck and Good Eating.

SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 3 (Southern Comfort)

                It’s the third post I’ve done for pickling, and for this installment I’m dong… Green Tomatoes!! Hell, I had to do SOMETHING with them… with the oncoming freeze of winter, we had to pick off all the fruit from our cherry tomato plant early, leaving us with a whole, piled bowl full of the under ripe bastards. And they’re not the easiest to immediately come up with a random dinner with (at least not with the small ones… and I’ve already made fried green tomato BLTs last year). Luckily for us, Pickled Green Tomatoes are quite a southern dish, and I couldn’t help but think of it immediately when I got the bowl.

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                As it turned out, the idea evolved into a great new post for the ongoing pickle recipe line-up that seems to be forming, as the various online recipes I’ve researched has led to my first foray into the purely unique, traditional, and separate technique of Jar Pickling (really though, I couldn’t find a single recipe that didn’t make me do this…). I’m talking true old school, full sanitization, sealing, and shoving into the basement.

                What’s the difference from the basic quick-method I described in my first forays? Well, besides a fuller and more integrated infusion of the pickling base, what ends up in the jar, completely sanitized and separated from the world around it, is left to mature and develop purely among itself, almost like an aging/settling bottle of wine. The final result, though subtle, can yield to what is to be a more… “complete,” deeper flavor (if done right).

                But less talk about theories which I have put absolutely NO time or effort in researching, let’s start the process!

                We begin not with ingredients, but equipment. Everything you use needs to be sanitized, EVERYTHING; depending on the scale one goes to with this, it can be a complete pain in the ass, one of the reasons I haven’t actually done this until now. That and that minutia of worry I’ll always carry in the back of my head that “maybe something got in from the air or counter afterwards.”

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                So gather everything you’ll need: A glass pickling jar, the lid (which should separate into two part, the circular top and the rim), tongs, a pair of chopsticks, your knife (yep, even what you’re cutting the tomatoes with), a small empty can or plate or wire rack, and the largest (or at least highest) pan for boiling water you can find. You’ll also need to sanitize the cutting board, but with its size I’m guessing it won’t fit in the pan: I just ran mine under super-hot tap water for a couple minutes.

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                To set up, fill the giant pan as high with water as you can and bring to a simmer (not a boil, simmer). By this time, set some sort of spacer at the bottom; a metal rack works wonders if it can fit. This is to make sure none of the items rest against the pan, letting the heat fully circulate (and making sure you don’t scrape your cooking equipment, haha). Then submerge all the items as much as possible; which is why you need a huge pan, those pickling jars are tall, especially after being elevated. I had to turn mine to the side. Also, I only submerged the main metal parts, not the handles, of my tongs and knife, for easy removal and handling afterwards (how am I supposed to take the other stuff out if I can’t lift the tongs, right?). Simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

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                Set to dry on a very clean towel, or other area you trust to be as sanitized as possible, and more onto the pickle. Choosing whatever aromatics you want (recently read a recipe with 4 different options for spice flavors with the green tomatoes), instead of boiling them with the vinegar you can put them all into the bottom of the jar beforehand. Don’t worry, they’ll be getting just as much heated infusion later, so for now we can keep them underneath everything so we don’t have to deal with the annoying group of spices covering the top of our pickle. I stuck with a simple mix of peppercorns, bay leaves, dry rosemary, cloves, and a cinnamon stick (I also found a fun way to replace chili peppers in a recipe when you don’t have any).

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                Now, slice all tomatoes in half (if we were doing the large tomatoes, then wedges), along with any onions, garlic, or other veggie aromatic you wanted in the mix. Transfer these to the clean and mostly-empty pickling jar; I like to layer the onions and garlic I used, just to ensure thorough flavor mixing (plus it looks so pretty, AND you can eat them along with the tomatoes!). Do not fill all the way to the top, but leave at least the rim open for air and space come sealing.

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                Next, bring the base pickling liquid to a boil along with anything that needs dissolving (salt, sugar, etc). For the recipes I researched, I found a couple things to note: one, you’ll want to make half the volume of the pickling container/s, so for a single quart pickling container I used 2 cups, or a pint of liquid (it came PERFECTLY to the top, so awesome). And two, for the green tomatoes you’ll only want about 50% vinegar or less in it; I saw an iron chef’s recipe that used like 8 cups vin to 1 water, and that’s just way too psychotic. Green tomatoes are gonna have enough tartness and acidity to them as is, we only need the vinegar for flavor and general preserving at this point. Oh, and use Apple Cider Vinegar if you can, it’s really tasty with these guys!

                I didn’t use any sugar in this one, and many recipes only call for a little bit of a sweetness factor anyways. What I DID use, however, was Hot Sauce! It was a fun little experiment, since I just picked this really yummy bottle up from a recent trip and I didn’t have any mustard seeds or hot peppers to add to my spice mix. So instead, I used what was a notably mustard-focused, habanero-made hot sauce. I only added a couple tablespoons, so it’s not noted in the final flavor, but I’m sure it added something. My one concern is that it doesn’t dissolve completely into the brine, but sorta floats around in little particles… not that attractive.

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                Once everything is mixed and boiled, pour directly (and carefully) into the pickle jar, completely submerging your desired produce. Here we use the chopsticks (bet you were wondering what the hell those were for weren’t you?), grasping the end and carefully pushing down to the bottom here and there. This helps get out all the extra tiny air bubbles trapped beneath the veggies, so make sure to be thorough about it.

                And onto our final step: Boiling. Screw the top on, TIGHT, and place the whole thing back into the water bath, which now you have hopefully brought up to a full boil. It’s even more important here that it be completely submerged, but I just felt uncomfortable with turning it onto its side so I just got as much water in as I can and came up to the rim (hopefully the steaming water helped enough). Cover the pot, and leave to boil for 10-15 minutes.

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                This is definitely the point in my reading that I just had to stop and ask “Why the hell am I doing this?” None of the recipes said anything either, so one’s left reading a recipe with no justification for a very strange and annoying step. But after considering
things for a while, I think I can glean quite a few benefits from this process.

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  1. Sterilization: a little idiotic, I mean who needs to sterilize the outside again? But I believe the boiling process assists in bringing a sterilized aspect to the vegetables and spices themselves, ensuring absolutely NOTHING brings in any interfering spores, bacteria, yeast, etc.
  2. Cooking: these ARE green tomatoes after all, very firm fellas, who certainly need a bit of heat in the pickling to soften them up for enjoyment. I could definitely see one using this method for very firm whole cucumber pickles as well.
  3. Sealing: probably the MAIN reason for this. Not only does it apply the whole “heated metal expands and then contracts when cool” thing, but as the insides boil (which they do), I think micro amounts of air escape from the tight barrier, with none being able to come back in. Thus, the jar will end up with its own little vacuum of sealed air and pickling mix, with an iron-tight lid that’s a bitch to get off (make sure you have a little fork or lever for the top part).

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                  But yeah, that’s about it. There’s probably more to it, but I don’t really care too much, and I doubt I NEED to know for these purposes. My only needs now is to let it cool (probably in the water unless you have a way to safely remove it while still hot) and transfer to somewhere dark and chilly; a basement, or garage on my part.

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                 Leave for at least a week to “settle and mature” and you have yourself some very traditional home-pickled green tomatoes! Free to use with breakfast, on sandwiches (I popped them on an openfaced with leftover trout and some horseradish-sour cream), or just munching on their own. They’re not too bad on top of late night nacho snacks either.

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                 Thus ends the third installment in my little series, hopefully it was a fun addition to the other two. I almost wonder what hare-brained random experience is gonna force its way into #4… though I’m still waiting for more Napa Cabbage…

Brunch-fest of Champions

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                   Cafer Racer and a Fulton for Brunch, best way to start off the day! Got to finally try Racer’s Carrot Souffle, which ends up as this mound of awesomely chewy cheese (if you’ve ever had those parmesan “crisps,” it’s like that but thicker) and delicious sweet carrots. The chicken was a bit drier than their pork, but considering they only use the breast meat it’s to be expected; the flavor is still really good and awesome though, and that’s before mixing everything together (and thank you god they’re topping it with all their sauces now, AND the crispy fried strip things!). As for the beer, Fulton’s seasonal Libertine (Imperial Red Ale), quite the tasty fella, and strong of course… took me a bit of a walk to recover, but worth it.

SFC: Italian Sandwich, and no Not That One

               Another upheaval of my sister’s bi-weekly vegetable bag onto my counter left me with quite a few things to cook with through my various lunches and dinners… and also an eggplant. A whole, big eggplant, which stood stuck in my fridge for a week as I tried to find a good night to do something with it.

                And of course, with narrowing options in my peripheral, short window time, a few not-so-great experiences with the “fruit” in the past, and thus little skill in “expert handling” of the product, I as always ended up settling on a cliché. Since I didn’t feel like doing a stewed veggie dish (ratatouille), Eggplant Parmesan it was.

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                Buuuuuttt if I’m going to make somethin’, especially something I feel like posting about, it’s of course gonna have to be street-food-accessible. Thus, despite my love for the gooey, thick lasagna-impersonator that it is, I’ll have to take a different approach.

                Which shouldn’t be too hard, as my first “lesson” in eggplant parmesan had nothing to do with the baked, layered, and baked-again tradition. It simply revolved around a breaded, pan-fried “cutlet” of sorts, served with tomato sauce, the melted cheese, and all that goody. Great potential to shove inside a split hoagie with all the traditional accompaniments for a gooey, awesome, and CRUNCHY sandwich with the rich/heaviness used often as meat-substitute.

                So, before we get to all that handling of the eggplant, we first have to make our sauce. Very little actual rules here, can make whatever tomato sauce you want for the occasion; I stuck with something very basic with what I had on hand. Which was good, because I really needed to get rid of some tomatoes…

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                Start as always with some chopped onions, which are sweat (basically sautéed, but done at a medium temperature and NOT cooked until brown; they should look transparent-ish) in saucepan with BUTTER!!! (YAY!) After a while add in some garlic… and damn I added in a buttload, I think I almost put in as much garlic as onion…

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                If tomatoes aren’t already cut, do that quick; never want to cook garlic for too long (unless the temperature is nice and LOW… or you’re roasting it). I used fresh in this instance, due to the situation, but as I’ve mentioned in another post canned is just as good, and in certain times probably better; especially since they don’t have any skins that just come off and mix around in the final sauce if you aren’t straining.

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                And from here simply simmer/cook on a low to medium heat until everything’s soft. There’s no real NEED for any liquid; fresh tomatoes have a decent amount of water in their cells, and the canned already come with all that stuff around them (which is tasty, use it). Though adding some wine or other fluids certainly wouldn’t hurt.

                I myself wanted to at least get some herb flavors in there, so along with the salt and pepper seasoning I grabbed some red pepper flakes, dried oregano and thyme…. don’t look at me like that! I didn’t have any of the fresh stuff in my fridge! And if I’m not gonna use that stuff in a sauce what am I gonna use it in?

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                Though, I’ll admit I wanted a little more flavor and herbal base/complexity than just thoughs, so I tried an extra little something for fun. Thus I grabbed a can of sun-dried tomatoes from the fridge (hopefully you remember my post detailing my love and adoration for the flavor-filled oil-cured sundrieds), chopped a couple of them fine, and added them in with some of that rich, complex oil. I don’t know how much it really changed things, but I know I enjoyed the sauce.

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                Now done (you can debate whether or not you wanna serve it chunky like this, thin it out, blend it, crush with a potato masher, or whatever), we can get moving on the eggplant. First and foremost is setting up the SBP Station (Standard Breading Procedure… very simple, basic, and flexible style of breading for a variety of situations). We have 3 bowls, or pans, or whatever one wants to use: flour in the first, scrambled raw egg (or just yolk) in the second, and the outer coating in the third.

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                The coating is whatever the hell we want; based off of what I had myself, I used equal amounts of panko bread crumbs, regular bread crumbs, and some parmesan (I thought it’d be a fun thing to add). But one could easily just use pure panko, or bread crumbs, or could crush up some Doritos (I’ve tried it, it makes for a tasty crust), crackers, etc; I was actually going to use some leftover homemade croutons, but they disappeared…

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                After you’ve gathered all stations, SEASON YOUR COATINGS! Flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs all need salt and pepper; not much, but some. It’s just part of proper sbp procedures; also, if you want to get some herbs (fresh is best if able) and/or spices into the breading, that’s tasty too.

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                Grab your pan, which should be very wide and have some sort of deep-ish sides just to help prevent a little splatter, and add a solid but thin layer of oil. We’re not deep frying here, but it needs a little bit of thickness so that it feels like part of the eggplant is actually submered; ideally, when filled with all the slices the oil should rise up to about the middle of their thickness (or just a bit under). Heat this to desired temperature; could try using a thermometer to get to, say, 325 or 350F, or just sprinkle in a little bit of the crumb coating every now and then and see how it sizzles.

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                NOW we can start doing something with the actual eggplant; you don’t want to cut this up ahead of time if you don’t have to. This is of course, for those who know, due to the flesh’s habit of browning/oxidizing quickly once cut. I mean, really, it doesn’t matter too much since we’re coating and frying it completely, but I just like the idea of it being as fresh and whole as possible before cooking. I cut mine decently thick, cuz I wanted that firm, meaty sense to it, and of course cuz I didn’t want the breading to be like half of what I was eating. Also, many recipes will peel the skin off so as to not deal with its texture, and so the breading better sticks to the sides, but I like to leave them on; they add a little flavor, not to mention visual appeal.

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                Then we bread: put it in the flour, coat, tamp off any excess and move to egg. Do the same with that and breadcrumbs, getting a full and even coat before moving to the hot oil. I could probably talk about methods of dipping; using one hand with “wet” things and the other with “dry,” or just using only one while the other is free for other stuff, but it’s all relative, and there are still even more ideas on how best to do it. Just do what’s comfortable and what works best in the situation (say, if coating en mass and frying LATER, the one hand wet and one dry; using a single hand in both will develop this thick, gooey crust that’s a bitch to get off, believe me).

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                Carefully place in the oil (dropping the edge “away” from you, reduce risk of back-splatter), let sizzle until golden-brown, turn and repeat, moving onto a paper-lined plate once done. Ideally, if slices are thick-ish, this should take maybe a minute or so to give time for the inside to soften. If doing thinner, would want the oil even hotter since it doesn’t need it and so less oil is absorbed.

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                And now we’re done. If I was serving this as a proper eggplant parm, I’d set it on a base of sauce, top with some mozzarella (maybe melt it under a torch or broiler first) and/or ricotta, shred some basil and squeeze a bit of lemon juice. Could do the same thing just inside of a long baguette or hoagie bun for an awesome sandwich!

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                In the moment, I felt like something a little different and simpler; the cut, fried eggplant, my chunky tomato sauce, and some of my homemade sauerkraut (yes that’s a hot dog bun, please ignore it, I didn’t have anything for a hoagie!!!).The eggplant was crispy and crunchy with a soft, moist and thick insides, the tomatoes flavorful and red in look and flavor, and the kraut brought a fun brightness and different kind of crunch to the experience. Very late-night crave-worthy. Sorta wish the green tomatoes I’m pickling now were ready though… but that’s something to discuss later.

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                And there we go, another long rambling of my exploits into making a simple sandwich. Hope those reading were able to enjoy it in some sense, I certainly enjoyed making and eating it. And for all those now looking to continue adventures in frying, eggplant weaving, or simply not caring about what I’ve said at all, I leave with Good Lucks and Good Eatings.

Pleading for Lunch

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               Had me a Grilled Ham and Cheese sandwich made with Beer Bread for lunch today! Exactly the kind of thing one could see on a Grilled Cheese Food Truck if we ever got one, like This Guy!

                And yes, this IS a part of my never-ending sub-or-up-front-liminal tirade to try and convince SOMEONE to do a Grilled Cheese thingy in Minnesota! For the love of god people PLEASE! They’re so good… so good…

Fall Rally Roundup and some New Stuff

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                This Saturday was the second of MN Food Truck Association’s new Harriet Brewery Truck Rally events, this time with 15 Trucks showing (one of which didn’t show, but was quickly replaced with Twisted Fork). Though despite the two months wait between this and the first of the (hopefully) many events, the weather was oddly the same (truly… rainy, then sprinkling when I arrived, getting sunny, and then rainy again… so weird).

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                Despite what was, ultimately, a very cold, grey, and rainy start to the morning and afternoon, attendance to this street-side affair was a perfectly surprising boom! Talking with the guys carding at the front, about 3-4X the first rally despite notably colder and wetter conditions. And I have to say it seemed to be the PERFECT amount of people too; enough to be quite crowded and busy (particularly in the actual taproom and the one tiny tent over tables, which this year was moved over to the corner with the extra trucks occupying the middle, where it was quite cramped), but with just the amount that one could navigate around the Trucks with ease, and into the taproom with only mild difficulty.

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                That said, I’m sure all in attendance would agree this to be a very successful day, and can’t wait for the next ones; so far, two events in, both of which completely dominating the Food Truck Fairs in execution.

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                So then, I actually had more than one reason to come here; besides the need to report as an addition to the blog, along with my obvious joys in the continued visiting and exploring evolutions of our fantastic Truck and Brewery scene, I was also meeting up with a new acquaintance in the Truck scene.

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                This is Brett from Food Truck Empire, eating something on a skewer (I’ll detail that in a bit), a fellow Minnesotan Food Truck lover who started up his own blog/site. We just finished doing a fun podcast interview a couple weeks ago (which should be out in a couple more weeks, will report when it’s launched!), and after hearing he had a sadly miniscule amount of experience with ACTUAL local trucks, having only been to a few in St. Paul (so sad the city’s lunch scene doesn’t support a large amount of our mobile brethren), I just HAD to invite him down to the Rally to enjoy some beer and show him to a couple of the trucks. That said, I should probably get to what was actually experienced during the day!

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                With getting there a little earlier than him, having to wait in the cold for a while, I just couldn’t help but need something to warm me up. Luckily for me, MidNord decided to bring some Hot Apple Cider and Horchata (Mexican Rice Milk with Cinnamon), and I of course had to have a cup of the latter. So warm, spiced, and a nice simple way to warm up during the weather (certainly a great thing to grab if you still see them on the streets in the coming months).

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                After getting snuck up on by a black-hat-ed hobo in a hoodie (Ha! Just kiddin’ Brett), we slid over to say hi to my buds at Motley, which had done their own podcast with Brett just a month or so ago. I was happy cuz I was finally able to get my bag of Nuts, and Brett ordered one of their delicious Funky Phillies, which I swear was even better and gooey-er than the last one I had.

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                As for my thoughts, the nuts are definitely good; crunchy, with a thick little shell of spiced sugar on the outside, with a nice flavor of cinnamon and other notes coming out. I think I still prefer the awesome, unique pretzels they have though; the nuts aren’t really so stand-out “oh wow amazing what is this,” but to be fair it’s hard to do that with candied nuts these days (probably because we know what to expect). But they’re still made WELL and proper, and I doubt I could reproduce something close to its style that easily.

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                While eating, we headed over to the little beer stand, moved to the side wall and a bit away from the tent-covered tables instead of under it, where we, after proving our idea at the gate to get a wristband, we then moved to ONE line to then buy a beer ticket and back to the OTHER to get the beer (so many separate steps… felt odd, haha). With a few beers starting with W, I ordered the Woluptuweiss (very dark malted beer, my favorites) while he ordered their West End IPA. Such nice beers to enjoy over conversation, Nuts and Pretzels, and Food Truck traveling.

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                Next stop, to my own surprise until a saw a post of their menu before leaving, was Hibachi Daruma. From the looks of it, it seems they’ve actually took notes of some of the things mentioned in my, and possibly others, review and comments… either that or just did it on their own, but that destroys my self-esteem so I’m gonna say the former!! Besides a lo mein and rice dish, the Menu, accompanied by a set of pictures describing the items, now consists of Gyoza, Chicken Yakitori Skewers, and a Beef “Negimaki” (basically strips of cooked beef rolled up like sushi and filled). So much better potential for street-eating, and bringing in lower-priced options as well! I’ll definitely be updating my review of them shortly after this.

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                After a bit of thinking, I just had to try the yakitori (it was my main option complaint in the review afterall) which, though certainly tender and very portable, and looked pretty with the carrots (though it felt odd to have for street food), wasn’t really all THAT impressive in flavor. It was… a skewer, that’s about it. Chicken and Bell Peppers with soy sauce, meh. Stick with gyoza, those are always tasty.

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                Had to of course stop over at Café Racer while we had the chance, firstly to get my obligatory conversation in with the owner and secondly to introduce him to Brett for a potentially awesome podcast opportunity. I even got a little scoop myself that Mr. Patino might be putting together his own Late Night local Food Truck show (web-based I think) in the coming months, which I will definitely keep track of and update when I have the chance.

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                Taking a look at the slightly redesigned (visually, not in product… though I think they increased the price on the hot dogs) menu with added pictures, we grabbed one of their Arepa sandwiches. And I’m glad we did!! Much redesign and evolution has happened to this item that once was a pile of pork with cornmeal flatbreads on the side, making it into a complete, already-put-together sandwich with slightly thicker arepas and an addition of that delicious pink sauce, light greens, some thin pepper slices, and fried carrot strips. It all came together soooooo well and delicious, very complete and juicy, the pork being just as perfect in its cooking as usual to make a very, very enjoyable sandwich/arepa experience.

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                It is, however, still a bit messy, but one could easily eat it with their hand while walking and use a fork to clean up everything else, just need a napkin for afterwards. Oh, and the plantains were good, a little honey-sweet, though it didn’t wow me too much. Either way I have another Truck to update.

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                With the end of our eating experience in sight, dessert became a must-have. So we headed over to Social, only to find that 4 of the 5 offerings they had were already sold out! Thankfully, the one that was left was a “Mocha” with dark chocolate cake and an espresso buttercream; probably what I would have ordered anyway. And of course, always refined, rich, and delicious.

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                Oooooh, and I got to snap a pic of that Cupcake-Sundae thing I learned about at Lunch by the River! It sadly wasn’t what I was expecting (was hoping much more cupcake and in a long split/sundae bowl), but it still looks good…

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                And so went my afternoon that day, stuck in a brewery parking lot crammed with a bevy of trucks and bumping elbows with the crowd, everybody enjoying a beer, food, or both (much like this lady with her amazingly-plated BLT Sliders). Hopefully my wait until the next similar event won’t be as long, but even if this is the last of the year I’d have to say 2013’s had a pretty damn good run. So however the rest of this year plays out, I wish the Trucks the best of luck in the coming season of cold. With this we’ve said goodbye to the weather of warm, and usher in colored leaves and grounds of snow (of which, I think I saw the first falling of the season… at least in my area).

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                Good Luck and Good Eating to all!

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Charlie Awards

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                It’s that time of the year again (apparently)! What time, you ask? Much like the yearly spectacles and traditions that follow many an organization such as Citypages, Vitamn, the Oscars, and whoever-else-cares, it’s Voting Time!! And around these months in Minnesota, that means the Charlie Awards.

                Those who may have already learned about this in the past two years, or those seeing the various requests for voting on facebook, are already familiar. Beginning in 2011, the Charlie Awards is a newly created local event meant to emulate that Nationally-known James Beard style system, but all purely to Minnesota. I could go into a whole listing and tirade of its history, who Charlie is, etc, but the website does a lot better… and anyways, all I care about is the food (mainly those of the mobile variety). I can say that I remember the first year of the awards; I was actually there, as the catering for those attending the event is taken care of by the various area Culinary Schools (yeah, Ai rocked the house that year, whoot!). Haha, but I remember it going very well and successfully; could never attend the actual awards, but from what I read of the winners afterwards it seems pretty fair.

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                The categories seem to grow every year (with the Favorite Foods section opened to the public), and starting in 2012 they’ve added Food Trucks to that list. This year is no exception, with a voting list resplendent from AZ (get it?) to Saucy. Other categories to vote for (at least right now) mainly focus on the various “regions” of Downtown, asking us to choose which restaurant in each is the best.

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                Which brings me to my point; voting for Food Truck stuff ends in 3 days! Whoever you most adore in our mobile scene, make sure to get on and send them your vote; since you can vote once a day, can get at least 2 more votes in. And one thing to note/remember; this year the voting category for them is going to specific Menu Items, so make sure you pay attention to the pictures and pick the food you like best! (I think it makes it a lot easier; it’s so hard for me to choose among all of them!)

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                So let’s all try and get our favorite noted! The actual event is November 17th, quite a bit away; maybe they’ll have more than one category in the Mobile Itinerary this year. But, we’ll see; until then I wish Good Luck to all Trucks entered!

http://www.charliesexceptionale.com/  

Top 10 Trucks, 2013

               The sky is grey, the weather is chilled, leaves are covering the ground and now soaked from overnight rain, and it is literally the middle of October. Sad to say, it seems the 2013 open season for Food Trucks on the streets has ended; we of course still have our various rallies and brewery-connected days, but the midday lunches of Trucks crowding the Twin Cities’ downtown area is just about over. Though this sad news brings much in lamentations of the missed bevy of our beloved street foods, it also means it’s time for the release of the 2013 Top Ten List of Minnesota Food Trucks!!

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                We’ve seen quite a few new trucks this year, and I’m happy to say that a couple were able to push themselves into the top rankings of my scoring system. And though many of the same trucks from last year still remain, that’s not to say there hasn’t been some interesting jumbling and a fun surprise abound. So let’s get to the big reveals then shall we?

 

10th Place: AZ Canteen with 46 points

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Sliding down to 46 points off of last year’s 48, AZ moves to the 10th position after a full review of their burger sadly ended up taking off points in the Holdability factor, not to mention some increased prices in a new Hot Dog. But they’re quality in food and dedication to the unique and authentic street food experiences are still top-notch, reserving their place in the top 10 for another year to come.

 

7th Place: Three-way tie at 46.5:

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            Chef Shack, MidNord Empanada, and Tot Boss

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            Same as last year but sliding down a notch, the 3 kings of Street Food, Empanadas and Fried Potato still stand as testament to what completely different kinds of cuisine focus can accomplish in the Truck world, each of these giants garnering a huge fan base in their own right.

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4th Place: ANOTHER three way tie! At 47.5:

            Eli’s Donut Burger, Paulette’s Bakery, and The Moral Omnivore

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            With an explosive start of their run and a well-placed sneak into the morning timeslot, Moral and Paulette easily insert their way into the top 10 with their first year of service, joining the rarely-seen Eli in score and bumping off both Scratch and the original 3-way tie.

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                And it’s certainly deserved. With a menu based solely on quality coffee and, more importantly, simple  and delicious hand-made croissants with various fillings, Paulette has successfully rolled out to personally kickstart the movement in the Minneapolis Food Truck breakfast scene (it may not be too present right now, but if rumors are true it’ll get there). Next to them, Moral has premiered as one of my favorite new trucks of the year, handing out successful Street-based versions of sustainable and healthy food in delicious packages (very well done sliders). They’ve even managed to make portable salad “boxes” that even I’M tempted to get.

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3rd Place: Vellee Deli with 48

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            With AZ Canteen down to 10th, the Mexican-Korean fusion trucks stands alone to occupy the 3rd place moniker, claiming its giant medal of bronze over one of the hottest styles/trends in the list of National Trucks. Though it may seem not as remarkable among many of the new and old trucks of our city, their ability to extract rich flavors and glazes in a very approachable, friendly, and simple menu, while giving a variety of options that all still tie together (among many other almost intangible factors) has kept them at the top of our line-up for so long, and will continue to do so for the years to come.

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And finally, to wrap it up nicely, still holding the top two spots with 49 and 50.5 accumulated points respectively are:

2nd Place: NateDogs and

1st Place: Potter’s Pasties

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            Is there anything else I can say about these two that I haven’t already? When it comes to the scoring criteria I base the truck idealistic by, these guys simply dominate; it’s no wonder Potter’s has been able to not only get a second truck for their lineup AND set up their own shop (I’d say restaurant, but it’s so not even close, and so perfect to their style). And though I’ve found many an amazing and perfectly-garnished hot dog in various trucks (Racer and Emconada have given us something nice), Nate still stands as the Ruler in the rich, encased sausages and their classic toppings.

 

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                Well, that’s it for this season, back to trying to dredge through the cold months of reduced Truck traffic. Whether any other entrepreneurs decide to open in the coming months or wait it out until spring is still up to see, but for now I’d say it’s been quite the eventful and successful season. I can’t wait until next year, not to mention the various little events that are sure to happen until then. But as always, until that all rolls around, I’ll be here reviewing and reporting on the various Truck-related happening in our northerly state. For the rest of you, Good Luck and Good Eating!

 

*Note: all lists, both now and future, are purely based off the cumulative score garnered in my Ratings System. It is not based off of only one aspect at a time, though if there is interest in that I can always form a Top Ten based purely from “Best Food,” “Speed,” or others.

Wild Side Cafe

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http://www.thewildsidecafe.com/

https://twitter.com/TheWildSideCafe

Main Location: St. Paul, Etc

            I’m not sure when it is they came onto the streets, but I first learned of the Wild Side Café’s presence during my trip to Twisted Fork in St. Paul. Though upon researching and learning that most of the spots (at least the ones they update about on facebook/other) they frequent come from various events in the farther-reached cities, it took me a while to find an opportunity to stop down. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I’d get to them this year, with their last noted event of the year being a half hour from the OTHER side of the Twin Cities that I have to drive to.

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            Luckily for me, they decided to make a visit to Pour Decisions Brewery before season’s end, giving me a great opportunity to try both establishments at once! (as for my thoughts on Pour Decisions… the beers are certainly interesting, fun, and tasty to a degree, but overall I share my fellow Blogger’s opinions). Not to mention I finally got to see if they had any connection to any of the Wilde Side restaurants/cafes in the cities… one never knows.

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            After separating from their previous job, owners Mary and Scott Sullivan decided to take their love of travelling and fair food to their next venture, opening up the truck alongside his parents, one operating the grill while the other preps the sides. After which they’ve taken the “wild side” name quite literally, focusing their entire approach on offering Game-based food items, being the only MN truck as of now to have both Buffalo and Venison on their menu. The main bulk and offering comes from Burgers, which are offered with one of two cheeses, different topping “combos,” and, most interestingly, the choice to have it in a bun or tortilla.

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            One can also get a Reindeer Dog, or find their game meat in the form of Jerky and Trail Sticks, which they get pre-made and packaged from a friend to sell. Chili comes in to provide topping on various items as well, particularly the Dog and Fries.

             

Food: 5

             I was able to try a few things here, and of course I had to start with one of those burgers with a Tortilla; Venison, since I rarely get to have it in any form. I chose the “Works,” sautéed onions and mushrooms, which sadly weren’t that fully manipulated before being used… the fungus was almost reminiscent of something from a can, sadly, and the onions quite slippery and not too exciting.

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             Eating it from a tortilla is pretty fun though! It’s quite different, and has some great future potential for holding as well as standing as a unique Truck highlight… though that’s if the burger juices actually stay in, haha. A word of warning, do NOT eat these guys soon, they need at least a couple extra minutes for the juices to re-circulate and “settle” back in the meat (I’d go into the physical mechanics of it, but too lazy right now). I took a bite and soon at least half of the “blood” in the burger was out, with all the extra lean protein in the burger not helping to keep it in. It also didn’t help too much with flavor; despite what seemed to be a proper cooking temp (about medium), there wasn’t much to the actual palate. It just goes to prove what many still have yet to realize when it comes to burgers, Fat adds flavor: the higher the actual fat content of the ground meat, the more flavor is in there, along with its moisture content (highly lean burgers, though healthy, also have absolutely no flavor). Thus, though the idea of using Venison is much praiseworthy, it doesn’t really transfer over to a burger all that well unless given a LOT of special care and attention, which obviously isn’t done here. I do, though, expect that the Buffalo or Beef burgers are probably done better.

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             After a burger and some beer, I was ready to go for that Reindeer Dog as a little snack, topping some of it with offerings from their little condiment line-up. Overall the meat was tasty, of the typical hot dog flavor but a little different, spicier… bun isn’t toasted (if I’m correct, neither are the ones for the burgers).

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             Finally, and to my excited surprise for the purpose of reviewing, a group of people next to me at the bar ordered the Chili Fries, and on hearing my review all but forced a fork of it down my throat!! Not that they didn’t have any to spare, shit they give you a PILE of fries, cheese and that chili, it’s a great bar-food item. The chili itself is probably one of my actual day-highlights; very chunky and beefy, it could basically be used for delicious sloppy joes, so they definitely give you the meat. At the same time, though, the dish highlights the biggest disappointment of the venture: Crinkle-Cut Fries. So they basically just buy cheap, mass produced frozen fries like that at any boring bar.

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               As for the Jerky, I haven’t tried it but I expect it to be pretty good like most Jerky.

Holdability: 7

               I’ll definitely praise them on using the tortilla to make a burger a little more handheld, however it didn’t completely eliminate the mess, particularly all the juices that bled out (apparently one needs to wait a few minutes before eating to let the juices settle and integrate back into the meat). The Reindeer Dog and Jerky is of course quite portable, but that’s about it; chili fries and similar items need bringing back to a bar to fully enjoy.

 Price: 8

               A very nice range of prices; alone, Burgers range between $6.50-$8 depending on toppings (no charge for different meat bases), an extra dollar with fries. The Dog stands at $5, same price as the Chili Fries, with an extra $1.50 to top IT with Chili. With these stats, I would normally expect to score a little higher; though with the noted average-ness in actual food quality, it feels less impressive (especially the $5 dog… I’ll let it slide since it’s Reindeer though).

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              Oh, and to finish, the Trail Sticks are $2 and the Jerky $5.

 Speed: 7.5

             Ordering Jerky, the Dog, and Chili Fries come out quick as expected, however I found the wait for the burger seemingly a little longer than average.

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  The TOE: 6

             I mostly do enjoy the focus on Game and variety of familiar products we can get through it, easily standing out from other Trucks in that sense. However I’m not sure if the vehicle itself actually makes that much of an impact on my psyche, most likely due to the very simplistic options for burger toppings; the olives were probably the most original of the bunch. And when the food backed up behind it shows very little of the visuals associated with many of the burgers of great worship (you may argue here, but let me tell you, when I have a GREAT burger I can tell just by looking at it), particularly those crinkle-cut fries, then the reason becomes a little more understandable.

             Still, they have brought in the idea of a very unique, very “Food Truck-esque” item in the Tortilla-Wrapped Burgers, despite not being anywhere near their pinnacle. Hopefully I’ll be able to see them improve and perfect this concept, but until then their aura shall remain closer to what one would imagine if somebody’s backwoods game lodge contained a bar. Though that actually sounds like a fun idea…

                            Tally: 33.5/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            An interesting truck, probably most suited to enjoy outside places like Pour Decisions. Though there are portable foods, I would not consider the Reindeer too much of a must-have highlight. The Jerky, however, could make a great snack-and-go item or something to grab and hold onto for something later in the day (like sneaking into a movie, or when mom makes meatloaf).

            Of the Burgers, I would guess the only one worth ordering to be the Buffalo; sadly the Venison didn’t come out too much for flavor, and beef is just beef. Stick to the bun for now, they may need time before the Tortilla idea is better perfected, so best to only order the Mexican inspiration for when one requires more portability factoring. As for toppings, it’s ultimately your choice, but I would not do the grilled Mushroom-Onion, it’s just not executed properly (the Olive topping might be interesting… should probably ask what kind they are though).

            And to end, just don’t get the fries, unless you’re REALLY in the mood for just a beer and very simple, heavy-fatty chili-cheese-fries bar food. Otherwise, it’s no highlight in the Truck scene.

Fall Feast Food Truck Rally

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              Tonight (probably already started) is the much anticipated Zombie Pub Crawl, 9 years in the running and now featuring a “Food Truck Court” somewhere within the main Quarantine area (which I found out only yesterday since no other site has advertised or provided details on the Trucks taking part).

                But as far as I’m concerned, the real party comes in a week as the MN Food Truck Association launch the Second of their Food Truck Rallies, the “Fall Feast.”

                After a couple months of waiting, a swarm of trucks are returning once more to Harriet Brewery to stand guard and provide their beloved fares to the crowd. Set from Noon to 7pm, these will of course be joined by various bands in the Harriet Taproom, and a ready supply of their fan-favorite beers. The full schedule of Music can be found on their sites of course.

As opposed to last time, the number of Trucks has increased to 15 (though we’ll see how many of them show up this time), and will include: Lulu’s Street Food, Cafe Racer, Tiki Tims, AZ Canteen, Motley Crews, Stanley’s, Brava, Eat At Sandy’s, Hibachi Daruma, A Cupcake Social, Hot Indian Foods, The MidNord Empanada Truck, Moral Omnivore, Gastrotruck, and The Red Pig & Truffle. Though the trucks cost money, entrance is still free, unless one plans to go to the “afterparty” ($5) at Bigtree Bonsai at 8pm.

                I definitely plan on going again to see how this event fares compared to the last; I’ll admit I’m a bit surprised that they decided to do the Rally at the same location, especially with how long of a wait we’ve had since their first (maybe it’s more of a seasonal Rally than a quick yearly grouping…). I hope to see you there, and Good Luck and Good Eating until then!

http://mnfoodtruckassociation.org/events/

http://www.harrietbrewing.com/event/fall-feast-food-truck-rally/