Food Trucks that Don’t Exist: a Dedication

So I was gonna post this guy a while ago, but apparently I wrote the draft, took a break before I looked up pictures, and completely forgot about it! So pretend it came out right after this article did!

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/06/fleet_of_dreams_the_best_food_trucks_that_dont_exist_yet.php

                I am in much agree-al with this latest CityPages Hot Dish article! If you have yet to read it, click the link above to view their opinions on Food Trucks we have yet to see. The Dip-based idea seems a bit odd to me (though I can see us having a market for it), but the make-your-own Pie concept could be heavenly.

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                Either way, it got me thinking about OTHER kinds of Street Food our mobile army has yet to tap into, for one reason or another. I did do a post about a year ago about people/restaurants that I’d like to see get in the business, but hashing out the food itself is yet another fun endeavor in itself.

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All things Japanese

                I’ve mentioned it at times in the past, and I’m sure by now many of you have seen some food show or another traveling through Asian, only to learn that the large Continent is a veritable wealth of various stands shoveling out mass amounts of traditional street foods. There are so many things we still have yet to be completely brought in from China, Korea, Vietnam, etc. But the country that excites me most with their Street Food is Japan.

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                Hot Dish already covers our sore need for good mobile ramen, but I would also so love to see someone shoveling out Takoyaki, spherical little “pancakes” cooked in their own grate with different savory fillings (usually Octopus) and covered in sticky sauces and bonito, just waiting for you to toothpick it into your mouth. Similarly, Dango, little sweet rice flour balls (similar to Mochi) already skewered with a bit of sauce on top. Could have a truck that serves both, sweet and savory oriental orbs!

                Then there’s Okonamiyaki, big savory pancakes that are cooked to order and whatever you want in them (drizzled in special mayo and sauce); Bento Boxesfor those on the go and wanting something “special;” Onigiri, simple rice balls stuffed with various fillings, think of all the cool fusion things we could do with that, while still keeping super-simple and affordable options for others; and of course, who could forget Yakitori, skewers of very simply and very skillfully grilled meats from every part of an animal, covered in a perfectly balanced sauce.

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Juicy Balls

                Subs, skewers, sandwiches, soups, fry baskets, what can’t a meatball be used in? And what can’t it be made from? So versatile with such a soul-filling warmth and joy when done right, there’s huge potential for doing something along these lines. And though we do have One Stand that uses a meatball sub, it’s just the one item on the menu; we need a true Specialty, like Devil’s Advocate before they changed their menu up (such a sad thing now…).

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Desserts Galore

                I’ve said it at least once before and I’ll say it again, we need a Dessert Truck! I’m sorry but Cupcakes don’t really count that much anymore, and our one Crepe Truck is… well… either way, all the other cities have one! Why can’t we!? Moooooommmmmmm.

                -cough- Sorry ‘bout that. Anyways, it doesn’t matter what kind, whether it’s one of those trucks that shells out all variety of sweets or a specialist; Pie, Cheesecake, Sundaes, something stuffed in a Cone, I don’t care, and neither should you! Give us more sugar, MOAR! I will say though, a good, proper Ice Creamtruck that makes their own custard from Quality ingredients would be extra awesome. Or hey, if Izzy’s wants to get in the game I won’t complain.

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Tapas for Everyone

                I know I know, we have A La Plancha now which serves up various “tapas” with their food, but it still doesn’t feel like they’ve gotten so deep down into the spirit and wealth of it that they could (and I’ve seen their truck out a few times). There really are SO many different tapas out there, traditional and non, a having a truck focus PURELY on these various small Spanish things which we could pick up and take around could be so fun. And let’s not forget about Pinchos, Tapas close cousin, basically semi-sandwiches or other “small” items with a thin skewer through them to hold together (and also keep track of how many things you’ve eaten). When I go for Tapas, I really want to get into the feel and culture of Spain, so let’s get a mobile eatery that can really do that.

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All Roads Lead to Dim Sum

                So Yeah, I want Dim Sum. If you want to hear my argument why, read this Post I did a while back.

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A Bit of Our History

                You know, now that I think about it, we really don’t have any trucks yet that focus on some sort of Eastern Europeanspecialties (besides that one Strudel Truck, but we barely see it anywhere). No Germanic, Russian, Polish, Czech, or anything like that, which is a shame ‘cuz it’s all really good food. True the idea doesn’t immediately conjure up “Street Food” images, besides bratwurst covered in sauerkraut (and we already have plenty of that), but there are some foods we know of (and many that we don’t I’m sure) that could do a great job on a truck. There’s Pierogies, cuz who doesn’t love dumplings; Piroshki, which are like Pasties but with a more bready dough (there’s a market stand in Seattle that makes awesome ones, perfect street food); Borscht and the Crepes like I said; many many regional snausagesto be used in dogs, sandwiches, what have you; various stews like Goulashwhich could be shoved in something; etc. And don’t forget the many many uses of sauerkraut and potatoes. It’s basically like talking about our favorite MN foods, so why not express them on the street?

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Everything Cake

                It hits me that we, and many others, have a Crepe Truck, a Waffle Truck, but why not have a Pancake truck? Thick and fluffy, but one could still wrap it in a cone or fold in half. Could fill and top it with anything, sweet or savory, as all different versions of pancakes do. Which is another thought, instead of just doing the one basic kind, a Pancake Truck could offer different batters (either pick and choose or each with their own crafted fillings): Potato, Johnnycake (cornmeal), Buttermilk, Thin European, etc. Who wouldn’t love the joy of taking something simple and nostalgic and getting serious with it, much like the Grilled Cheese idea (thank god I no longer need to add a “grilled cheese” section to this list).

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Fried Fury

                A lot of people like Anchor, our local Fish and Chips based restaurant and truck, but it feels like the menu is more restaurant-based than fish-and-chips-based; I mean they only have the onefish. How cool would it be to have a pure, simple, and classic Fish and Chips truck that, like the shops back home, have a whole selection of different fish to go in the fryer! Or maybe they take the fish and fries and stuff it in a grinder or tortilla (or, with the nation’s Indian ties, Roti) to make it fully portable! Slather on that Tartar sauce (per request of course) and really give us a Deep Fried delight. And why stop there, why not make a whole Deep-fried themed menu, span more than one kind of food item, cover some random crap in batter and crisp it up with heart-destroying deliciousness. I know there’s a place in New York (I think it’s called The Chip Shop) that does it, and they’re quite successful.

                Or at the least, maybe get a truck that specializes in Fried Chicken. We have some that do it (very well I might add) in sandwiches, but let’s get a place that really does it justice as the MAIN item.

Temaki

Temaki

                Oh come on, you knew I was gonna say it at some point (well, if you read my blog frequently). Sushi Fix STILL has yet to offer this perfectly walkable coneof Nori stuffed with sushi rice and filling. I won’t go into it much this time, but I still believe it would be such a great, fun, delicious Toe Ring type item to sell for the sushi lover on-the-go.

                Well, that’s my list, what’s yours? Do you have any particular Foods or Cuisine you’d like to see on the Minnesota Street?

Red River Kitchen

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https://twitter.com/RedRiverKitchen

Main Location: Breweries, Markets, Etc

            Have you ever been in that situation where you visit a restaurant, maybe one that had recently opened, been totally not impressed by the food for very obvious reasons, and then half a year or so later you see these articles or posts from people saying how great and fantastic it is? Did they improve their food? Have we ordered the wrong menu items at the time? Are they talking about a different location that’s better than the one you went too? Is everybody else taste-deaf? Or am I just too cynical an @$$hole in this particular occasion to give proper credit?

            That was my experience with Republic, a new bar which popped into the Cedar and Riverside intersection (also known as 7 Corners) during my last year of College Student Housing, replacing one of the main corner bars that sadly couldn’t last. The beer selection is great, but my food experience was quite… bleh. It’s left me quite confused after the more recent accolades.

            So when I found the excuse spend money on and try them again through the introduction of their new “Menu Testing” based Food Truck, Red River Kitchen, I jumped at it eagerly, heading out as soon as they parked at one of the breweries near me. They aren’t ever really out on “the streets,” mostly sticking to specific farmer’s Markets and Breweries; Excelsior seems to be a favorite, along with many other ones not-that-close to the Twin Cities.

            Using the mobile eatery as a way to round out and experiment with possible new restaurant foods, options change quite frequently, so it can be tricky to narrow down what one should expect going in. I think I CAN safely say, though, that one will very likely find at least one burger and/or Sandwich on the menu; a simple Bacon Cheeseburger seems to be a standby for customers not interested in experimenting. Another standby, likely to satisfy those brewery go-ers craving a fatty, salty food snack, is the restaurant’s classic Cheese Curds.

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            Other items on my visit were Barbacoa Tacos, Handmade Jerk Chicken Sausage, and a Quinoa-Mushroom Burger(pictured). Their own versions of typical Modern Day Bar Food, at least those better suited to the Food Truck Menu concept, is ultimately what one will find. Now if only they had their famous beer tap attached on the side.

Food: 8.5

             It was hard to choose between the Tacos and Chicken Sausage Sandwich (the burgers, though probably good, didn’t look THAT special to me), but after a bit I settled on seeing how well they got the Barbacoa, supplemented with some Cheese Curds, which seemed to be quite the popular item that day. Can’t imagine why, they were practically awful.

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            Well, I guess that’s a little harsh. To have their own little “personality,” I guess, River swayed from the classic batter for a drier dredge before frying, possibly cornmeal based. They were actually pretty good for a couple minutes after receiving it, still hot from the frier; a little gooey, an ‘interesting’ crust, and that “Yum Yum” sauce (from what I can tell, a simple aioli of lemon, cayenne, and possibly other simple spices) was quite good with it. After those two minutes though, as soon as it cools down… just rubbery, chewy, bland starch-coated cheese that makes you put effort into eating the rest of it, even with the delicious mayo.

           Which is a shame, because that Taco was damn good. The meat was tender, juicy, and tasted like the grill from which they were cooked on (in a good way), carrying that slightly smoky characteristic that good Barbacoa demands. The white corn (I do believe it’s masa, but it’s hard to tell with only the one wrap and all the food on top) tortilla is lightly grilled to amplify this experience, and filled to the brim with meat and typical accompaniments, which are quite poignant on their own, lending a strong flavor to the whole taco. I loved it, for the sole reason that everything tasted exactly like how you expect a proper Barbacoa Taco should, with every flavor present.

            I would like to say, if I was basing this solely on the execution of the Taco, I would gladly have scored Red River a whopping 9.5-10 points easy. But taking other dishes into account, not to mention the variable factors with changing dishes, lowering it somewhat seems the more prudent choice.

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Holdability: 6.5

             Outside getting a sole basket of Curds or Fries, every food item (on their own, not counting container) is a pure two-handed affair, with wide burgers and tacos which, though conveniently wrapped, made quite the little mess while eating (they are quite stuffed with toppings, very delicious but not condescend to portability, especially since they didn’t provide any napkins). A shame they didn’t sell them with the proper double-tortilla wrapping to sop up the fallen garnishes and juice.

Price: 6.5

              Restaurant-influenced pricing is pretty obvious, with $8 and $9 for all mains despite their simplicity. Not as crazy and psycho pricing as certain other places I’ve been, but there’s not as much range and variation either outside the $4-5 Fried Sides.

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Speed: 7

              Well, I had just enough of a wait time to head back in the brewery, stand behind two people taking their sweet ass time just to order a glass of beer, and head out just as they were calling my name. It can feel slow if there are multiple orders in front of you, but it’s not a bad speed if you consider the individual orders.

The TOE: 6

             They feel solid, with a bar-like sense of “place” that I’m sure those familiar with Republic could probably work out even better, with a nice design and set theme. Not to mention a bit of fun in the understanding that there should be often menu changing, all of it being part of the Testing period to see what may make the old restaurant menu. I never did feel much of an “impact” when I was there though, overall the place doesn’t seem to want to stand out in my mind, not much that makes me want to drag myself back.

                      Tally: 34.5/50

                       

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Final Thoughts

            Though my overall opinion of Republic’s kitchen offerings has certainly improved compared to my first visit, I can’t see their mobile operation as being a particular favorite of mine on the streets. At a Brewery and Event, however, with choice seating and a predication to not mind spending an extra couple bucks on my meal, I’d have little problem popping in for a choice edible. Due to the supposed ever-changing offerings, suggestions towards what this should be end up difficult.

            What I can probably say is, first off, if one desires Curds of Fried Cheese, their best bet would be to get it “as a group” so that it’s all eaten quickly while still hot and delicious. Otherwise, don’t bother. Similarly, if one is looking for a quality burger, I would strongly bet there are much better options on other trucks; I’m sure they’re still good here, but the quality of other Trucks like Melch’s and Neato’s should easily trump what I’ve seen so far (though I will go on record saying that I could easily be wrong, I do have yet to actually try one, but appearances CAN convey a lot if you know what to look for).

            Thus, one’s best finds are likely to be any newer items, look for things that are “Homemade” or, at the end of the day, just sound really good on the menu. It sounds lazy to say it like that, but those Tacos sounded like the most appetizing thing on there that day, and they definitely did NOT disappoint. Maybe it’d be good to say that anything “Grilled” will go best for your nearest beer source?

Flavor Wagon

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https://twitter.com/Flavor_Wagon

Main Location: Minneapolis

            Ideally I prefer to wait some time after the opening before I visit and review a truck, say give them over a month or so to get in a rhythm and focus what they’re doing (you know what they say about a place on their opening day). Sometimes, though, circumstance leads me towards a business still fresh after their arrival on the scene.

            Opening in the early weeks of May 2014, my visit to Flavor Wagoncame less than a month later, when they still had yet to set up anything besides a Twitter account. Be that as it may, their menu had luckily gone through a bit of updating, and the food I was able to sample seemed pretty focused and solid for what they were trying to get out.

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            Cuisine is Middle-Easternin style, the top of the Menu portraying (at least for now) an intriguing dish from Egypt called Koshary(see Food section for description). Other items take the regional flavors, with a protein focus on spiced Beef or Chicken, and wrap it up as “Flavor” Burritos, Tacos, or at times Sandwiches. They also offer the oft-typical Tabouleh Salad, Hummus, and Baklava. They used to have a Rice Pudding too, which I was quite excited to try, though after querying the owners found out that it apparently had issues working out in a truck (something about it separating). Which, though I missed it, I’m much happier to see them making a good, level-headed decision not to display an under-par dish.

            I’m curious to see if any of this may change in the coming months.

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Food: 9

            Holy Sinister Starch Bomb Batman!!

            That was my first impression when I was finally handed the Egyptian Koshary, basically just a big pile of Rice, Lentils, and Pasta (traditionally all macaroni, they mix in some spaghetti amongst the masses), “garnished” with Chickpeas and Fried Onions. Soooo starch, starch, and more starch. Then we get a glob of bright red tomato sauce which, on first sight, you think “this can’t possibly accommodate all this pasta and rice… just not enough…”. Then you decide to take a small bite of chickpea with a half-teaspoon scoop of the sauce and actually realize, with a mix of joy and self-loathing, the spicy, pepper-based nature of the red-hot condiment.

            Your fork dives in, now eager to blend all that sauce in with its carbohydrate base, covering everything in a thin layer of reddish-pink; not enough for any other tomato sauce, but just perfect for this Egyptian-style hot sauce. Consumption begins, and satisfaction soon follows. After getting it, I so did NOT think I’d actually like it as much as I did; I mean it’s just rice and pasta and other different starch things. But there was something surprising to it, the flavors weren’t that heavy, the spiciness helped you to keep coming back… it was good. And filling, very very filling! Don’t doubt that. Certainly I don’t need anything else with it; though some other additions in the lines of protein, veggies, and/or crunchy texture could easily launch the completion even higher.

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            The Burrito was similarly a nice surprise. A first bite of lightly flavored Tomato rice gave me doubts, but I soon got down to the good stuff. Ground, Cumin-based Spice Beef, tangy fresh White Cheese, Lentils and Cilantro all create a flavor that’s distinctly Middle Eastern and definitely not as heavy as the typical Burrito. Large chunks of hot, spicy raw onion invade the mass with its crunchy texture and a flavor that, usually, I detest on its own, but actually lovedwith the rest of it. Again, a happy surprise which I fully enjoyed.

            Sadly didn’t have the chance to try their Baklava, but it looks pretty darn good (I’ve seen “meh” baklava before at the Festival of Nations, I can tell Flavor’s is notably better).

Holdability: 7

             Rice/Pasta Bowl, a Salad, Hummus, multiple two-handed hold-and-scoop foods. Even the Burrito, wrapped tight in its foil, finds a thankful relief in having a cardboard basket underneath; it’s still a bit messy apparently, not everything wants to stay in!

Price: 9.5

             $7 for most of the Taco/Burrito entrees, $4and $3 for Sides and Dessert, a very good and decent range of price options. The $6 Koshary comes in at a great deal, giving you a lot of filling food for the cost; though so do other items, but the starch-centric bowl really highlights this.

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Speed: 5.5

            I feel like the wait was longer than it should have considering the simplistic preparation dishes than it should have; though I don’t know, maybe they were cooking some things to-order, but that’s not the impression.

The TOE: 7.5

             The Truck itself doesn’t have much personality to it (the name’s a bit generic and doesn’t have any relation to the theme), but the food easily brings plenty enough to spare. Singular, niche-fitting, with a light enough twist to push it onto the street. There’s a decent gap that needs filling, but it’s a pretty good start.

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                      Tally: 38.5/50          

Final Thoughts

               Probably one of, if not the, best places to completely fill your stomach for a good price; or, you know, if you wanna Carbo-load. For either of these, the Kosharyis the obvious item of highlight, especially considering it’s their signature dish.

               For the more mobile-inclined, or those who don’t want to JUST eat starch for lunch, the tortilla-centered options they provide are the other must-haves. The Burritois my favorite, though the Tacosdon’t look too bad either (expect them to be a bit messier of course); as for Beef or Chicken the choice is up to you.

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               Final suggestions; though it hasn’t reached Toe Ring status, I would definitely get the Baklavaas a lunch or food truck day dessert over the generic brownie/cookie anyday. Though I would NOT get this naturally, if you’re the kind of Truck eater who enjoys getting Chips and Guac on the go, the Hummusoption would be a fun and different change (from what I’ve seen so far, I bet it’s quite well made).