Panini Pinups

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https://www.facebook.com/paninipinupsmn?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/paninipinups
Main Location: St Paul, Etc

Generally speaking, it feels like most trucks, when they don’t have a specific food theme or culinary style to them, automatically turn to one of two menu focuses, if not both: Tacos and Sandwiches/Burgers. Sometimes this is done well, simply using it as a package for their unique and delicious flavors, while others I swear just feel like an answer to a question. “Okay we’re doing a food truck, what should we put on it?” “Uhh, sandwiches.” “What kind?” “Let’s just do good ones and it’ll be fine; we’ll get a burger on and people will buy that too.” Which sadly sort of works, but I’ve always felt a lack of that distinctive personality note to them, like what’s found on Filius or O’Cheeze.

So turning all your sandwiches into something simple like, say, Paninis definitely comes through as a plus in my book. Which, obviously, is what Panini Pinup has come to do. After having to work under other chefs for years on end, the owner of this new truck decided to set out and be his own boss for once to succeed, offering up a few classic sandwich options from their steel grey contraption, all pressed tight between two hot grates.

Besides offering up their versions of a Chicken Club and Cuban, one can also find a fully vegetarian Mediterranean featuring hummus, feta, and olives. Then there’s the Spam, classically bedecked in American cheese and bedecked with pineapple or tomato as one prefers. Or, for the simpler tastes seeking just something crispy and gooey, a Grilled Cheese.

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They do also sell a couple interesting drinks of note, often as great compliments when they stop at sports and high school events. There’s cold-brewed High Brew Coffee in cans, interesting and tasty-looking, and apparently a locally-made Sports Drink called ASPIRE. I was almost tempted to try one if I didn’t have so many other street edibles that needed buying that day!

Food: 7.5

                The best part of a Panini is the crust, and these definitely have that; thickly developed, compressed, crunchy, with those great sorta-butter toasted flavors we look for; for some reason I had expected a flat pressed griddle for it, but the grooved grill-style really makes these sandwich breads into something nice and happy.

My own ramblings brought me first to the Spam, Hawaiian style with Pineapple, and the Cuban. The former of which seemed to take advantage of that refrigerator grilled meat+cheese sandwich flavors I so enjoy at lunch. The pineapple itself, despite the thick pieces of it, didn’t seem to ruin things as it’s likely to do, the flavor was certainly fine. That said it didn’t excite me either, was just ‘pineapple and spam,’ overall the flavors didn’t have any distinctive notes that really make me crave a re-order. It could have, there’s supposedly a Sriacha-Mayonnaise on there, but one can barely taste it; they need more of that flavor here to distinctly contrast with the pineapple and boost the generic canned meat and cheese flavors. Still enjoyed the flavors, but it could distinctly be better.

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The Cuban was given a similar choice in a garnish; regular mustard or jalapeno, both of which came from a certain yellow bottle. Of course I went jalapeno, you need SOME of that in a proper Cuban. Overall the flavors were good, in fact probably a touch better since you got more of the contrast from the tangy-sweet-spicy mustard, briny pickles, and that uniquely swiss cheese; but as Cubans go it didn’t stand out TOO strong. And part of this is from a particularly interesting choice they seemed to make. So, besides some Ham slices, the only other meat they put in there was… Chicken. White meat chicken, chopped up… where the hell is the pulled pork? There’s a REASON Cubans use some sort of slow-roasted pork along with some OTHER pork product, and that’s because it’s delicious and one can still taste it alongside those other strong flavors. Instead they chose a rather flavorless chicken… which I’m not even sure if they cooked themselves; they might have, but who knows.

Because besides that chicken, IF it didn’t come pre-cooked, it feels the only things they would have actually prepared are a couple of the sauces, cooking bacon for the Club, and then just cutting things up. There seems to be very little self-produced, transformed items being used on this truck; which is a great strategy when trying to reduce the time and cost of prep and production, but at the same time it results in the reason for why neither of these sandwiches had SUCH a strong impression on me and my taste buds as I’ve found at plenty other trucks in the cities.

Oh, and the Cuban didn’t get heated ALL the way through too; when touched, parts of the chicken were still cool. Something to note, though I think it’s only a POTENTIAL consequence for the Cuban and Club sandwiches; the others aren’t as thickly stuffed.

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Holdability: 6

               I was rather disappointed here; though, I should start out and premise by saying that we find something that’s not really messy, and IS easy to eat; two hands are required, it being served in basket and all, but can initially walk around with. That said, the real strength of paninis as street food is that firm, crunchy seal that holds everything together in one tight package, a monumental barrier that coils around its captives like iron chains. And where the bread is prepared and cooked in a way that makes this possible… they built the sandwich wrong, lubing up the chains and making them slip.

To put simply, on both of these sandwiches, the very top layer underneath the bread ended up as thick slices of something wet; pineapple for the Spam, Pickles for the Cuban. This ended up having the top piece of bread move around more, leading to some fillings falling out or other interesting instances. And that’s annoying, because it shouldn’t be happening at all, and shouldn’t have even been an issue. All they’d need to do is put a piece of cheese, a lot of mayo, or some other adhering layer between these and the bread, or just have them sliced much thinner so they end up actually melding and not disturbing the sandwich mechanics; a very important thing you know.

And I do want to get this off my chest, part of me does rather wish they did something like those longer hoagie/sub/Cuban rolls for the bread instead of the wide flat sandwich bread. Part of me just envisions that more for paninis, I feel it’d probably help keep things locked down better, and they can be just wrapped in paper and eaten with one hand; though these could too if they weren’t cut in half. But that’s a personal preference, there’s little wrong with their choice of style, just execution.

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Price: 7.5

                8 dollars across the board except for a plain Grilled Cheese, which comes in at 6. Simple basic prices for this kind of menu.

Speed: 6.5

The wait may perhaps be about average like the other trucks, but I feel it’s taking longer than it should as they not-so-quickly assemble each sandwich to order, dab both sides with melted butter, and have to wait minutes to then be pressed and grilled. This sort of item can and should be pre-, or mostly pre-, assembled so it can be quick-finished and popped in that hot, heavy plate and done like a couple minutes after the order is heard or seen.

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The TOE: 7.5

                Overall the design, theme idea, and menu look/feeling is a rather good start, they’ve capitalized on a truck that can hit distinctly in our minds, they just need to work on it more. The truck is still a bit bare I think, the menu either needs more or just BETTER and creative/interesting options that are clearly filled with things they made themselves, and maybe serve the paninis partially with a foil/paper cozy instead of in a basket so they can be taken and gone in an interesting fashion. Just put all alone in a basket is just… boring.

Tally: 35/50

Final Thoughts

You know, currently, I think the best approach option to this truck is to simply get a Grilled Cheese; it’ll be made quicker, capitalizes on all the positive aspects with little risk of encountering the not-so-great things, and of course comes a bit cheaper. The Spam makes for a nice Grilled Cheese + fun meat option, I’d probably try getting it with the tomato in hopes the top slice won’t slide around so much; plus it tastes better with the American cheese I’m sure. And finally, I say this last as I haven’t tried it yet and can’t put any positive opinion both good or bad, I would assume the best actual ‘panini experience’ would come with the Chicken Club. Their particular chicken doesn’t thrill me, but it has bacon and should hopefully be able to squish down so it’s ALL heated with no cool spots; though since it’s a club it shouldn’t be much of a mind here. Though I am curious to try the Mediterranean myself, maybe if it was a buck cheaper and used something else besides JUST Feta; poor sandwich, it doesn’t have anything that will properly melt, like Mozzarella, which CAN be considered just as Mediterranean.

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Parkway Pizza Trolley (Quasi-Review)

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http://parkwaypizzamn.com/

Well, this should be a quick one, so figured let’s just do a quasi-review for it.

It seems Parkway Pizza has stretched out from its home base in St Anthony and Longfellow, joining the catering and street vending scene with a trailer that can be transferred to events, fairs, and catering parties. Lucky me, I got to see it 3 days after it received its official paint job, so it got all bright and snazzy; they’d already hit quite a few gigs beforehand to apparent success.

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The setup is a bit surprising at first, but understandable considering their very ‘to-go’ pizza style, as the trailer itself doesn’t have any cooking equipment inside. Counter, hand sink and other sanitary requirements, and needed storage space and equipment was about all I could pick out. As such, the pizza seems to be just transported from the restaurant in the classic carry out boxes, sliced and held waiting, warm. Orders are by the slice, which I myself hold as a rather appreciative option for when you don’t want to shell out a higher amount to get a whole pizza, even if small-ish.

As such, selection depends on whatever is there and what pizzas haven’t been fully bought out; I myself found it odd that, though it was only a bit over halfway through the day, they almost ran out by the time I visited, and the event itself wasn’t that busy. So either they refill with restaurant deliveries on longer days, or just not fully prepared yet. So all I had was a cheese, but anyone who’s had Parkway knows what it tastes like; and those who hadn’t, just imagine the typical home-delivery pizza style. It’s like that.

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Food: 5 – It’s fine. Again nothing much to say besides basic pizza style, especially after it was made some time beforehand and loses that really fresh heat and softness.

Holdability: 8.5 – Just ask a New Yorker why pizza-by-the-slice is a good grab-and-go. Or check out that skyway pizza place.

Price: 9 – Only $4 a slice, and apparently mine was unevenly cut small so they gave me an unasked dollar off, very appreciative! Wish the quality was better to really make it feel special.

Speed: 10 – Everything’s already sliced and ready to go, the main benefit here next to price.

Toe: 3 – At the end of the day it just feels like what it is, a trailer connected to an original pizza restaurant where you can grab a simple slice if you’re in the mood for it. Nothing that really drags me in much from the street if I didn’t have to do a review on them. Maybe if they had a pizza oven there to cook completely or from half-baked stage, or something nice to really keep them warm and hot at least.

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Frio Frio

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https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/friofriomn
Main Location: Minneapolis/Nordeast, Events

I’m at Open Streets Northeast last Sunday, a good occasion to get out and have a bit of fun and exploration on a day that turned out much less cloudy and rainy as forecasted, get some walking and sweating in, see some sights, stop off for a beer or snack occasionally, and near the end I turn a corner and see… god dammit, another frozen treat cart that I have to review. I mean there’s enough food trucks I need to get to already, why can’t these people just slow down and let me write!? Oh well, whatever, since it’s just the one small guy I can probably just do a quasi review out of them…

Well that idea has been shot to hell because I love these guys. I’m gonna just go right out and say it from the start, Frio Frio I believe is the best cold treat truck in the Twin Cities right now. I’m sorry Geno’s, Cranky’s, and Fro Yo, but these guys are just plain cool (unintended badum-ching), unique, delicious, and their product fits their setup perfectly (unlike a certain ice cream cart with a not-so-smooth product due to the non-traditional ‘refrigeration’).

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But here’s the deal. Taking note from similarly traditional frozen treats found on the street in Mexico, Frio Frio makes specialty popsicles out of (mostly) natural ingredients with delicious twisted flavor combos, both contemporary and sort of classic Latin-inspired. These include, but aren’t limited to, Avocado-Lime, Grapefruit-Carrot, Strawberry-Balsamic-Basil, Kiwi-Apple, and ‘Piñata’ (oh I’ll tell you about this later, be patient). Great treats for kids and adults alike, though I say stick to the adults cuz which kid is really going to appreciate anything more or less so long as it’s cold and has sugar? But I’m not going to try thinking of anything else to lengthen this intro any more, I just wanna dive right into the scoring!

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By the way, I ended up grabbing some popsicle pictures from their Facebook page because you NEED to see what the others look like.

Food: 10

                It was a bit tricky picking, but something told me I had to try the Avocado-Lime, really get that proper Mexican inspiration, and the Piñata. They were both so good, firm but not hard or particularly icy, they each licked up easy, I mean the texture was just ideal. The avocado was fantastic, actually making it smooth and creamy, almost between regular popsicles and those gelato ‘popsicles’ we see sometimes. And of course the flavor came out great (if you haven’t had avocado desserts yet, you need to try them, it actually works really well when held back by other ingredients; almost custardy with its richness, and with a smooth, round green flavor) and was balanced nicely with the lime.
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Now, the Piñata… Lemon and Coconut Water popsicle suspended with, and I’m not sh*^@ing you, Sprinkles and Gummy Bears. And it is GOOD. I swear, I never thought I’d love sprinkles and gummy bears so much, but these are sort of the perfect flavors to bring them out in, without just tasting like extra pieces of artificially flavored sugar. Not to mention you get some fun, childhood-like things to chew as you go through it. I can only imagine how tasty the other popsicles are.

Holdability: 10

                 What can I say, you walk down a hot street, licking and munching a delicious popsicle in one hand, the fingers of only one hand getting a little sticky from the bit that’s melting off the popsicle, but you don’t care, it’s not impeding you at all and it reminds you of summers who knows how long ago.
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Price: 10

                  It’s only $3 each, I mean come on! And they each certainly have a good amount to them, and flavor to make every dollar worth it.

Speed: 10

 Reach in the box, grab the popsicle, hand it to you, and off ya go (if you so desire to leave immediately).
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The TOE: 10

                  It just feels like the whole cart nails it for me; the box has a cool design, the colorful theme runs throughout (even on t-shirts), name is catchy and actually makes sense, personality is distinctly bright and bubbly, the product is simple but unique and delicious, and it actually has a tie-in to traditional street food elsewhere. They’ve totally got that ‘Adult Popsicle Cart’ feeling to it that brings you back just enough to when you were younger, slurping on a frozen lolly during a heatwave; I swear I half expected I would find that classic messy smear of popsicle on my lips and tongue when next I saw a mirror. And hey, if they have ME this excited and raving about it, they must be doing SOMETHING right. I mean heck, all their popsicles feel like a ‘Toe Ring’ to me (maybe not the kiwi-apple, but that’s me).

Service: +1.5

                Because I don’t think it’s fair for Potter’s Pasties to be the only truck ever to go over 50 points, and because there IS that really social, easy talkative feeling when you go there, likely an increased openness for random chat when the people shelling stuff out aren’t behind a window and above your head. Besides, the two shelling this stuff out are nice, hospital, and have fun personality, like a lot of people in the mobile vending service biz; just got to see it more today and here.

Tally: 51.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Frio Frio offers a product that is perfectly ideal to add on the tail end of any food truck luncheon day or just as a quick indulgent treat whenever one gets the chance. Though I’m not one for feeding kids really good products, it offers an actual strong possibility for anyone to go and find SOMETHING that fits their tastes and desires for cheap. And as for which ones to get, you can’t go wrong with anything I don’t think, but if I HAD to narrow down the ‘must-haves,’ at least for your first visit, I would definitely still go with my own choices of Avocado-Lime and Piñata. They’re both highly unique, indicative of the original influence, and come on they’re delicious.

The Bison Butler

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https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/thebisonbutler
Main Location: St Paul

Those who’ve read a few of my reviews are probably used to me starting off now and then with an exasperated, apologetic, and overall depressed statement on my inability to get to certain trucks as fast as I would enjoy. Often the issue is pure circumstance; knowing they’re out, but never having that perfect day or chance to visit. Other instances I run across a truck that I simply haven’t heard of, or only saw twitter of it one or two months after opening. But the worst feeling has been revisited this recent week, ambling out to find a truck that not only do I have little to no recollection of, but that’s apparently been in business for multiple seasons. Perhaps the name and paint looked familiar, that I may have seen once before, but truly was this vehicle alien to me, and thus I had to amble up and find out more about it.

This big yellow truck with the buffalo and grass painted on either side is The Bison Butler, a business that finds two particular impressive points to it. Firstly, and most expected, is their exclusive use of Fresh, Local, and Hormone-free product, including their Produce, Pork, and especially the Bison meat. Secondly, the goateed gentleman behind the operation painted the truck himself! Doesn’t his bison and signage look awesome? I’ve always found it sketchy doing non-professional wraps and paintings on trucks, you can always tell and it’s not always the best, but ya gotta love the simply well done, sort of native hulking figure standing there, waiting to be gazed on as you eat one of its brothers (Maybe this part would have fit my TOE section better? Oh well, come back and pretend this is the intro or finale to it later).

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When asked, they SAID they’ve been on the streets for 4 years, of course making myself feel really bad for not getting out to them sooner, I’m sorry!! Though as I write this I actually researched their timeline and found that opening happened in June of last year (perhaps he HIMSELF had 4 years experience on the streets, who knows), so I don’t need to feel SO bad now. Still need to get out to more of these guy, gosh darnit…

That aside, the truck itself really focuses on simple, classic Street Food bison and pork items. The American mammal comes in Burger, Steak Taco, and Sausage versions (I’m assuming the last is like a link sausage for bratwurst lovers, but don’t hold me on that; could be patty sandwich). Pork is often Pulled and placed in a Taco, Sandwich, or their Cuban Wrap alongside ham, pickles, pepperjack, and their creamy House Slaw. They also have a Bison Hot Dog and Rib Tips.

OH! And it’s not a local meat business without some Beef Sticks for sale on the side! In hindsight, I really should have bit the bullet and tried one, or at least asked if they make it themselves or get it elsewhere (I’m heavily guessing elsewhere). Maybe on my next trip to St Paul, they seem to be in Mears Park quite often nowadays; I’ll try and report if it’s particularly impressive!

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Food: 6.5

                Starting off with the Burger; which is offered in Mushroom+Swiss, Cajun, California (American Cheese, Lettuce+Tomato+Onion), Cheeseburger and Plain; I felt like trying the Cajun to see how they did it, as the others seemed easier to guess. Sadly, like all ‘cajun-spiced’ burgers I’ve had, you barely taste those spices, and the single thin slice of mass-produced pepperjack doesn’t actually help it; so note to all, IF going for a burger, some other option. The patty itself is of the thin and flat style and well-done; not my favorite, but considering it’s working with a very lean meat, it’s a smart choice. Any thicker and it would likely run the risk of drying out when fully cooked (and I guess there’s some reason you don’t do lean burgers medium rare? No clue what it is). Now, as a Bison Burger, this is done very well; it’s not dry or chewy, still tender, has that great little edge of gamey/earthy flavor we look for with alternative meats, and the bun is grilled. I can’t stress how much I appreciate the proper creation of this item. That said, as a burger overall, it doesn’t thrill me much; I actually read some other post on them, with a guy mentioning how juicy it is, and I’m sorry man, it’s not juicy. It’s tender, there’s a touch of moisture that leaves it enjoyable with no real complaints, but it’s not juicy. A burger should be an experience, a meal, a handful of thick meat and flavor that makes our eyes clothes and throat work happily as it’s shoved down our gullet as the juices drip down our chin or onto a plate; I still think the best ones are medium-rare or medium. And this okay-sized, thin-pattied slab of ground meat just doesn’t do that. If this was cut in half and made into sliders, it’d probably do much better; but on its own, it simply doesn’t hold up that well.

Well, moving on. I have similar opinions on the meat used in their Bison Steak Tacos, filled with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and blue cheese; feels like tenderloin, it bites easily, cooked well, a bit gamey, but it doesn’t come through in that fantastic way we hope for, sorta like those grilled asada steak tacos. Probably would be nice if it was cooked on an actual grill instead of a flat top to better get that an actual crust. What I do like about it is, for one, the inside of the taco has obviously been griddled for a bit of extra flavor, which is cool! The other fillings taste really good together, reminds me of flavors you’d expect in a basic steak restaurant, but it’s all so… dry. Not like chewy or bad dry, but they really need a sauce here, or just some pico de gallo; it’s lacking in necessary acidity, that extra element, and mouth-filling/flavor-carrying moisture, otherwise it’s just earthy, gamey, and a bit sweet from the onions.

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Just remembered, forgot to mention the fries, those aren’t all that enjoyable; in fact they’re quite weak, so one should feel no real necessity in getting them.

There is a bright spot though. I decided to bite the bullet and also grab a small, cheap Pork Taco, made from slow-cooked, local and hormone-free pigs, which first off is where I found the joy that is their Coleslaw. Purely creamy, great crunchy texture, I wouldn’t mind having this at a BBQ or at on any sandwich or burger (that’s what they should do, just top the burger and taco with THIS stuff, maybe some BBQ sauce or something else too). And that pig… oh god, this is why we need to do more proper farm-grown, local animals. It actually had flavor, was tender, moist, and it’s in two other menu items that I bet I’d enjoy VERY much. Just wish they did some more with it, everything is rather simple.

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So though executed rather well, the food I had wasn’t completely inspiring; though I hold much hope for the pork.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Since the food is rather non-juicy and devoid of much-adored sauce, it’s all actually quite compact and easy to lift and consume from its basket.

Price: 7.5

                  $8 for Bison Sausage, Rib Tips, and Cuban Wrap, $9 for the other two Bison options, and some good deals on the other pork items such as the Sandwich for $7, Hot Dog for $6, and $4 for a single taco (so a bit of nice range). They even have a combo deal of $10 Sammich/Burger with Fries and Water (which I completely forgot to grab xD darnit).
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Was thinking of scoring this a half point or so higher, but only a couple of these come with the fries (which again, not that great or numerous), and though I won’t argue the higher cost of Bison meat, the amount of meat isn’t quite that numerous, for any item I’m sure.

Speed: 8.5

I saw a Pork Taco, ordered alone, come out almost immediately, so one can assume all pork items to go out really fast, with the wrap and sammich maybe taking a touch longer (and of course enough time to deep fry that hot doggy), but the burger and steak taco needed about average amount of time, if not a bit more, to prepare. Variable, but good speed possibilities.

The TOE: 7

                  There’s the stuff I said earlier, and the fact that we get a place that deals with that classically Midwestern unique animal for meat, even if I do like the simple pig better. Sort of makes me think of the kind of place I might visit at a state/street fair; you know, during that period of life where you weren’t trying to down every completely new and weird creation out there and were drawn to those buildings displaying the fact they had Deer or Ostrich burgers. Though I do feel I’m missing that full-on feeling of place and experience looking back on it.

Tally: 38/50

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Final Thoughts

As much as I want to promote the fantastic focus on local, grass-fed Bison, I would actually implore anyone visiting to attack the other items with that slow cooked, deliciously organic and tender pork; they really do give a better lunch experience. The Cuban Wrap has that little bit of uniqueness and complete composition, while Pork Taco offers a quick, affordable grab-and-go option, both of which contain that really nice creamy-crunchy slaw. If absolutely craving that wild-roaming beast, go for the Snap Dog; hot dogs always have that perfect texture, it’s only $6, easy to grab and go, and they deep fry the bastard! What’s not to love? Though I would rather get it without the fries and have them pile on that coleslaw, maybe some nice stone ground mustard to make it perfect.

Oh, I guess I SHOULD add this in too, because I know there are those who are still planning on heading gung-ho to grab a burger, probably because they aren’t as picky (but seriously, I don’t get how people can know about inch+ thick, super juicy, medium rare and flavor-packed burgers and put something like this on the similar level of enjoyment? Again, it’s made very well for a bison burger, but if offered the choice between those two burgers then you know where I’m going), I would probably just go for a Cheeseburger, or California if you prefer the American cheese. I saw a picture of the Mushroom-Swiss once, and the fungus looked half raw. Something to consider.

Sal’s Place on the Road

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https://www.facebook.com/salsplaceonlinemn
https://twitter.com/salsplaceonroad
Main Location: St Paul

For those like me with the consternation to try and visit every food truck in the main cities area, or at least hit as many as possible when given the chance, one usually ends up going through phases. Often we hit a mix of interesting and non, sometimes we’re lucky enough to get multiple amazing trucks in a row, others can just feel like dragging through some others on the side just to cross them off the list. But despite that grouping of bbq-themed guys earlier in the year, the year of 2015 has been turning up mostly fun and interesting trucks so far.

In particularly, I’ve been aware and receiving notifications for a certain truck for a while now, having only to wait on the right week to hit it. Of course delays happen, my budget not allowing me to drive down for truck lunches as often as I’d like, and having a few occasions where a truck not-so-often seen takes precedence over one which I knew I’d be able to get sooner or later.

Apparently I needed TWO visits, with quite the menu listing of different items. But, I’ve finally gotten a solid experience out of Sal’s Place on the Road, and can now do my long-awaited review on them! They taunted me with Facebook updates on their Italian menu items and desserts, and after seeing the complete menu on my first visit, the vehicle sky-rocketed to my absolutely most anticipated food truck of the year so far (we’ll see if they live up to it later). Wish I could have stopped to get a little interview and learn some more about the family behind the truck while I was there, like I’ve been trying to do lately, but things come up, you know how it goes (mainly the fact I was with the cousin, the street was busy that day, and their generator was loud as hell). From what I do know, and can tell, Sal’s does seem to be a family-run operation, and has been on the streets a few seasons already.

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The Menu itself definitely revolves around Traditional Italian-American Diner-style food, mostly geared towards street fare desirables. This includes a collection of Sliders (like Meatball, Pork, Chicken, and Caprese), a Sausage and Pepper Hoagie (cooked in tomato sauce of course), and Arancini, balls of risotto stuffed with cheese and other goodies before being deep-fried. Though no Italian menu is complete without Pasta, to which they change things up, making different ‘seasonal’ flavors and styles as the whim hits them, sometimes going Ziti while others doing Shells, perhaps even noodles of some sort. The one consistency is that it’s ALWAYS done with handmade egg-based pasta dough, likely rolled in Sal’s giant mitts every week.

They also have dessert! Which includes Zeppoli (small Italian doughnuts covered liberally in powdered sugar) and a Deep-Fried Ravioli, also made from their own pasta of course, stuffed with a hazelnut-chocolate filling. And yes, I got both, so you shall see my opinions below! And no I’m not wasting any more time on that.

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Food: 6

                My first visit actually had me starting with dessert! So, despite every parent’s worst meal-planning nightmare, I feel it only fair to discuss their sweets first, especially as they seem to be the main highlight overall (at least in my opinion). I myself was much surprised that the Chocolate Ravioli were deep-fried, it didn’t say, but it gave a nice crunchy outside. At first though, I wasn’t impressed… the filling didn’t stand out too much; but then, after my third, I realized my first couple pieces were actually rather thin. The REAL raviolis, with a good full tablespoon of hazelnut-chocolate inside… ahh, it’s like taking a bite of… well actually I can’t think of a comparison, but it feels a bit nostalgic. Like the best chocolate sauces and toppings, hot and runny, hitting every point of your chocolate cravings perfectly. It highlighted nicely with the firm crunch of the pasta, but as a whole I really did wish for one more element… after going past to start setting up this unique and interesting dessert, the dish needs SOMETHING else to make a complete and amazing plate, powdered sugar doesn’t do crap for it. Maybe just a drizzle of raspberry sauce or something (cuz it’d look like tomato sauce, right!?), or marshmallow (alfredo anyone?)…
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But I hold no complaints with the Zeppoli. They’re perfect. They may look a bit overdone on the outside, but it’s perfectly crisp, not greasy, with a tender interior that I can only describe as in the realms of the best, idealistic brioche and/or poundcake, probably leading more towards the latter. You bite in, enjoy the texture, the little eggy richness from the dough, the heaven of powdered sugar that takes one to the streets of Louisiana, and then realize there’s an extra little flavor there; a touch of citrus, lemon or orange. Simple and classic, something I normally would actually find boring, but for once thoroughly enjoyed the addition as it rounds out a well-crafted dough to make a uncomplicated doughnut sublime. Wouldn’t change a thing. Now onto savory stuff.

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Arancini comes in with an evenly crisp outer shell and soft, tender rice inside, the risotto mixed with cured meats and cheese, resulting in an end product that wasn’t particularly distinctive and outstanding in flavor, but still enjoyable. Especially when you got a bit of cheese goo that stretches when bit into! Rather num, particularly when dipped into the Tomato Sauce, a simple slightly heavier style but I found no apparent flaws (or at least things I disliked about it, to be more accurate to what we’re really all just writing about in review posts).

It also comes with a Breadstick on the side… which they ‘reheat’ by dropping into the deep fryer. Yeah. That happens. Then covered in clumps of… parmesan? Garlic Powder? A combination? I don’t know. What I DO know is that this breadstick is… unholy in the best of ways. It’s crispy on the outside, but fatty, a touch crunchy yet really soft inside, and gives a flavor that’s hard to describe outside of a feeling reminiscent of certain slightly-over-greasy doughnuts, but savory and actually crave-able. Which makes it even worse when I tried the Garlic Dunker basket (not my choice, my cousin got it because he doesn’t know how to really live food-wise) and none of them tasted as good. They were chewier and didn’t have that same outer layer of unhealthy excellence… and I know why. If you look at the picture, you can clearly see they’re using three SMALLER breadsticks for this, which causes a different effect after the frying (which I’m guessing doesn’t even last as long since they don’t ‘need’ the extra time like bigger ones do, another cause of the effect). I wish they’d just do two of the bigger ones instead (or, I mean, come on, just do all three, breadsticks are cheap as f*$# anyway), I might gladly order them myself.

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What I won’t gladly order again are any of the Sliders. Ultimately, we ended up getting three; the Abruzzo Pork, Chicken, and Meatballs. Now, whereas the fillings of each were all decent; juicy herb and wine-braised pulled pork (though I was rather sad that’s all it was, was hoping they’d either have a flavorful sauce or at least some extra toppings on it, otherwise it tasted like plain pulled pork, though really juicy), grilled chicken with a nice pesto and griddled red pepper (love cooked soft red peppers), and a meatball that was soft, well-seasoned, and with a tasty sauce; the simple decision in buns made the experience absolutely disappointing. First off, the ‘ciabatta’ style slider buns were way too thick for the fillings inside; ended up eating all of the meat before finishing the bread, leaving a big chunk of dry dough to force down the gullet. Secondly, there was NO TOASTING of them at ALL! And THIS was the kind of pre-cooked roll that needed a second run-through (like those take-home baguettes at the grocery store that you need to put in an oven to actually get crispy and soft), which is why they were all completely dry, doughy, and absorbed every drop of sauce. They dearly needed to be coated in oil or butter and put on the griddle for a bit at least, get some texture, form a layer, actually make it edible. And they had ample time to do this with the chicken too. They seriously need either get smaller buns or stuff them with more filling AND have them spend a bit of time on the griddle or in the oven before service.

Let me say if it wasn’t for the quality of the non-sandwiched food, and what I imagine how good the pasta probably is, this would be a much different score.

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Holdability: 8

                 One of the things I was most excited about when I first saw the menu was that my main worry of what was a very Italian-American style of business, typically filled with bowls of dishes filled of pasta and meat and sauce, very much expected to serve most of their usual fair in big to-go containers alongside plastic forks, actually took proper steps to twist and focus their food into a more portable means. As I’ve mentioned already, many main items are in sliders or a long sandwich, or are offered deep-fried as typical finger foods. Obviously the one pasta dish (and any sorta seasonal ones they say they do) still need forks, but everything else should be able to consume with hands easily, though the stuffing of the baskets with a buttload of chips feels like it curtails the portability feeling a bit (not to mention highly cheap and an unnecessary addition). Should I count all the powdered sugar on the Zeppoli and Fried Ravioli, not to mention its gooey chocolate insides, against them? Probably. Will I? Hell no; I mean that’s like complaining about mini-donut cinnamon sugar on your fingers (YOU MONSTER!!!).
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Price: 9.5

                  $4 for each dessert; $7 for any slider including a sampler of two (can get a sampler of 3 different ones for $9) and the Pasta; $6 for Arancini and Garlic Dunkers; and $8 for the sub. Really great range and deals overall, in addition to those massive additions of chips and that bigger fried breadstick on some, but the quality and actual size of those sliders (and unsatisfying bread) makes the lower price of THOSE understandable.
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Speed: 8

Overall, most of the ordered items didn’t take too long to get out; desserts and arancini just needed quick fry, meatball and pork sandwiches cut and scooped into some at-the-moment sliced ciabatta, and breadsticks deep fried. It was only that which needed cooking, like the chicken slider, that took a while… though it did seem quite a while. A bit disappointing considering how much time and opportunity they had to also put the buns on there (no, I am NOT going to stop bitching about those). Can imagine pastas, which are always cooked to order, will be a while. No idea on the sausage sandwich, though I expect it to be similar to the meatball situation. Overall it differs highly, so pick wisely.

The TOE: 7

                  When I first finally got to visit them, saw their menu, and tried the desserts, I was really excited. You know that feeling you have when you go to, or at least think of, one of those old, corner family-run Italian diners/restaurants? Walk in, look at the menu, and you can practically feel some old matriarch or patriarch in the back, just kneading masses of pasta dough by hand, stirring big pots of meat and sauce, following the same recipes and movements that generations of family members did before them. Reading the menu, getting served by the obviously wizened owner behind the window, I FELT that, even before eating the food.

And then I went back and had those sandwiches… and I lost that. Really I shouldn’t technically be having the food quality affect this score too much, but it just makes such a dent in the experience. Not to mention, I never thought I’d say this, but the generator was exceptionally loud on the second visit, seemed like a rather older model, which actually affected the experience a bit. That said, make sure to follow my Final Notes, pick the right menu items, and this hopefully shouldn’t affect you. Fingers crossed.

Oh, a last thought, something I’m really not able to say often anymore, but of the few items I DID really like I found what may indeed be the emergence of a Toe Ring. Those deep fried Chocolate Raviolis certainly hit that unique-yet-familiar note, sinfully delicious aspect, not how I expected but almost complete success. Big props for that.

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Tally: 38.5/50

Final Thoughts

Given my experience with the sliders, it’s plain to see that this is not a truck I would suggest for your everyday lunch needs, especially with other options available. However, parked in a food truck fair/rally setting, or on those days when those like me enjoy popping from truck to truck in gathering a ‘meal’ from separate little bites while keeping an easy hand on the wallet, Sal’s Place has a few items that excel.

The Arancini fit the same categorical need as Gogi’s Kimchi Rice Balls, only better, crispier and with that added element of gooey cheese. After getting that as a snack, finish off your day with the Fried Chocolate Ravioli or Zeppoli; it’s very hard for me to choose between the two, but if I really had to I’d probably pick the latter just for perfection’s sake. These guys definitely make a ‘food truck meal/day’ complete.

If still one wants to come by with the absolute intention for a sandwich or otherwise fuller meal from Sal’s, I cannot provide a 100% solid solution. That said, I do still hold some higher expectations for the Sausage and Pepper Sub; like the meatball it IS handmade, bigger, and there’s a chance the bun used might hold up better than those ciabatta sliders; plus, more portable. But if there’s any entrée they should do well with, it’s their Pasta, whatever seasonal thing they have on that day (Ziti, Mostaccioli, et). They make the egg pasta themselves, not to mention their tasty sauces, so it should offer a proper menu highlight. But those are the only two.