Food Trucks Giving Back Article

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A recent article on M&R Trailer’s Blog site discusses a few of the food trucks that have taken part in charity work, in honor of the time of year, and I thought it’d be nice to share the link. It features a few trucks located in or near Florida, like Manna From Heaven, a Vietnamese truck who set aside part of their profits for homeless meals. The post also includes interviews with a non-profit bakery called All Things Sweet, an old member of a charity truck group called ‘Food Trucks for Families’ named Sweet City Gelato, a business that seeks out as many charity-benefitting catering jobs they can to offer their HipPOPS to, and American Disaster Relief’s own Tamale Truck.

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It’s always great seeing people take the time to support local causes, certainly hope for all the best luck and support to them that I can.

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Asian Invasian

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http://asianinvasiontruck.com/

https://twitter.com/AsianInvasionTr

Main Location:St. Paul, Etc

            I’ve somewhat discussed the idea of trucks coming into business during the fall season, right after the busy summer has ended and gliding into the hard, hard winter months. How some of them make the decision is a mystery to me; how they actually survive to the warm weather is spectacular (we do make ‘em hardy in Minnesota don’t we?). So it’s interesting to see if and when anything happens during this season, to both the old and new guys, and any evolution that may happen as the snow falls and melts as it does.

            Coming into the fall of 2013, Asian Invasianhas easily survived the harsh winter with high popularity. Before year’s end, their bulgogi taco had already earned a spot in Citypage’s Top 100 Foods of 2013. Whether this is a result of, or one of the main factors in, their late-season survival I am not sure, but it certainly is something to say isn’t it?

            As the name suggests, Invasian deals in all items Asian-themed, mainly the more “well known” (or cliché) dishes from the big mainland countries. Dining options vary from rice bowls of Chinese Sesameor Lemongrass Chicken, Indian Pork Curry, and Chicken Fried Rice to Korean Bulgogi(short ribs) wrapped in Tacos. Vietnamese Pulled Pork Bahn Mialso makes its appearance, alongside with those iconic fried Egg Rolls and Wantons. My particular travel also saw a couple Hot Dog based “specials;” whether they often offer asian-flavored wieners is as yet unsure, but it’s a consideration.

            In reality I have yet to finish my travels to this particular mobile operation, as the main object of my desire had been unknowingly snatched away from me after ordering. That said I figure I have enough of an idea of them so far, and I will surely update if needed once I wrap my fingers around that beefy goodness.

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Food: 8.5

                My pursuit to get the Bulgogi Tacos was put to a quick halt as I later found out (a while after the order got accepted) that they had run out, so I grabbed the Bahn Miinstead. Similarly, they had run out of Pork Katsu Curry, but had a Chickenversion to try instead.

                Both items had noted ups and downs in my view. The curry itself was nicely flavored, and the meat and veggies cooked well, not quite amazing but better than one made with generic curry powder. Though then again I’ve always found that this particular style of yellow-spiced-curry is hard to identify high quality versions… sort of like root beer. Either way, I liked it. What I didn’t like was the giant mound of rice beneath it… or perhaps just the notable lack of curry that went on top of it. I understand potential cultural relevancies behind it, the habit of having a lot of rice to just chew on plain next to the meal, but we’re not in India or Japan. I want to be able to actually mix the sauce into all the rice without its flavors practically disappearing under the starch mass. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only local who wants to taste the already subdued flavors.

                There’s not much I can say about the Bahn Mi. They used a different bread than they should have, but they got a flat crunch on the outside which was nice (no inside crunch, but I don’t mind it sopping up stuff so long as there’s texture somewhere). The pork itself, though cooked well at least, was somewhat boring… it just reminded me of another pulled pork sandwich but without any sauce. I really wish they had a sauce. Or a different kind of pork, like something grilled and glazed or a pate, like is pretty proper. I guess the pickles were nicely acidic and tart, but that’s about it… still wondering if the jalapenos were cut a bit too big in mine. It’s part of the experience but I feel like I’ve had them thinner in other bahn mi’s.

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                I will say though… they’re really good at frying things. Don’t think this is me being passive-aggressive and snotty, I’m serious. The Sweet Potato Frieswhich automatically came with the sandwich had that perfectly thin layer of crispness on the outside with a tenderly soft inside; not the easiest thing to do (I doubt it’d last long, but no sweet potato fry ever does). And the chicken in the curry (also used in their Sesame), which was also deep fried, had that really nice tempura-ish crust, which stood up very well through the sauce, without overcooking the bird. Could tell it was an actual scratch-made batter too, not the generic thick sweet-and-sour batter used in almost every Chinese buffet or to-go restaurant. Either way, I was excited to eat it; and something about the texture reminded me of pork cracklings.

                That said, one can expect that the wontonsand egg rollsare to be cooked well; I’m also giving them the benefit of the doubt with the Bulgogi and the Pork Katsu (sounds like they’re deep-fried meatballs) that I was not able to sample at this time. So I’m giving them a little higher score than I normally would have. Hopefully I’ll be able to try the Tacos soon to properly update the blog with.

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Holdability:7.5

               So far, every item seen has been giving in some form of “bowl” (to-go aluminum version) or basket of plastic or regular composure. Everything requires two handedness, many require a fork, fried “apps” have a dipping sauce one needs to take into consideration (non-covered), and even potentially high-mobile sandwich is grounded by a side of fries. The Tacos and Hot Dog Specials are probably the only truly mobile options, with the latter possibly only needing one-handedness depending on how much topping it’s given (though I’m sure it’s served in a basket, one can just readjust on their own).

Price:7.5

                Basically the same pricing structure as the recently-visited Butcher Salt, with all main items at $8 and smaller onesat $5, but I feel the quality for cost is very divergent among them. As for the cheaper things, the Hot Dog Specials (at $5) may be a good deal, though that also depends on the dog used and how much they’re garnished. On Fried, I’m a touch uneasy; the Pork Wonton/Fried Dumpling yield a good option, but one only gets two okay-sized Egg Rolls (they look tasty, but not much there; at least with Vellee they gave 5 finger sized ones, it seems more bountiful), and Cream Cheese Wontons are always just that.

                As I mentioned previously, with the bulk of the rice dishes being quite obviously the, well, rice, it’s difficult to contemplate the price justification. Though the Sesame seemed quite loaded in comparison, and the Pork Katsu meatballs do seem like they could lift the dish nicely; if only they hadn’t run out. The Bahn Mi is, as one can see, quite small compared to other Bahn Mi’s, and should probably be served for a couple dollars less, though they use the automatic inclusion of Sweet Potato fries to justify. Bulgogi is quite likely to be the one item that stands at the peak of price quality though.

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                Of course this little session of me whining over whether prices are worth it should be taken in a sense of minute quantities, one dish vs the next, and not in too major a fashion (maybe next to other trucks though). Obviously these prices are still much better than lots of restaurants.

Speed:8.5

             It’s pretty hard to judge this properly, as though my Curry came out rather quickly (a couple minutes, and there were other tickets in the window), I actually had to wait at least 5 or more minutes before the guy leaned out the window to inform me that they were out of my Bulgogi Taco order. After that, though, I don’t believe I had to wait too long for the Bahn Mi. Others around me weren’t waiting more than a couple minutes between orders, ish. Certain items come out faster than others. Overall not too bad seemingly.

The TOE:8.5

                There’s a great “theme” to this place. It’s a great idea, has a fun decoration and logo and feel to it, and there’s been something about it during the chase that really made me quite excited at the prospect of finally getting to it. However, I will say that in hindsight, the fact that many of their items are based on the most cliché Asian items sort of takes a decent chunk of the experience away for me. Now they’re good versions of each, I will definitely give them that (it’s one of my big highlights), so props in not sticking to the crappy take-out recipes or whatever they all get for that. But it’d be nice to have seen either some more in depth, non-everyday regional Asian dishes, or Twist their applications some more (like putting the bulgogi in tacos and the curry-topped hot dogs). Overall, Strong showing in “ambiance,” pretty good in Technique (with some noted exceptions), lacking in creativity/interest.

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Service:-2

                Alright, so… they ran out of things a lot. Which sounds douchey to use for a deduction, and normally I wouldn’t; shit happens, sometimes things run out, even bacon (-gasp-). But these guys ran out of quite a few things on their menu, pretty vital and simple things too: Chicken Fried Rice, Pork for Curry, possibly a wonton, and worst of all the Bulgogi Taco, their mainstay item. Thing is, by the time I got there they hadn’t been on the street that long, good chance of only an hour’s worth of service. I doubt they had that much traffic, there was one moment of a little crowd when I got there but that’s it, since it was pretty gray and chilly out. There’s not much reason I can find for the lack of, besides highly insignificant prep.

                Though, in itself that’s not too bad at all, I’m not really upset or feel too lacking for that in itself; though it does make a point that they probably shouldn’t have that many items on the menu, if they prep so little of some that they run out easy. What gets it for me is the fact that I wasn’t informed of the bulgogi loss until 5-10 minutes after ordering and waiting for my food. Not to mention the fact that not once did they offer to comp the meal, add an order of free wontons, or anything of that matter, which most establishments do (or should do) after such annoying circumstances come up. Either way it’s something to think about.

                       Tally:38.5/50

                       

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Final Thoughts

            I find there are a couple needs this could place could satisfy, one just needs to choose carefully for each. For the basic Street Food delighter on-the-go, Bulgogi Tacosare the way to go, than and possibly a Curry Hot Dog(or other fun hot dog specials). These can also be used to satisfy “snack stops” for Truck samplings or when one just needs the small stuff; I would also lead towards the Fried Pork Wontons/Dumplings(the Cream Cheese ones are good I’m sure, but they can only get so exciting in my opinion).

            As for those in the mood for a sit-down, something to take back to the office, or just needing a replacement for skyway Chinese food, the Sesame Chickenand Pork Katsu Curry are your destination. Maybe see if you can get more sauce though…

 

A Reluctant Saturday Night Review, aka La Belle Crepe at Harriet

               I’ve been antsy lately, and last Saturday night didn’t help. It’s been… what, 3 months since I was last able to review a new Truck? And that was just temporary winter pop up version of something already existing. And now, with the snow melting and weather warming, teasing me with urges to go outside with visions of Truck rallies to come, only to be roped away with work and the realities that it’s still winter (well, not technically, but for MN…).

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                Thought I would have had this fixed a couple weeks ago with a great chance off to go to Harriet with a friend when the new Butcher Salt was out… and then work screwed me over. Again a clear ray of hope showed this past week; yet another new truck at Harriet, “La Belle Crepe,” and a friend available to join in a fun night of music, drinking and food.

                Well, there was a $5 cover, I didn’t find out until after I got there that the friend had a double shift, and the “truck” was just a catering table in the back corner. Can’t quite say which part I was most disappointed with, but how ‘bout we just focus on the food aspect?

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                That just really, really sucked… you don’t know how excited I was when I thought La Belle Crepe had started their own mobile operation. I’ve been to their café in downtown Minneapolis (you should too; it’s this tiny little closet-shop, like you’d find in France, just before 9th on Nicolette Ave), and they’re pretty good. We’ve been needing a GOOD, proper Crepe Truck for a long time, something with tasty components and a fun attitude.

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                Let me tell you why they would have fit the bill. Firstly, as one would expect, the crepes are awesome; good thickness, SOFT, really reminiscent of what the proper French pancake should feel and taste like. Add that to a copious variety of homemade fillings in the style of sweets, savories, and breakfast, and we have a delicious bundle of joy perfect for mobile eating. They aren’t all classic fillings either; one can get Caramel Apple, Orange dream, Spicy Chicken and Crab, Gyros, dill & Lox, Benedict, etc.

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                But wait, there’s more. Not only do they offer crepes, Belle also makes other French classic comforts like Gelato and Croque-Monsieur/Madame. Oh, and Vietnamese food, tasty tasty Vietnamese food like Pho and Bahn Mi. Reminded me of the Korean-Crepe truck my friend had found in Texas, only not quite so Fusion; Vietnamese cuisine HAS had a lot of French influence, so it makes sense with the concept.

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                Well, I had already paid the $5 entrance fee, so as much as I didn’t want to spend extra money it would have been a waste to just leave the place as-is. Thus I was able to actually sample one of their sandwiches, the Hoisin Pulled Pork. Oh boy was that good, each side completely slathered in the Hoisin Mayo, all those dressed and pickled veggies just shoved and stuffed in there (you should see them pile it on and push it in with the spatula), and the pork wasn’t too bad either.

                A little bit of sirachi on half with the tart veggies, it went really well with Harriet’s version of Sahti, a Sour Ale brewed with juniper berries and cedar chips instead of hops (tasted a bit like lambic, so I was already in a bit of a happy place).

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                The bread wasn’t the best sadly, being served without feeling the loving embrace of a searing hot grill or oven, but to be fair that was due to the setup. They DO toast it at the café, and I would assume if able to go mobile they would ensure a proper heat source to do it for orders as well. Also, the Cilantro (which there was a ton of, thank you! So good), served in whole bunches, was a bit… sagging. But again, I had ordered a sandwich about 5 hours (at least) after they got there with no proper refrigeration unit besides a cooler.

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                At the end of the day, they offer a fun concept with delicious, portable offerings, and I sorely hope they might get on the streets soon to properly replace a certain Other Truck. As for me, I still sit here, antsy and stuck, ever waiting for my first proper shot at a new truck this year.

               -sigh- At least it’s getting warmer.

Those Lost, 2013

                Another year has come and gone, filled with many exciting adventures, relationships, new discoveries, and for this blog of course Food Trucks. But with many new ventures rolling onto the street, we have inevitably lost quite a few along the way. A made a small memento post about a few of these missing businesses shortly after starting this blog, and I think it’s only fair to Update and Continue this list in the years to come.

                So please join me in a moment of silent respect and remembrance as I take a brief look back into those no longer with us, starting with our more recent losses.

 

Barrio Taco Truck

Link to Review

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                Though my disdain for their prices was heavily known, I was very surprised to see this highly popular truck no longer roaming Downtown. Truly they did offer the best quality and technically executed Tacos from any of our trucks, and I’m sad to see them go.

Aussie’s Kebabs

Link to Review

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                 A real shame, as they pedaled out one of the most unique and idealistic Street Food item that I’ve found in my travels. A traditional “kebab,” not the one you’re thinking of, made by slicing of gyro (or gyro-style) meat, wrapping it with veggies and sauce in a pita bread “tortilla,” and then pressing like a Panini. Maybe the size of their cart never truly stood out amongst the rest, but their food and idea reached high to a potential which I sorely miss.

Trinh Food Truck

Link to Review

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               Serving up very simple and traditional Bahn Mi’s, they were the only truck one could find Boba Tea, which was an odd but very effective highlight for me. I’m not that surprised to see them go, but I don’t think it should have been an inevitable end for them. Hopefully they’ve found success in whatever catering/food career they’re at outside of the mobile.

Untamed Cart

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                A True Culinarian’s Delight, the small cart was operated by two professional chefs (I forget which kitchen it was out of) who served a small variety of easy-to-assemble but complex-to-prep sandwiches, along with some good quality chips. I was SO depressed when I found out they were gone, they had some really good food. My very first taste was a homemade Porketta (if you don’t know what that it, look it up and watch your mouth salivate and get excited) sandwich, probably one of my favorite food items I’ve had from a Truck so far (which makes me think, I should do a list of my favorites…). What makes me even sadder is knowing many that now no longer have a chance to try their food.

Taqueria La Hacienda

Link to Review  

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               Serving out of a large, long yellow Truck with an up-front ice tray filled to the brim full of Mexican sodas, Hacienda was the Downtown’s access to delicious traditional tacos, which we are sorely in more need of (we have other trucks that do that, but they seem to stay away from the Downtown Cities). Technically I am still unsure as to whether they are truly off the street, but there has been no word on Twitter for over a year and it seems the website is down. Possibly they are just keeping the Truck down in the Latin district of Minneapolis, near the Mercado Central, but either way I will miss you Hacienda.

Yummi

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                A bahn mi-based cart. Previously discussed in 2013 Article.

Origins Coffee and Tea

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                A drink-only specialization cart for the morning runner. Previously discussed in 2013 Article.

Magic Bus

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                A big Purple Bus shoveling out amazing Hot Dogs, which sadly moved their business to Colorado. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

Cook n Wheels

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                A food truck I hadn’t had a chance to visit (and know nothing about), has appeared to be off the streets for quite a long while. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

The Brothers Deli

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                A small cart serving awesome Deli Sandwiches and knish based out of their store. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

 

Honorable Absentees

                Sort of weird to have an “Honorable Mentions” type section in a post like this, however there are, without a doubt, some trucks that seem to have made a noticeable absence in the past summer/s yet have still left doubt as to whether or not they’re really gone, or are still operating out of a different kitchen (or some other thing). So I wanted to put these guys here, at least for now.

Awesome Eats

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                A big green catering truck that started serving tacos and then switched things up on people, AE moved into the NE Palace kitchens during the last winter and, as far as I can tell, have yet to move out of it. Though I haven’t seen any update post on their facebook since summer, so I’m not sure if they’re even still there.

Cruzn Café

Link to Review  

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              After seeming to come back on the scene with new menu additions a couple summers ago, and still having a fully operating and detailed website, I have yet to see Cruzn on the street since the first “Annual Food Truck Event” in downtown, nor any updates to their Twitter. My guess and hope is that they’re keeping themselves to catering, as it would disappoint me to see them completely done with such a fun Business.

Smack Shack

Link to Review  

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               With their recent new, very Big Restaurant, Smack Shack basically backed away from the streets in the summer of 2013. Whether they’ll be returning or not is anyone’s guess at this point.

The Cave Café

Link to Review  

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                 A big White “Truck” serving African cuisine, I haven’t heard much from cave since a twitter post exactly one year ago. Where they are is currently unclear, hopefully this will be remedied in the coming season.

 

                Already we miss all of you who visited and served our streets, and though your success may have been short lived I speak for us all when I say Thank You in your efforts and for including us in your journey. I wish all the people running these trucks good luck in their future, and perhaps chance that we may meet again in a revised future go-at-it.

                This is Andrew with Reviews on Wheels, wishing all my readers a Happy 2014 and all the Trucks, current, past, and upcoming, a great Year. I’ll be out to get you soon.

                Good Luck and Good Eating.