SFC: Nog Yog Hog Fog?

              Eggnog, also known as “Egg Milk Punch” at one time or another, enjoys a very debated and disjunct history as to possible origins (which is a really fun little read actually, you should take a quick peak on its Wikipedia site or find some random article on the matter). Nonetheless, the thick, custardy drink has earned a very potent location during this time of the year in both our US states and neighbor Canada to the North. Finding a taste for it about 10 years ago (or more, can’t remember) when my sis had me try it from one of those store-bought cartons, the slowly growing inner cocktail geek within me has been gradually creating a special spot in my heart for this oh so unique and classic drink (I think it’s on a shelf right above Bourbon and a bit to the left of Pink Gin, no supports yet though).

                I started making my own holiday batches of this creamy, eggy mixture about two years ago, starting with a basic recipe and experimenting with a couple more later on. If you have a bit of time, some patience, access to booze and no vegan friends (unless there’s one you wanna tease), then I think you should give it a try yourself.

                Let me just start off by saying that as for recipes, there are a TON… ish. Most of them are distinctly different and WILL yield different results, so although I will be offering up a particular recipe today, I would highly suggest you do a bit of looking around to find a particular proportion/mix that better suits your purposes (especially when changing it with flavors, there are some you might want thicker, creamier, eggier, lighter/fresher, etc). I myself am doing two different nogs this year, and normally would probably use two different recipes depending on each; but I’m a bit lazy this year and have lotsa other things to do.

                If anything, the main purpose of this post is to go through the METHOD of making Eggnog, as well as particular techniques for flavoring (and certain possibilities).

Basic Classic Eggnog ala Alton Brown

1 pint Whole Milk

4 Egg Yolks

1/3 cup + 1 Tb Sugar

3 oz (3/8ths cup) Bourbon

1 tsp Freshly Grated Nutmeg

1 cup Cream

4 Egg Whites

                For any normal recipe, this entire setup can be completed within the half hour, if not fifteen minutes, and we would start off with the Eggs. As this particular segment involves my flavoring of the cocktail, however, we start with the milk; 1-2 days in advance please.

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                Warm the Milk slightly in a pot; think of it as a bit under steeping temperature one uses when making a custard. Once warm we can add our NON-ARTIFICIAL flavorings. For my first one, I have some Cranberries, freshly grated Ginger, and Fresh Mint.

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                My second eggnog of the night is going to be a Toasted Marshmallow-Bacon (as opposed to the JUST Marshmallow of last year… what was I thinking?). As mentioned in a post a while back, I like using the mini marshmallows for this, toasted in a hot oven, to get a much higher ratio of the toasted area to the actual marshmallow body. It’s definitely best that we’re heating the milk for this too, as it’ll allow the mallows to dissolve that much easier.

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                Add those to the pot, whisking in, and follow with some freshly cooked and still hot Bacon Pieces (chopped) and all the fat from the pan. Take both pans off heat but let them stay warm a bit; the mint should be taken out w/in 15 minutes, to avoid bitter chlorophyll flavors, but the other ingredients SHOULD stay in overnight to ensure full integration (unless you put in a lot of ginger, that stuff’s powerful. Either do a lot for a short period of time or a little bit to let mature). Move to a container and into the fridge once both milks have fully cooled down.

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                Strain next day, taste to ensure milk is flavored how you desire, and move onto proper production.

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                Beat egg Yolks thoroughly (electric mixer much preferred) until light in color and thick/airy/”ribbon stage.” Add the first 1/3 cup Sugar, noting that for the Marshmallow recipe its toasted addition should be considered a delicious replacement for most if not all the sugar needed at this point (so either add only a little sugar or none at all), and continue beating for a bit longer until well integrated and further “fluffed.”

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                Stir in the milk, Nutmeg, and your Alcohol of choice; yes, CHOICE. Though we mainly consider Bourbon to be the “classic” liquor option for eggnog, which is certainly true for US tradition I’m sure, there really is no set law on application, especially considering its uncertain historical evolution. Besides bourbon, we can use rum, brandy, rye whiskey, scotch, cream liqueurs, vodka, etc. It’s all your decision, and it all comes out delicious.

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                For myself, to better match with what I was doing I stuck with a simple, slightly sweet bourbon for the marshmallow-bacon and used a Brandy which I had marinated with cranberries (which I then used for the later infusion) for about a week.

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                At this point, this and many a recipe would have you add all the Cream in as well. However, what I enjoy doing is reserving most of it (I still add a little) and whisk in a cold metal bowl to make Whipped Cream (at least “soft peak” stage, maybe a bit more if you like). This I fold into the eggy-alcy-milky mix, helping to thicken it somewhat and facilitate the next step.

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                What I just did with the cream I now do with the Egg Whites, but with a beater (in a CLEAN bowl with no hint of egg or fat or whatever), adding the teaspoon of sugar after it’s gotten near a soft peak stage. Whip it back to soft peak, you don’t really want it “firm” as it’ll be even more difficult to fold in and integrate with the nog base, but you want it all whipped up and stable together.

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                Fold this in like before, ensuring full mix, and pour into a bowl, pitcher, etc. You can then serve this as is or, as I like to do, make the whole thing a night before and let sit in the fridge. I doubt there’s any real “aging” or “evolution” of flavors like when cooling a just-hot custard overnight, but maybe the alcohol will smooth down a bit, the egg may develop, the nutmeg may round out. Plus, do it the night before you don’t have to worry day-of.

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                There is something you should know ahead of time though. It. Will. Separate. No matter what you do or how well you whip and integrate your air-incorporated elements (cream, egg whites, marshmallows, etc), as it sits your little mixture will start turning into a pool of lighter custard on the bottom half with air-filled clouds of white on top. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s not going bad, all you need to do is just stir it back in (whisk works well, but I actually like plunging with a large ladle better, plus this way you only need the ladle for both serving and fixing) and it goes back to almost-before. I promise it’ll keep tasting just as good so long as it’s kept cold.

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                Serve in your favorite little mug and garnish with a fresh grating of Nutmeg (on the classic or the Mint-Ginger flavored one) or maybe a bit of Candied Bacon (on the Marshmallow). You now have yourself a rich, spicy, creamy yet not that heavy (well, maybe the marshmallow depending on how much you add) Holiday Treat filled with that nice warmth that only alcohol can bring. Enjoy at a party or just hog it all to yourself next to a fire. Either way you won’t be disappointed.

                With drink in hand I wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all, and Good Eating throughout!

 

Disclaimer: by this point, there are most likely at least one or two people reacting to the obvious notion that not once, during the entire process, are the eggs cooked or “pasteurized” for your protection. And as such this is a risky and potentially dangerous cocktail to drink due to salmonella risk. To those reactions I sincerely ask you people to please be quiet (and thankful that that comment is the worst I was willing to respond with). The whole idea of how “dangerous” raw eggs are has been extremely exaggerated throughout the years due to minute cases in the PAST, hell Rocky drank them. And though I certainly understand and don’t mind the worry when it comes to eating them straight or nearly so, in highly manipulated dishes and custards such as this one has to consider the interplay of so many other additions to much reduce this already miniscule issue, especially since we have alcohol also coming into play (it does do a wonder at disinfecting and “curing” things).

However, I do understand that despite my strong objection to what to me has become an outlandish worry, there are still those that would feel very uncomfortable making something like this (or making a nonalcoholic version that very sensitive children may consume). As such I feel obligated to inform that one DOES have the option of “pasteurizing” this; following the same steps, heat the milk/cream to almost a simmer and temper the beaten egg yolks (with sugar), bring to the stove and heat to 160F. Remove from heat, stir in your alcohol and let chill in fridge before moving on.

The resulting nog will, undoubtedly, not retain as many of the full, refreshing flavor aspects of the traditional, though the “custardyness” of it may increase slightly, and its resulting texture might actually reduce the separation/splitting factor a bit as well.

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.

Potter’s Restaurant 2: First Visit

                While spending the day with my cousin, we both got the delightful opportunity to spend our lunch at the newly opened Potter’s Pastiesrestaurant.” It’s rare I get the chance to actually go down to eat at sit-down locations (at least compared to my various Food Truck ramblings of course), so I was very excited to hit it within three days of the opening.

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                Located in Dinkytown near the intersection of 19th and Como (for those like me who don’t actually frequent that location… memorize the directions. I won’t go into detail about our travel there… it’s too shameful), Potter’s has taken its residence underneath a local convenience store and deli.

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                The entrance, as the sign says, is in the back. We didn’t actually notice this at first, so we spent about 5 minutes trying to figure out how to get Potter’s from inside the store… don’t judge us, it was an off day.

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                Yeah, not exactly hard to miss the entrance once you get back there… Potter’s is sticking to their flamboyant British self. Oh yes, and that’s my cousin… now that I think about it, he sticks his tongue out on almost all the pictures he poses for me.

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                Once in, one heads down a simple staircase, the walls decorated in Potter’s trademark colors and London fare. Now do what the sign says and carry on…

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                … all the way down to the bottom, where one gets to Potter’s window of excellence. Now, as you saw, they don’t exactly qualify as a restaurant (thus the quotations); they’re a hole, a corner, a little booth in a dark corner (there’s probably a proper term, but I forget it). And you know what? They’re absolutely awesome!

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                The giant black wall in the back is covered in their menu listings (though for a more mobile way to read, they have some small laminated offerings). Besides the truck regulars, this includes an option for smaller pasties, Pork Pies (held in the Mini-fridge alongside drinks and Yesterday’s Pasties, only $4), and a “Couch Change Pastie” for the monetary challenged. Supposedly this uses puff pastry instead of their regular dough, and is of course smaller.

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                After reviewing the menu with the bandana-covered employee, who graciously pointed out a few features of their awesome kitchen (not to mention stopping for a pose), we made our decisions and got our food, which took about as long as it does in the Truck (in that wait is… well, there is none).

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                Had to of course stop for napkins and forks before heading up, taking the time to admire Potter’s Rack of Condiments, Heinz Beans, British Candy Bars, and their own Pickle mix, the latter 3 all available for purchase. As for seating, though they currently have none, plans are in the work to bring in tables outside once the weather warms up. For the moment, we took residence in the convenience store (along with a glass bottle each of pure sugar Sprite and Fanta… now that’s quality) and chowed down.

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                Of course we normally wouldn’t need to sit, but I wanted to try their Pork Pie. Traditional British pastry, the meaty and fatty ground pork is covered in a thick layer of natural gelatin, wrapped in a specially-made pie crust. I was surprised to find they didn’t use the same dough as for their pasties… though I’m not sure if I like it or not. On the one hand, I love the special attention to the pie, but on the other I sorta miss the feeling of using one awesome crust for multiple endeavors. As for the pie as a whole… they say it’s best eaten cold (natural, most traditional English Meat Pies are), but it’s just meh. I seriously suggest taking it home and heating it (in the OVEN, no micro); like that, it’s absolutely fantastic with the rich, meaty gelatin-sauce, toasted crust, and hot pork meat.

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                 Had to get a Pastie, and for the special today they had a coffee-rubbed Pork with Goat Cheese and Cherry Compote. Again, no reason to go into details, cuz it was just as delicious as always.

                Overall, let me just say this. If this place does not become consistently packed with customers after a few months, I will be shocked. This is the kind of unique, special little holes in the wall that any Foodie just goes insane for. There’s an air, a mystery to it, you have to go through a little journey to get there, and at the end you’re just face-to-face with a hole in a wall that dishes out deliciously hot, edible hand-warmers. Ultimately very reminiscent to the same reasons which Marvel Bar has received its own cult following. To tell the truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if this got featured on a Travel Channel or Food Network in the coming years (in fact, if it didn’t, I would be downright pissed).

                Potter’s Pasties has created the perfect little outlet for their non-mobile (besides delivery) Food Service, and go through it without losing any hint of the experience one gets at the Truck; if anything, they’ve added more to and enhanced it. I am so happy for their success in this venture, and wish them all the best luck in the future. Can’t wait to visit sometime soon when I’m in the area.

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                On a side note, I would like to make mention of the convenience store they share the building with. It’s a pretty cool little store, and they have some nice items. Like a mentioned, they actually offer the Mexican, all-sugar sodas (Coke too), and on the way out me and the cousin spotted my favorite Italian ice cream, Talenti. Didn’t get a full review, but I’m sure one can find some more interesting items, as well as a Deli counter that I’m sure is anything but low quality.

Potter’s Pasties Restaurant

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So, apparently Potter’s is opening up a restaurant in Dinkytown, for those who don’t as of yet know. The joyous occasion is soon, too; this Thursday the 11th. Though I hold doubts on being able to go on Opening Night, I’m certain to visit as soon as possible. Now, I’d attempt a review of their upcoming menu and design plans, but I feel this report on it does it so well.
http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2013/01/potters_pasties_shop_brick_mortar_delivery.php

I myself can’t believe how long it took me to hear this, so I’ve decided to set myself back to daily updating in the various Truck Statuses.

Warming up a Rainy Day

               Once again, the Minnesota weather patterns hit us again, from a warm spring back to a cold day of light snow (in the beginning of April no less), immediately followed by gloomy rain. Being the Minnesotans we are, though, that didn’t stop the crowds of people journeying to NE for the ARTCrank’s Saturday event at the Grain Belt Studio.

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                Don’t ask me exactly what was happening, though; you know me, I was only there for the Food Trucks. All I know is it took place in an empty warehouse with an old metal balcony and stairs, and that the walls were covered with art/posters/etc. I swear, walking around there in my trench coat, scarf, and a Food Truck Taco, I started to having aching suspicions that I might be turning into a Hipster… still don’t know how I should even think about that. Oh, and they had beer and custom glasses; not to mention one of the longest lines for a drink that I’ve seen since last year’s Food Truck Fair.

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                On that topic, as I mentioned in a previous post, we had quite a few of them set in the parking lot outside. Natedogs, Gastro, Potter’s, Fork, and Sassy all showed up; Chef Shack was supposed to, but for some reason they didn’t show (at least not while I was there). Facebook and Twitter feeds say that they were in Bay City Wisconsin last night; maybe a hitch in the travel and weather, which sucks cuz I wanted to try that new “foie burger” they had.

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                Started the night off with one of Nate’s fantastic hot dogs, my first time being able to try his Surly Mustard. I will say one thing, he knows how to make ‘em, that’s the good kind of spicy mustard. Speaking of spicy, got a bit of his relish on too. Not much more I can say, Nate’s proven to all of us the quality of his products since day one.

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                Now we move onto the real reason for my travel: Sassy Spoon. With a reply to my review and offer to attempt them again, it became my duty to find Sassy once more. As for the results… well, let’s say it wasn’t what I was hoping. I give them credit, my original review had them at high prices and limited offerings, and they HAVE lowered the prices slightly (not to mention having more than two items for choosing). However, considering the fact that their reply SPECIFICALLY said that all of their menu items were $9 or under, I found it quite amusing to see THIS menu:

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                Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

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                I went for the tacos, as it was the most reasonably priced and only REAL Street Food-esque item on display. And here I give them some more credit. They used the really good masa tortillas, griddled, and had a very tasty slaw topping for the pork (what I would expect from a health/diet-focused Truck). The pork, though, reminded me of the firm, sorta-dried variety one gets in Asian take-out (not in the worst way, though not in the best either); and part of it was burnt to charcoal.

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                From the looks of it, they’re doing a bit more cooking to order on the Truck, but still have items that require no at-moment labor other than simple assembly. Now, let me tell you my main problem with them (oh yes, I still haven’t gotten to this yet). You notice in the menu there are two interesting new items; the pork and the meatballs. The pork, as one sees, has two options: a taco version and a bowl version, the latter costing a noticeable amount more. Curious, I asked about the bowl, as I figured there HAD to be something else in there besides just pork and coleslaw; hell, even bbq joints do more than that, and that’s their go-to.

                Apparently no. It was just a bowl of sorta-dry pork and some coleslaw. Same held true with the Meatballs. No sauce, no cauliflower mash (very disappointing, because they make it well and it goes good with both), not even a piece of bread. There’s just more of it, and they decide to charge more because of this. The meatballs don’t even have the OPTION of eating in a sandwich or anything; at least the pork I could get a taco if I wanted.

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                The reason for this? They state its carbs, now you have options so you don’t have to worry about those pesky little sugars. And I respect the thought behind that, it’s good to have options for allowing people to cut that out. But that’s all it should be, OPTIONS. This is a Food Truck, they need to be focusing on STREET FOOD, and a random bowl of meat and coleslaw that is not. And when you DO have these options, I don’t want to pay more; you’re cutting something out of there, and truthfully I don’t even want to eat more of a dish that’s just two items. You have these FANTASTIC Masa tortillas that you’re using; don’t label them a nuisance, Flaunt them! THOSE are what you should have been advertising and charging a bit more for, not something that (once again) requires absolutely no (actually less) extra labor to produce. Hell, the most intense Atkins dieters aren’t going to care about two small corn tortillas, I’m pretty sure the general public won’t either as far as health is concerned (they’re probably the healthiest tacos anyway). And could you get something for the Meatballs too? They would be AMAZING in a sandwich, just ask Devil’s Advocate; especially if they’re only served with slaw.

                At the end of the day, despite their attempt to convince me of their difference, all this visit has done is further Cement my previous opinion that Sassy Spoon’s best when buying ahead of time, taking the food home, and re-heating for dinner or large lunch. Changes to my previous review will of course be made in response to both the positive and negative aspects I’ve witnessed, though they will be slight. Overall, I still respect them for their health-focused goal and the quality of the food they make, but Street Food they are not.

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                To cleanse my disappointment, I headed straight for one of my favorites, Potter’s. They had a pretty fun special that day; BBQ Pulled Pork w/ Sweet Potatoes. It’s always cool to see places like them and Midnord play with foods outside the traditional cuisine of their style.

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                As always, it was quite filling. Though, since I’d already sampled a few things, figured I would try and finish the day off with a dessert. So I got the Guinness Cupcake that Fork was offering aaaand… regretted it immediately (My fault, I of all people should have known better, no one else to blame there but me). Was hoping to at least wash it down with some beer at Dangerous Man Brewing (just happened to be right next to where I parked), but I was shocked to find they actually had a LINE outside the door. Not something I could really understand, considering the reviews like This that I’ve heard about the still-new-and-improving establishment.

                However it ended and went through, the event still made a fun amusement and distraction during this gray and rainy day. I wish ARTCrank luck on their endeavors, and hope their next get-togethers are just as successful as this one.

SFC: Something Sticky and Fried

            So, every year now, one of the main facets for celebrating my Sister’s birthday includes a dinner at our house with the menu of her choosing. Meat usually involves Crab, or a “Parent’s Special” like Lasagna or Fleishgnadle (see my next post); I’m usually tasked for the simple vegetable side. And every single time since I decided to make it 4 years ago, she has expected me to make Gelato. Most of the time, this is the simple Peanut Butter which I made originally (and, to my chagrin, decided to freeze with hard-to-get dry ice), with each year having to add yet another new component to it. This year, however, she decided to cut the Peanut Butter entirely for something inspired by our recent England Trip, of which she had found many new Obsessions. In particular, she wanted me to make “Sticky Toffee Pudding Gelato.”

                Luckily, she let me decide how exactly I worked gelato into something resembling this stark contrast, and of course had no problems if I wanted to cook other things to go with it… she’s such a good sister like that. So, I set the thought in the back of my mind, thinking of it every now and then as the months led up to March.

                Quite often, my many conceptions brought me to think about Potter’s Pasties desserts, as well as the roll of Food Truck Desserts in general. Most of the time in Minnesota, these items fit into a very specific strata of styles: Rice Krispies, Cookies, Cupcakes, Cookie-Ice Cream Sandwich, Mini-Donuts, etc. These are the handheld items, the make-ahead and wrap in 5 inches of plastic, the generic items… but at the same time these are the items that, when done right, tug at our nostalgic heartstrings, bring us joy in their simplicity. Like when one goes to a really special, “higher end” bakery (Angel Food in Minneapolis comes to mind) and get a double-chocolate sea salt cookie that’s made just right.

                We rarely see any of the more “composed” dessert styles out of these trucks, outside of maybe a Crepe stand. And why would we? So many of these trucks spend so much time and focus showcasing foods that are unique, different, representative of who they are; and when it comes to those people, “composed plate desserts” are rarely who they are. Not to mention all the stove and oven space being used for cooking the savory items, adding a dessert that’s not pre-made, or needs only half a minute to do, can be suicide. Especially if you don’t NEED to do it.

                Right now, the only trucks I’ve seen here really try and attempt this are Potter’s and Chef Shack; and even they don’t count. Chef Shack simply turns nostalgic pies, cookies, etc into a crush bowl of goodness, and I still haven’t heard of too much success on Potter’s Banoffee and Sticky Pudding (which are still pre-made, just topped to order).

                I’d love the chance to see a truck that finds a way to make a dessert that’s just… different, going a little more on the composing side yet it really feel like it came out of a true Food Truck. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, and San Fran have a whole plethora of them; I think it’s about time we in the Twin Cities kick up our own movement of special Dessert Trucks to really match.

                Well, back to my original thought, Sticky Toffee Pudding Gelato…

                I originally thought I’d convert a Burnt Caramel Gelato recipe I had and just do it with Toffee, but I found another idea I liked better. For those who don’t know, one of the main things that makes Sticky Toffee Pudding unique is the use of Dates in the dough. I myself LOVE dates (fighting urge to make really bad pun joke…. fiigghtttiiiiinngggg…..), so I figured I’d use them as my base. Then I found a really good recipe for a Date-Rum Ice Cream, see here:

http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2011/06/17/date-rum-pecan-ice-cream-recipe/

                Now, before you say anything about the “this is Ice Cream, not Gelato” thing, I’ll just stop you right there. From my experience, the official qualifications of what makes “Gelato” are constantly changing depending on who’s saying it. Some say it’s ingredients, some say serving temp, not using eggs, or any other reasons, separate or together. I myself used egg yolks and milk in my hand-done recipes quite often. So I’ve just decided it’s a matter of opinion and left it at that.

                Next, the Sticky Toffee. If I’m going to do this dessert right, I have to make the actual pudding to serve with the ice cream. The problem I’ve found, though, with this and so many other Internationally-Famous recipes, is how difficult it can be to find one that’s actually made, and tastes, authentic. Luckily I found this one that talks about, and uses, that oh-so-ubiquitous English Sweet, “Golden Syrup.” This be the recipe I used (well, mainly… love making my own little tweaks):

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/12/warm-sticky-toffee-pudding/

                The toffee alone in this recipe is sooo good; great caramel substitute. And the writer understands that sometimes substitutions need to be made (though, I was luckily able to find my Golden Syrup at a local Byerlies).

                After making, and leaving in the fridge overnight to cool and COMPRESS, I chopped some of it up and mixed it into the Gelato at the end of its Churning Period. Now comes the part where I make this “special.”

                The one thing I immediately wanted to do is bread a couple sides of the Pudding slices and fry nice n crispy in a pan. While I was shopping, I happened to see this box of the old cake donuts (you know, the ones with all those ridges). So I bought it, broke a few pieces up and let it sit overnight to stale (Don’t make fine breadcrumbs out of fresh ingredients, they’re too moist and soft to get that texture you want. There are always special situations, of course, but that’s another post), and ground the next day.

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                Chopped my pudding into 6 large blocks, then dredged completely in my special Donut Crumb mixture. The great thing is, this can be done ahead of time and left in the fridge for most of the day, so no worrying about time constraints.

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                All that was left was heating a pan, adding butter and frying the Puddings. If doing at home, two things one needs to take into consideration: Low-Medium heat or Thinner Slices; it was hard to heat these fellas through. Secondly, flip often after the first side, the rest will sear a decent amount faster. But it gets this nice, hard, crispy crust (aided by the toffee which leaked out and caramelized with the crumbs).

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                As for serving, I ended up making a caramelized apple-date-banana compote with rum for the bottom, soaked some fresh diced apples in a limoncello-syrup I still had in the fridge, and of course got more of that Toffee on the plate. You’ll notice I didn’t take any pics with the actual Gelato… let’s just say I made some modifications to it that didn’t work all that well in the Ice Cream Machine. We were still able to eat it, and it was very good, just not “camera-ready.”

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                Now, in looping back to my earlier comments, am I saying I think this is a dish that would work in a Food Truck? Heck no, I made this for home and that’s where it stays. But the Pudding by itself, fried in a pan… something about it just gives me that feeling of potential, that feeling that if worked right, it could fit somewhere on its own. It’s that special little twist on a nostalgic base, that if worked right could fit in among the greats. Maybe cut into smaller cubes and served in a bag, or put on a stick, covered in batter, and deep-fried… that’d be a fun thing to try.

              Either way, we all ended up happy and full that night, just like the many years before.

 

What’s your most memorable dessert? What kinds pull at your heartstrings?

Top 10 Trucks, 2012!

Three seasons done, over 50 different Trucks on the streets, our Food Truck Culture has increased quickly and dramatically to all of our benefit. The Foodie nation within the cities has taken a firm hold of this new practice and started paving an even wider road towards the future.

            For now though, I’d like to celebrate the many Entrepreneurs, both original and new, who have helped boost this movement and fan base in the forward direction it’s been taking. This is the Top Ten List of Minnesota Food Trucks, 2012!*

10th Place: a big surprise for my first list, we have a THREE WAY TIE!!

            At 45 points each, Home Street Home, Rusty Taco, and Cupcake on the Go

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With each of these trucks offering a variety of their choice Menu Items (whether it be Sandwiches, Tacos, or Cupcakes) in a timely manner, they have already cemented themselves into the role of the quality, fundamental “Food Truck.”

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With a special note, offering their product at instantaneous speed and proving their focus to everyday desires, Cupcake on the Go has edged ahead of A Cupcake Social as the best Dessert-only Truck this year!

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9th Place: SCRATCH with 45.5

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            The best toasted sandwich bread in the State encapsulates their rich, often spicy flavors and sharp textures. Home of one of the few, and my second favorite, Toe Rings in the business, the Ginger Rice Crispies. Scratch skyrocketed themselves to a special place in my, and many other people’s, heart the moment I first visited.

6th Place: ANOTHER three way tie! At 46.5:

            Chef Shack, MidNord Empanada, and Tot Boss

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            A perfect example of what one can get with COMPLETELY different establishments. An organic, locally-focused Truck based off of well-made traditional Street Food; a Chef deep-frying Ecuadorian Dough-pockets filled with all variety of stuffings; and a place that only sells baskets of Tator Tots dressed however one wants. THIS is pure proof of what exactly a Food Truck scene can be, and that one doesn’t need to conform to a specific mold, just as long as they do it well.

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5th Place: Eli’s Donut Burger with 47.5

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            Rarely seen but often remembered, Eli’s offers the most guilty of pleasures one can find in any Establishment, Truck or Not. Preparing it all day, the burgers fly quickly at a low price, filling your stomach with the artery-clogging deliciousness of sweet, salty, cheesy, meaty goodness. It’s not the expected everyday combination, but it works more wonders than you can shake a bacon strip at… though that’s mostly because it ends up eaten before getting so far.

3rd Place: 48-point Tie between AZ Canteen and Vellee Deli

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            This just seems right. The two Trucks that I believe really encompass everything the TOE stands for, each offering handheld Street Food with a heaping helping of Soul. Andrew Zimmern did right in his menu and specialty items, creating that unique blend of both local and world street food cuisines. Though used often, the Asian-Mexican Fusion of Vellee offers items that one just can’t help going back for… even if they don’t have the budget for it.

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2nd Place: NateDogs at 49

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            Locally sourced with handmade condiments, Nate gives us the pinnacle of what a simple Hot Dog Cart can be. Hitting every single point of the rating system, it is no wonder that he has launched himself all the way to #2 in this countdown. I cannot wait to go back.

     And finally, the tippy-top pinnacle of the Trucks to appear so far!

(Highly-Annoying, Exaggerated, and Drawn-Out Drumroll)

POTTER’S PASTIES at First Place! With a score of 50.5!

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            The ONLY Truck so far to reach and go past the Maximum 50 points, Potter’s has it all. Good Prices, Instantaneous Speed, Easy-Holding and Eating, Fantastic Service, and Good Comfort Food that holds itself in its unique niche. It’s no wonder they built two trucks for twin city offerings. This is and always has been a Must Go for anybody who loves food (and that’s not a small group now is it?).

            This has proven to be a great starting season for our new Culture. I can confidently say that I am very happy and proud at what our Trucks have been able to achieve and come up with, and I cannot wait to see how this Top Ten Looks come the end of Summer.

            Until then, I shall dutifully enjoy my food as always.

*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.

Anchor Fish and Chips

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http://www.theanchorfishandchips.com/food-truck1.html

https://twitter.com/AnchorFoodTruck

Main Location: Breweries, Events, Etc

              A subset of their successful British-based restaurant, Anchor Fish and Chips launched their Truck of same menu around 2011. Offering traditional British Street Foods, Anchor serves, as you’d guess it, Fish and Chips. Alongside these, one can also purchase a couple Pasties, Battered Sausage, traditional Sides, and a couple sauces.

            Somewhat flexible, all Main items can come with or without Chips, which on their own can come plain or topped with Gravy or Curry (See Potter’s Pasties for a review of Britain and Curries). Eaten with a beer at whatever Brewery they park next to; one can find that almost-traditional British experience right in the city.

            And without having to go to a restaurant.

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Food: 6

            The Fish is HUGE, you definitely get the bang for your buck on that. Batter is crispy, thick, and flavorful, covering the still-juicy meat completely, resulting in a very well done fried fish. Drip some of that Vinegar right over the top, you get that salty-tart heavenly goodness, and that’s without the Tartar Sauce. I haven’t had the Sausage or Pasties, but I imagine they’re both almost as good as the fish. Though, I would somewhat doubt their pasties’ overall flavor to be better than Potter’s.

            These are where the Highlights end.

            For a place where Chips/French Fries embodies half of their name, I find the potatoes sorely disappointing. Unevenly cut in a noticeable way, they are also unevenly cooked, any crispiness from the friar is lost after a few seconds. Bigger, “steak fry” sized cuts are the norm, resulting in that soft, potato-y flavor to them; but not the good kind. Worst of all, they have a habit of absorbing that strong, not-so-pleasant flavor of used oil. Not so bad at first, but as you’re working your way through them it starts to grow and become noticeable.

            Ultimately, mediocre chips at best, nothing to really proclaim about. Makes me wonder and doubt what their other sides are like.

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            I find the curry a bit unsuitable for the menu as well. A Yellow variety, it certainly has a nice flavor to it, though I do think the spices are used a little lighter than they should be. It should really have a much stronger, richer curry to handle the potatoes which they go with. My main issue is consistency; when I saw “Curry Chips” on the menu, I imagined it made more like a thickened sauce, Gravy-like if you would. But really it is more along the lines of a clinging chunky soup. Can’t really “dip” the chips in with that much success, and I don’t think I’d want it poured over either.

            I’ve actually had the good fortune of eating Indian Curry in Britain, and I will tell you that the sauces they use don’t look at all like Anchor’s.

Holdability: 7

            Depends on what one gets, I have actually found it not too difficult to walk around with the Fish and Chips, even with its size. Only real issue I’ve found is residual heat. The main consideration is if one wants to get a side or sauce to go with; or possibly a beer (I would actually suggest it, as the Fish and Chips really need some drink to cut the Rich Fat and Saltiness). Find a place to sit is then imperative, but no real worry; Anchor usually shows at places with tables and other sitting spots.

            A good idea if you want to get curry or gravy; just get the Curry/Gravy Chips, and then order any fish/pastie/sausage on its own to put on top. They don’t charge any differently than if it was on the side.

Price: 5

            They charge you if you want tartar sauce. I’ll say that again. They CHARGE YOU if you want TARTAR SAUCE, with your FISH AND CHIPS. It’s only 50 cents, and at least it isn’t one of those tiny little cups you can’t even use, but that doesn’t matter. There are only a few singular rules that we as of nation have developed when it comes to how we eat fried fish and potatoes. One of those rules is this: TARTAR SAUCE COMES WITH FREE. Whether you have it with or without the sauce, no extra charge is given.

            This isn’t my only problem with the menu prices. If you want a side of Gravy or Curry, which I think is a great thing for people to try on their first trip, it costs an extra $3. For a menu soup or snack item, that’s cheap. For a little SAUCE on the side, on a Food Truck? It is simply ridiculous. I couldn’t fathom how they could charge more than a dollar for it, then I finally ordered one and understood; they give you an entire soup cup’s worth, maybe even more. WAY more sauce is given then is actually needed, and because of this they deem that they can charge more (despite the fact that the actual COST of what was given is only a few cents more than if they had given you half).

            What’s most annoying is they offer no way of skirting prices through different menu options, combos, etc. Every single combination of food costs the same as if you got all the items individually. So no matter what one does, they end up paying in full whether they agree with a price or not.

            Now, as for the entrée items, they all range between $5 and $7, with an extra $2 added if getting with chips. For how much you get, that separately can come in at a pretty decent price. Just don’t get any sauce.

Speed: 8

             Average speed, mainly just have to wait for Chips and Entrees to Fry, sides and sauces being pre-made.

The TOE: 5

           Bringing a Truck like this is a great idea, offering all the main British Street and Comfort Foods outside of just the restaurant. They have some of that feeling of a Food Truck, and reading the menu almost transports you to a British Stand.

            At the end of the day though, this Truck is based off of a Restaurant, and the way they handle their foods and pricing are reflective as such. There are many factors within a Truck that, even if practically nonexistent, doesn’t affect the feeling you get when you visit; that’s just their style, or they might just need time to improve. But pricing is the one thing I will NOT budge on, as you will see, because THEY are the ones who make the conscious choice of what they put on the menu and what they charge for them.

           True Food Trucks do not practice ways to sneak you out of the extra dollar here and there in such obviously unneeded ways. A True Food Truck is about giving you what they can, having extra sauces and pickles on the ledge to dress your taco however you want, and offering that little special something that makes you want to come back. If you spend an extra $3 dollars whenever you go to a Truck, it’s because you’re buying something that you REALLY LIKE and that actually DESERVES to cost that much, if not more.

          This may be just my opinion, but it is strong, and I do not think little of it, especially when it comes to our Food Trucks. Just because you are based off of a Restaurant, does not mean your Truck should be designed in the Exact Same Way.

                       Tally: 31/50

Final Thoughts

            Really good, enjoyable Truck for the sit-down lunches. I would suggest visiting them on the days that they are next to Fulton or one of the other local Breweries, because it just makes the experience.

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            The Fish is a must-have on your first visit. Sadly, I must say to avoid the Chips, they just aren’t that worth getting; there are a lot better fries throughout the City. Though, if for some reason Anchor and Neato are nearby each other, go buy yourself some Duck Fat Fries and make your own special experience.

            Alright, you’re gonna have to buy the Tartar Sauce; I think it’s stupid myself, but at least it’s only 50 cents, and you should really have some with your first Fish. If you’re looking for a Side, Coleslaw or Heinz Beans (Mush Peas are rarely good even in England).

            After that, maybe try the Sausage or Pastie, see how they relate to Potter’s. But personally I have no real urge to go back here again, price or not.

Potter’s Pasties and Pies

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www.potterspasties.com/

https://twitter.com/PottersPasties  

 

Main Location: Minneapolis and St. Paul

            At some point during the 1800’s, the history-soaked baked good known as the Pastie arrived within the Minnesotan borders. For some reason or another (PLEASE don’t ask me the details, I don’t have a clue) it integrated itself into the food traditions much like the Polish, German, and other immigrant-brought foods. You should thank whatever God or Science you pray to that it did, and when you eat one, you shall understand why.

            Potter’s Pasties, the geniuses that they are, celebrate this old British and Minnesotan food tradition by selling these homemade pasties to the masses. Beginning their bread-laden renaissance three years ago in St. Paul, they have skyrocketed themselves to one of the most recognizable and popular stands. So much so, in fact, they were able to buy another truck this last year so that they could sell in St. Paul AND Minneapolis AT THE SAME TIME. I all but fainted the day I saw the new truck in my old Minneapolis stomping grounds.

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            Why are they so popular exactly? Well, let me inform you of what it is they’re selling. That being 5 different rich, comfort-bringing fillings, alongside whatever special pasties they decided to make. Slowly cooked with simple but strong, nostalgic flavors. These include the Traditional ground beef and potato, a Chicken Pot Pie, a Pulled Pork with Apples and Coriander (my favorite), and a Thai Vegetable made with red coconut curry (almost tied for my favorite).

[See the end of the Post for a FUN Lesson on Britain and Curry!]

            Around the fillings is wrapped this bread-like PASTRY crust, handmade of course, and extensively tested by the chef for what I’m guessing was quite some time, because it is PERFECT. It is thick and firm, crispy on outside yet tender with some flakiness on the inside, some of it soaking up the juices without making the entire thing soggy. It has FLAVOR, that perfect savory pastry flavor that works with the filling for a heavenly experience of handheld pie (god I think I just said something dirty…).

            It’s difficult to think about what else to talk about for Potter’s, when you start thinking about the food there you just stop caring about any other detail. When it comes to what I believe truly qualifies a Food Truck to be a Food Truck, , Potters stands as a shining beacon. Go there, I promise you will not regret it at all.

            Oh, did I mention you can order partially-cooked Pasties to take home and finish cooking yourself for dinner? Yeah, you can do that.

Food: 9

        The only reason which I do not place this at a perfect 10 is because every once in a good while, they have a slight problem with consistency. The filling isn’t as perfect as it always is. It is still good and great, but it is something that should be warned of and remarked on. Also, the desserts they offer aren’t exactly the best, though I have heard they’ve improved recently.

       Other than that, buttery rich crust with the tastiest, homiest fillings; and they are FILLING. Those without large stomachs will often find this their meal for the day. If you’re thirsty, you can get a cup of hot or iced Vietnamese coffee, very tasty with the Beef.

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Holdability: 10

       These were ORIGINALLY MADE just to be eaten with your hands, and though the stuffing is a stew of sorts, it does NOT fall out. One-handed perfection, there is no worry of mess at all. They are THE perfect street food, in every sense of the word.

                Price: 8.5

       Usually around 9.50, with some lower, but worth it, COMPLETELY worth it.

                Speed: 10

      You tell them what you want, give them money, and they hand it to you; that’s it! No waiting! It’s all precooked and held warm; which, normally, isn’t a good sign for food, but pasties were created for holding heat. Again, they’re the perfect street food.

                The TOE: 10

       When you have a place like this, that focuses its efforts on a specific, unique kind of food, and does it WELL, while inside a vehicle with the British flag painted on it, you’ve got something special. In my first post, when I talked about what this rating is for, when I mentioned the “unknown factors,” this is what I was talking about. There is just something… “about” this place that makes you love it. Every single point of Food Truck glory is hit and hit hard, but it isn’t just that; the place stands out, and reminds you of home. That’s why I’m going to keep going back to eat, and keep eating what they serve. As far as I’m concerned they are the best Food Truck in Minnesota.

                Service: +3

       The truck is Open-Air, making it so easy to talk to the people behind it when you order. I’ve had some nice little conversations about food and trucks, not to mention pasties. Do you remember me mentioning their “daily special pasties” earlier? Those aren’t just what the chef wants; you can make your suggestions on what kind of Pastie you’d like to eat a day or two beforehand, and they will most likely make one to sell for that day. Now THAT is how you do Daily Specials.

            Tally: 50.5/50

Final Thoughts

      Just go here, if you’re looking for food and Potter’s is on the street, visit and get something good; make sure to ask what their special is. It is perfect for the cool fall or early spring day, when you get that hot, soul-warming mixture with a nice cup of hot Vietnamese coffee.

      For now, avoid the desserts; see if you can trick a friend or see someone else buy one. Then judge whether it would be good or not (again, I hear they’re improved now, but unsure).

Indian Butter Chicken Curry

[What follows is a little paragraph discussing British Curry. Ignore if you want, read on if it looks fun!]

            Some of you may have reacted to an certain menu item saying “Wait, Thai Vegetable, that doesn’t sound British, are they just doing a little Asian twist here?” or something of the like. The answer is NO. Anybody that knows about English history and their cuisine can inform you that due to the old British Trade Controls taking center in India oh so many years back, in a sense ruling the country for quite some time, culinary habits and tastes immigrated, along with the people, between the two countries .

           This resulted in a large sub-culture of Indian and Thai cooking within the English cities, and a new love for Curries and the like; this can be seen within the many Indian restaurants all around the country. Which is why, if you ever get the chance to head to London, one should try to stop at an Indian restaurant for Curry; it is always a fun and divine experience.

[So now you’re looking at me in a weird way because I ignored how the Pasty came here and yet somehow know so much about British Curry history… well I have a very selective memory okay!!? And curry tends to take top priority!]