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.

Green + The Grain

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https://www.facebook.com/greenandthegrain/info

https://twitter.com/GreenNtheGrain

Main Location: Minneapolis

By now I’ve made quite a few things known about what will and will not set me off through my various mobile visits. For example, the most puzzling oddity of someone indulging themselves in the street food culture only to get an item that is the most counterproductive I can think of; a Salad. Even more grievous are those places that seem to ruin what would otherwise be one of the perfect Food Truck offerings; my time at a certain vehicle still leaves a bad taste in my mouth from their attempt at Wraps.

So imagine my intrigue during my first visit of Green + The Grain, a very healthful and organic-inspired truck which made its way on the streets in June of this year, when my eyes sweep over a menu filled with nothing but these two different items which have made such an impact on me this past year. Only this time there actually seems to be a proper focus, and it’s actually done WELL.

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As you’ve surmised by now, GtG focuses on Salads and Wraps; or, to be more surprised, has a menu filled with different salads with the option of stuffing those same mixes into wraps (or vice versa). Peaking inside, one can see a whole row of mise en place stretching from one end of the giant order/delivery window to the end, each little container filled purely with greens, veggies, and the rare protein additions.

A seasonal menu, with various mix options supposedly changing at least once a week, future items may reach well beyond those discussed here (as should be considered for all seasonal Trucks I review, though I often fail to include the disclaimer due to laziness), but there seems to be a bit of a pattern so far. Chicken is the often-seen protein, commonly on the menu in Asian (also seen with Beef Tenderloin), Caesar, and Buffalo iterations, though the Berry Natural seems to be a set menu favorite, adding a delightful handful of fresh and dried fruit to the herb roasted poultry. If there’s anything that’s constant, outside of perhaps the Caesar, it’s the shared load of ingredients every single salad is filled with; greens, multiple veggies, croutons, apples, dressing, and who knows what else, the specifics of which morph and adjust depending on the final decision on focus.

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But of course there technically IS one other thing we can enjoy on our visits here; Organic Frozen Yogurt, supplied by Cloud Top and churned by GtG, garnished with whatever fruit and granola one desired. Their site does also make mention of a “signature tart,” though my luck in seeing it on my visit seemed to be quite poor. Ice cream machine wasn’t working either, luckily I wasn’t in the mood… maybe on future visits though…

So, what kind of potential can a downtown mobile Salad-based caterer have? Let’s find out.

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Food: 9.5

                I’ll admit, though my thoughts of it as street food is notably questionable, I still LOVE a GOOD Salad. An even dressing coating, with bright flavors and a range of crunchy texture, maybe some creaminess, just the best of lettuce and accompaniments. This pleasure has always been heightened even more when enjoyed inside a tight, soft tortilla shell.

So being able to have a wrap that properly fulfills these cravings, unlike the sad weak and dry versions seen in convenience stores and certain businesses, was quite the pleasure. All the vegetables were fresh, some apple slices brought the juicy crispness, and the croutons… oh the croutons. When I saw it opened up, I actually worried they may have already gotten soggy; silly me, their crunchiness was glorious as it should be. As for my salad of choice, Buffalo Shrimp, the shellfish was cooked properly with that nice snap, not dry or mealy. It wasn’t actually as “buffalo-y” as I though; the one thing I could say is that the flavor didn’t come through quite as much with everything else going on, but I still got some of that nice little heat here throughout. A good kind of hot sauce marinade, not the cliché traffic-warning-orange-colored stuff some places get in gallon jugs. Their use and manipulation of it allows my assumptions to stay positive in how they handle their other proteins and sauces/marinades.

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Holdability: 7

                 The first hurdle in a truck like this is, of course, their handling and display of the salad; and though one can never change its inability to eat with one hand when served plain, I do like and respect GnG’s packaging for the copious vegetation. A nice, tight, compact bowl that seems easy to carry and likely easy to consume out of. Ironically, it’s where the wraps come into play that issues pop up. It’s such a great way to eat on the go, a nicely tight, folded package around delicious filling, wrapped again in parchment to handle/avoid mess… and then they cut the damn thing in half, completely negating the whole purpose. I mean, I don’t mind having it halved in a restaurant, but now a one-handed ease venture turned into using both hands and trying to figure out how to ease it from its parchment bindings without everything collapsing on itself (I couldn’t quite figure it out, had some spillage). It makes something that should have been simple into an annoying challenge.

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Price: 6.5

                  Besides a $4 Soft Serve Yogurt ($6 for the large) and I’m assuming similarly priced Tart (or fruit cup in today’s case… interesting), every main-menu item is $9. Or, to be more honest, almost $10 with the tax; definitely one of the higher “set costs” on the street, though at the very least they DO give out a good amount of product for it. Tasty ones at that.

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Speed: 8.5

  Somewhat faster than average, it doesn’t take too long to pile and mix the various greens and fillings of these ingredients together and in a bowl or wrap of your choosing, even (or especially) with the decently sized serving.

The TOE: 9

                  Gotta give them credit for taking a style that makes my approach quite cautious and dubious and being able to turn it into a pretty fun and interesting visit. Image is clean and bright, sense of place is strong, and menu options are intriguing enough to create a need to come back (dessert… need…). Now if they only stop cutting our salad burritos in half then they could be a fully-load, strong warrior of the street.

Tally: 40.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Sad as it is to say, despite the Wraps this is still not one of the ideal mobile stops for those wanting to eat their main items while walking; best enjoyed sitting down. That said, whether your cravings lead to a boring salad (boooooooo) or an exciting version wrapped inside a tortilla (Yaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy… I’m not biased at all am I?), there are some fun ways to go.

There seem to be a few customer favorites, though overall I think the best experiences would lead from ordering the Asian Chicken/Beef, perhaps a Buffalo option, or one of the more interesting Seasonals (we still have yet to see what all they may have yet to do). Outside of this, their Tart looks to be a great small item as the snack-on-the-go, between stops or when one just wants something sweet. Frozen Yogurt is always good, but one can get that at a lot of places, I wouldn’t put it high on one’s list until they’ve tried other things desired.

Wild Side Cafe

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http://www.thewildsidecafe.com/

https://twitter.com/TheWildSideCafe

Main Location: St. Paul, Etc

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

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

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

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

             

Food: 5

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

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

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

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

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

Holdability: 7

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

 Price: 8

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

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

 Speed: 7.5

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

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  The TOE: 6

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

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

                            Tally: 33.5/50

                       

Final Thoughts

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

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

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