Flavor Wagon

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https://twitter.com/Flavor_Wagon

Main Location: Minneapolis

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

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

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

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

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Food: 9

            Holy Sinister Starch Bomb Batman!!

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

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

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

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

Holdability: 7

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

Price: 9.5

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

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Speed: 5.5

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

The TOE: 7.5

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

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                      Tally: 38.5/50          

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Vellee Deli at Crema Cafe: the Visit

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                It’s been so long, I had actually forgotten how much I missed Vellee Deli. But with their recent Pop up venture at the Crema Café (home of the local Sonny’s Ice Cream), I had a chance to visit them once more in the cold months and experience one of my favorite street food ventures once more.

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                Though still keeping their Breakfast/Lunch Menu, the popular neighborhood café now swaps its Dinner dining options for Vellee’s starting at 5pm, Thursdays through Sundays. The menu, unlike many other truck-turned-sit-down-affair businesses, still sticks purely with what is offered on the truck without anything new, though now we can get all three burritos that have been offered (if I’m correct they usually only do two of which at a time from the truck).

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                Which ended up great for me, since I was able to go along with a couple other people and grab a bevy of items, those yet unexperienced and a certain favorite. And unlike at the truck, one’s able to take advantage of Crema’s still-operating full drink offerings to grab something special, like say a couple nice beers or…

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                … a warm, fluffy, steamed-milk topped cup of their Homemade Chai Tea. Mmmmm, that was good on the snowy night we went. Let me say, I love my Chai, and though I’m no expert it’s certainly the best version of it that I’ve had so far (though Namaste Café comes in a close second, they certainly have the advantage in variety options); not to mention it sorta works nicely with the Korean/Asian cuisine.

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                Speaking of the cuisine, I finally got my hands on their Dragon Enchilada. Which, certainly, had a nice crispy crust and some tasty, gooey cheese-meat insides, though it ultimately didn’t wow me as much as some of their other options. I’ve certainly had much worse versions of it though, and if you’re an enchilada junky it’s a solid one to buy.

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                Now, the Chicken Currito (-cough- curry burrito), that’s back on the Vellee Deli tracks. Very distinct, delicious, and well-rounded, with that nice combo of mouthfuls of soft rice paired alongside tender, delicately yellow-flavored curry chicken, a creamy bright sauce and properly used crispy lettuce. Basically hitting that burrito perfection reminiscent of the better trips to Chipotle (cuz we all know there are the “good” Chipotle stores and the not so good), but of course with a very well-put ethnic flavor twist.

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                Of course, with it being my colleague’s first visit, we had to get the Bahn Mi. I feel there’s nothing I need to say about this than what I’ve said before; still the best bahn mi that I’ve had, truck or otherwise.

                The Café itself is pretty small, so it can be tricky finding seats during one of the “rush” periods, especially with a group, so if planning on visiting for a sit-down affair then it’s best to time things properly. But one doesn’t have to just come for Vellee, as my little group can attest; we had to end the night with some of their ice cream.

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                Yep, that’s a nice little display of flavors. We decided to grab a scoop each of Raspberry-Chocolate-Truffle, Butter-Toffee, and Chocolate-Almond. Delicious as always, though I say that about most ice cream…

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                Overall, a very fun and successful co-op venture into temporary mobile housing (yes, I could have said that in a much simpler way, but I chose not to! Ha!), it almost makes me feel sad that it shall only last 5 months. Then again, I want Vellee back on the street, so I guess I shouldn’t really complain. For those feeling the craving for their fare, or any Korean/Pan-Asian kind of meal, do take the chance to head on down for a bite, a drink, and/or a cool frozen snack. And until the season is over, I wish both the businesses luck and success in this slow-season strategy, and good eatings to all those traveling their way.

Rally Recap

With a busy weekend and class, it’s been a few days since I was able to get to my posts, so I apologize for the slow update.

 

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            Well, the 1st of what hope to be many MN Food Truck Association Rallies have come and gone, and to quite the success in my opinion!

            The overall day itself wasn’t the best; they claimed beforehand that they’d stick out rain or shine, and it seemed the former decided to put them to the test. I know I speak for all those out on the streets that day in expressing my flustered surprise at the blanket of grey clouds on what was supposed to be a fully dry, sunny day. Luckily it didn’t rain too hard, though the medium drizzles and lighter WERE quite persistently on-and-off wherever I seemed to go.

            But the Trucks got through this easily, much like the happy crowd who was able to come out. This led to the first appreciated surprise of the day; the crowds weren’t actually CROWDS. Despite the plethora of Trucks shoved into one parking lot, the actual lines coming out of them were… well, in many cases inexistent, or at least small; very much unlike the past 2 experiences at the yearly “Food Truck Fair.” That is not to say there was nobody there and eating, just that they weren’t all jammed in front of the iron behemoths.

            Though whether this was due to the actual plans and strategies of the Association or if the rain simply segued attendance enough so the crowd-issue didn’t appear, either way the result of the day was a much calmer, easier, actually ENJOYABLE event for us to take advantage of. Success is finally here for the large Truck Gatherings, and it wasn’t purely from chance.

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            Despite the relatively small space, as opposed to the blocks that Food Truck Fair uses, the overall lot still boasted a decent square footage, enough for them to actually plant tables and a tent in the middle. This allowed people to not only escape from the rain but actually sit DOWN with their Beer and Food; that is, when they weren’t heading back to the actual tap room area to sit and listen to music. The actual strategy here marks the first success in reducing those annoying lines; by giving multiple places for people to actually move to and spend time, we don’t have EVERYONE just hopping from one Truck Line to another, creating those crowds which garner the psychological need to get in there as soon as possible (even with food one just purchased somewhere else) to eat before closing.

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            Which is another thing; this was a nice, lengthy 10-hour event, double the time of the 5-hour Fairs of past. Though I didn’t stick around the whole time, or even arrive when opened, I’m quite sure there were many who came and went throughout the prescribed times. I’m sure the whole list of different bands helped with this as well, along with their sweet sweet siren music of course.

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            As for the Trucks themselves, having more is always better; even with my worry of the number in this enclosed space, one can’t help but argue that a number of trucks allows lines to divide and shorten for the customers which go; which once again have been much reduced in a minute-to-minute factor from the previous two discussed reasons.

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            Though we didn’t exactly have as many as wanted… which leads to my only annoyance of the event. It seems 4 of the Trucks decided to cancel either last-minute or the day beforehand, including that one at the top of my current Hunting List A La Plancha (the other 3 to cancel were Moral, Bloomy’s, and House of Hunger). The reason, supposedly, is that all or most of them decided that they weren’t capable of handling a 10-hour event like this, whether it was due to amount of product they had or simply the labor effort of staying out that long. Which leads me to 2 very important things I would like to say in response: first off, if you’re going to cancel on an event like this, THEN TELL US! Not a single one of these trucks actually updated Facebook or Twitter on the fact that they WEREN’T coming to the Rally they said they would. And that’s another thing; all of these Trucks officially said they would do this at least 1-2 weeks in advance (otherwise the Association, which they are PART of, wouldn’t have put them on the list of 12 trucks I’m sure); you should KNOW ahead of time exactly what kind of event it’s going to be, as well as what your general schedule is like (look at a Taproom’s truck schedule, it’s usually filled at least a month in advance). If your truck is unable to handle that sort of event, then you shouldn’t have agreed to it in the first place; and if you DO agree, then suck it up and go; if you run out you run out, if you have to end early then you do, at least you went and tried. Of course, special circumstances that force one unable to get on the streets is understandable, but that seemingly wasn’t the case here, so a rant is where I go.

            I should probably apologize a bit, I’m sure part of why I’m a touch more annoyed than usual is due to a last-minute cancelling of Tollefson Family’s Cart at Fulton, which I had drove to earlier to finally try and get them. And now my hunt for them continues…

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            As for the Trucks that did make it, we of course had AZ Canteen, R.A. Mac Sammies, Midnord Empanada, Potter’s Pasties, Lulu’s Street Food, Gogi Bros., Brava on Wheels, and Hot Indian Foods, all lined up around the edge like a delicious cage. I myself got the chance to try Gogi’s Tiger Balls!

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            Damn those are big balls… sticky too (I need to stop…). I thought they were quite yummy and tasty, with a nice, rich spice to them from the sauce, and of course a crispy crust and soft, tender inside. I only wish there was more Kimchi though… I’m sure they probably got a lot of the “flavor” of it in, but if you say “kimchi rice balls” then I sort of expect a lot of those actual fermented veggies just stuffing the mixture. Not that I’m gonna complain about the gooey pepperjack center and pork studding it, but the kimchi (from a visual perspective) seems not just an afterthought, but nonexistent. Still delicious though.

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            Oh, and they got the decal on their van! Wooh!

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            Where to go next was actually a tough decision for me, but I settled on Hot Indian; not only haven’t I actually HAD a full burrito yet, I still hadn’t tried the Spinach Paneer… so I took care of both of those! And wow, I thought the Roti was just for the tacos; they make big ones for the burritos too, awesome! Yeah, these guys are still total Food Truck personified. And of course it’s delicious; I think I actually enjoyed it more than their meat-based stews, which isn’t surprising, Veggie-based Indian dishes are always so good.

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            No beer for me that day, sadly; maybe if I was able to stick around longer, but the person I was meeting that day had to cancel and I had to get somewhere afterwards. Speaking of which, I didn’t actually see any specific items listed to pair well with the beers… maybe you had to ask about it, but oh well, I myself didn’t mind that too much. Though I saw the band play for a bit and took a look at the fun menu they had. Speaking of which, snapped a couple picks of some truck menus that did a little changy and update since last I saw them.

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            Whether they dodged a bullet due to bad weather or enjoyed success from actual planning, the MN Food Truck Association kicked off their first Rally in a noticeably positive way, and I myself can’t wait for the next one. Whether the weather is the same or better (or worse), I’m sure they shall be there, as shall I to report their attempts at these odds-defying gatherings.

            Until then, Good Luck and Good Eating to all, I hope those who went enjoyed the Rally as much as I did!

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            Also, for a separate and also well-done report on the event, see Here.

Hot Indian Foods

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https://twitter.com/hotindianfoods

https://www.facebook.com/hotindianfoods

Main Location: Minneapolis + St. Paul

                 With a business idea for a Contemporary Food Brand, owner Amol Dixit soon realized that his wrapped product would work amazingly in Truck form. Using the Truck to build the brand while trying out various products; a mobile test lab, if you will.

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            Basing off of his heritage and recent interests, Hot Indian Foods serve, what else, Indian cuisine. The particular name of the game is “Indurritos,” Burritos filled with various curries, Tikka Masala, stews, and other Indian-spiced mixes. I find it can be difficult to choose between the various fillings, but despair not! The Hi Flight offers customers the opportunity to try 3 different flavors over rice or as a selection of small “tacos”.

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            On the same line of thought, one can also purchase a combo meal (so called the “Thin Moustache”), pairing the unique burrito with “Indi Frites” and one of their special, glass bottled Indian Sodas (though I saw they also had cans too… not sure if they switched or if it just depends on the day). It also seems, continuing along their concept of “testing,” breakfast Indurritos of Lamb and Egg are already finding their way on the menu.

            With these kinds of options, I don’t think I mind being a test subject.

 

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Food: 9

               Grabbing a Hi Flight and Combo, I took the chance to try the Chicken Masala, Lamb, and Vegan Channa, each topped with a flavorful slaw of cabbage, mango, and cilantro (among other things). Though originally made from Tortilla, they now take to wrapping both Tacos and Burrito in Roti, or Indian Flatbread, for that next-level cultural experience and Truck Twist (again, I’m so sorry for confusing this with Raita!!). Each filling had that nice balance and richness one expects to find in Street Taco fillings, the soft stewed meat paired nicely along the crispy veggie-fruit topping. I almost wish I remembered to ask for some “heat” on one of the tacos just to see how it tastes (Indian food always does the good kind of spicy).

                 I’m gonna say it, I LOVE their fries! Using both regular and sweet potatoes, which are properly double-fried, the tubers seem to be dredged in flour (probably seasoned) before the fry, guaranteeing a big crunchy outside while the inside stays delightfully soft. This is a particularly great technique for the hard-to-fry sweet potatoes, and even more so when one cooks two kinds at the same time, ensuring consistency throughout the batch. Finally tossed with a sprinkling of Indian spices, these are paired with a deliciously sharp and powerful Garlic Mayo, matching nicely with their spices.

                 Though it’s not actually made by them, I feel I HAVE to bring up the sodas: a Lemon-Lime called “Limca,” which seems pretty popular already, and a Cola known as “Thumbs Up.” Being the Cola lover that I am, I had to get the latter, and I suggest you do too! A very nice, simple cola flavor boosted with the familiar rose water and other floral flavors found in the cuisine. I find it was balanced very nicely, offering up quite the pleasing experience.

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                Overall, a great job on the food. The one point I find disappointment in, however, lies in the 3 mixes; though individually they all tasted great, there was little to no flavor distinction between the options. It seems a very similar, if not the same, spice and stew mix is used among the three fillings. One can of course still tell Chicken is chicken, Lamb lamb, etc, but it would be nice if each option had its own individual identity and flavors to further distinguish. Keep the Masala on the Chicken, maybe do a fresh Herb-Garlic mix on the Lamb, and maybe a different stew on the Vegan; there are so many flavors and vegetables I’ve seen done, maybe they can play with them more.

Holdability: 9

                Rice bowl options (don’t HAVE to have it in a burrito… said nobody) and fry combos aside, the Burritos are an ingenious way to get these classic flavors into our stomach with only one hand. The Hi Flight option, though, with its 3 tacos, requires a bit more consumer attention while mobile (especially when getting the combo. I basically had to stand still with the soda on the ground).

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Price: 7.5

               Burritos stay at $9 or $10, a little high of an average for food trucks, but the Hi Flight offers a great deal to try multiple things at only $10. Follow that with a $13 Combo, one can spend only 3 extra dollars for good fries and quality soda, which is pretty darn good for a generously sized lunch such as that.

Speed: 8.5

               Though being stuck behind a plethora of other orders, I didn’t find my wait to be too ridiculous, and I would expect a shorter-than-average wait from this simple-to-build item (though still not instantaneous, especially for fries).

The TOE: 10

               Definitely fits into the unique “Food Truck” category, Hot Indian offers a simple but different, highly portable way to enjoy traditional flavors. I am SO digging the new Roti addition with their Tacos, once again a Truck making something I’m somewhat debating for Toe Ring material. There’s not much else I think I can say, this bright orange wagon brings everything we expect the Street Food experience should.

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                         Tally: 44/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            A fun one for those seeking to-gos, looking to sample, or needing a specialty beverage for whatever. The Hi Flight is great to try multiple flavors, but in the Street Food practicality sense it’s much better to just get a single Indurrito. Besides, one can get tacos in so many other places.

            From the current list of fillings, my suggestions would lead toward the Chicken Tikka Masala, always a tasty classic, and the Spinach Paneer. As for the latter, it doesn’t even have to be for vegetarian needs; Indian cuisine tends to have natural strength in the vegetarian department, so veggie dishes are almost always a sure bet when it comes to enjoyment. And this one I feel may be more unique and enjoyable than the Vegan Challah.

            Definitely one of the new top stops when looking for Fries. And of course, if needing a drink on the street, stop by to try a Thumbs Up.

Simply Steve’s

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https://twitter.com/Simplysteves

www.facebook.com/SimplyStevesFoodTruck

Main Location: Minneapolis

            The second of our cities’ Burger trucks, Simply Steve’s offers a well-seasoned variety of options between buns. Offering very traditional and familiar combinations, they also offer sliders, burritos, and just recently Tator Tot Hotdish. One could say that on the days their blackboard isn’t filled with burgers, the style is warm, filling comfort food.

            Biggest highlight of Steve’s, in my opinion, is that fact that they are currently the ONLY Food Truck that serves breakfast with such attention, and all day too. Both burritos and sandwich items, these easily rival their lunch-mirrored selves with little effort.

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            Quite often parked near the Cupcake-to-Go car in the early days (sometimes still), the two often made quite the lunchtime combination. Now one might need to do a bit of searching for that sweet treat, as Steve’s doesn’t offer any sort on their menu.

            Not that they need to.

Food: 7

            Everything there is juicy and made properly. The sliders I had were full of that cheesy goodness reminiscent of the only reason one likes a Mcdonald’s Double-Cheeseburger, except the burger is good too. Breakfast burrito is flavorful and spicy from the red sauce, eggs are fluffy, all in all great in its simplicity.

            Probably the highlight of the menu, though, is the Cajun Turkey Burger. It is actually juicy and tender, while still being completely cooked. As those who have eaten turkey burgers at home will tell you, that is a really difficult thing to find. But there is no dryness, no feeling of “ehhh,” nothing like that; it is a properly cooked Turkey Burger in all sense of the world.

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            Now, here’s where I differ from loving them. Though everything is cooked properly, the flavors derived and added to them are all… average. Cajun spices on the Turkey was muted, the BBQ, though tasty, lacks anything really special. The highlight of the sliders was the fact they were juicy and cheesy, but that was the main craveability point. They aren’t doing anything WRONG at all, but at the same time they simply aren’t doing anything else.

Holdability: 7.5

            Many a two-handed item served, the easiest to walk with are the sliders. The burrito is served in foil wrapping, but the sauce and wet fillings tend to drip down QUITE noticeably (more so than the ideal “fun licking of the fingers”), so napkins are required.

Price: 9.5

              All items range from $4-$6, with a possible $7 on special additions (menu does change and switch now and then), so a great bang for your buck.

Speed: 7.5

             Average speed, good for burgers, nothing to complain about.

The TOE: 6.5

            They are a really good Food Truck, properly constructed, but much like their menu items I feel just “lacking” of that certain special something when I go there. Props are given for serving breakfast, and why the score isn’t lower, but more than that is needed to garner that special “feeling.” Ultimately I would pin this to a certain generality in the menu, as well as a failure to truly stand out amongst the many Pillars we already have. Maybe it has something to do with the fact it sort of reminds me of a Lays Potato Chip truck…

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            Again, don’t take this the wrong way. They are a good truck that makes great food, and should certainly be visited at least once. I myself just don’t have any plans to go back again and again.

                        Tally: 38/50

Final Thoughts

            For those on-the-go and looking for a small sample to get a “feel” for them, the sliders are a great choice. Turkey Burger should definitely be sought out and tried for those who haven’t had a REALLY good one yet.

            But the real gem here is when one is out late in the morning and haven’t had their breakfast yet. Grab the Burrito and a few napkins, and enjoy on the way to work; it can be scarfed down quick if in a rush, but has enough flavor to be enjoyed across a few minutes (that’s a long time for me with food… I do love it so).