Vito Lucco Pizza Co

20151022_125037
http://vitolucco.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Vito-Lucco-Pizza-co-845109742241236/
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc?

Another year, another Pizza truck added to our mobile vendor lineup. And this one was definitely a surprise, randomly running across it to one of my now-rare trips to downtown Minneapolis. No months of ‘anticipation’ and warnings through media like was given Tru, this was a true random encounter… and on their first day too! Something I normally avoid and espouse review visits on, you don’t have a clue how consistent that performance, good or bad, will stay. But it’s a fun occurrence to be able to record, so I thought why not for once?

Vito Lucco Pizza Co has a bit of a look and name that makes one think it might be an off-shoot of a small Italian café I’ve never heard of, but it’s a full family-based operation by a few guys that wanna sling pizza on the street for a living. I got to interact a bit with Joe and Uncle Ed during my visit, not sure if we’ll see any more of the ‘team’ on board in the future but that’s for another day.

20151022_125555

The focus is on personal-size, yeasted-dough pizzas cooked in a classic wood-fired oven. And I don’t mean the big aluminum pizza oven where the fire is made below to heat it, I mean it’s made IN the damn oven to plast the whole pizza with heat all around, like it SHOULD be. Just look at this zoomed shot I took of it!

Though I’d say most of the focus is on ‘classic’ pizza toppings (ie red sauce, different meats, cheese, peppers, etc), there are a few more unique items and combos to choose from. Currently they offer 4 specific ‘options’ along with the ability to Build Your Own, which starts off with 3 of their toppings. Enzo’s PepperRari is a red-sauced Sausage, Pepperoni, Mushroom, and Bacon creation. The Casanova similarly has Andouille, Pepperoni, Bacon and Canadian Bacon. The Babe brings Alfredo sauce to Chicken, Bacon, Mushroom, Green Peppers and Broccoli. And finally there is the Shish Kaza, a more bare (probably garlic oiled) bread topped with ‘Tangy Chicken’ marinated in very Indian-ish flavors, sliced Onions and Peppers, Feta, and finished with Garlic-Yogurt.

20151022_124504

Before I continue, I would like to heavily note again that this WAS their first day out, and it is… readily apparent. One of the main reasons I don’t like reviewing on a truck’s first day, but it’s probably going to be a while before I’m back downtown and I have no clue if it’ll be easy or hard to find them again, so I dived in for once. Just note that this experience should not be assumed to be consistent through the next few months of growth; but there are certainly things to be aware of. Also, I would like to re-state, as I’ve mentioned in my ‘About the Blog’ section, that if anyone from the truck, or who’s a fan of it, thinks I should go back to give a second review, I am very well up to and interested in giving a business a second chance for a better score. But I’m not going to do it unless somebody ASKS me to, so please don’t be afraid to leave a comment.

Food: 8

                For fun’s sake, I decided to try the Shish Kaza. Though also since it didn’t LIST a sauce I figured it would automatically be the classic red… so I was wrong on that account (of course the yogurt still isn’t the main sauce, just drizzled on top). Still not sure what exactly was on the bottom, if anything; my guess is just some kind of oil, or there white sauce is the kind that sinks into the dough while cooking.

The chicken enveloped in that nice curry-like turmeric-cumin marinade was a happy surprise when mixed with the various other Mediterranean-esque toppings. Especially that poignantly tart and pungent Garlic-Yogurt, brought me back to a good Gyro or Curry platter with naan. Though classically charred on the bottom and outer rim, the dough even had this particularly stringy, doughy aspects near the middle which I absolutely LOVED with these flavors… on the first slice, when it was just a little bit. Then I had the others, and realized the truth of the matter: the dough, simply put, was undercooked, and still raw in a notable portion of the center. And though I’ll argue a little bit of this was fun in a middle-eastern way, like those sour pancakes you use to scoop up the food in Ethiopian restaurants, at this point it simply ends up as a flaw. Which is a shame, because I REALLY liked this pizza and its toppings; I’d like to go back and try some other combo again. Oh, and did I mention that this was actually the SECOND attempt, since the first pizza for me got notably burnt on one half so they had to start all over. Suffice it to say, they clearly need to learn how to use a wood-fire oven properly, and/or get their dough even THINNER before topping and cooking so that the middle has a better chance to cook through before the edges burn.

20151022_125752

I’m going a little easy on the score as I imagine this issue SHOULD get adjusted out rather quickly as they get more used to the oven, but note it’s still a dire effect into the savory pie as a whole, and one should be aware of the possibility in ordering while this truck is still young.

Holdability: 6

                 Of pizza styles it’s in the smaller and more portable style, though it’s nonetheless still a pizza! The kind that gets your fingers oddly tasty after eating; then one brings into play that undercooked center which makes the pull and lift not as clean as it could have been and having a few potential toppings stay on the plate.
20151022_124514

Price: 9

                  $7-$9 range on their pre-determined specialties, and you can build your own 3-toppinged for only $7 as well! ($1.50 to add further ingredients to it, not that you’d need) Overall the solid and good range for pizzas of this size.

Speed: 3

Well, let’s see. Not even considering the pizza that got over-cooked on one side that they needed to scrap and start over, an incident I normally wouldn’t count but since it seems to be a factor which could come up again and is a MAJOR part of pizza here it is, it can be quite a wait to get a pizza, as any restaurant-goer can attest. Every order has them taking the dough, stretching/flattening it out, loading with sauce and toppings, and waiting to go into the hearth. And not quickly mind you; time IS taken, I was actually able to leave during each pizza’s reign and go visit the guys at Outlaw for probably a 5 minute-minimum convo before heading back to re-get my pizza. Combine that with the fact that the small wood fired oven seems to only be able to do one, maybe two or three at the MOST, pizzas at a time, and one can imagine the kind of wait in the act of a palpable line of customers, let alone just one or two other orders in the window.

The TOE: 5

                  A very blank truck with simple big red letters for the name, on its own doesn’t really add much from walking up to it, for all one knows it could be a nameless BBQ or taco truck. Though I will say, something about the singularly large and red letters, the edge of the name, one DOES get that strong Italian feeling, so it actually does end up bringing something to the party. There are a few other factors in play, both helpful and not, all rather light and simple. I will say that I do love the effort to do a couple different, sort of ‘next-level’ pizzas as opposed to just sticking with plain sausage/pepperoni/veggies for everything; and it’s tasty too!

Tally: 31/50

20151022_125105
Final Thoughts

Definitely best for when one has plenty of time to sit down and enjoy their lunch or transport to other location, though if prepared with appropriate napkins Vitos offers probably the easiest truck-based pizzas to consume while on the go, assuming they fix the under-baked issue. If they ever start connecting with them, I could actually see this being a nice truck to have out at a brewery, when one can spend the waiting time casually and then easily plant down to enjoy a pizza and tasty beer.

As for options, we all know how personal pizza preferences are, but if it was ME I would definitely suggest starting out with the Shish Kaza for something fun or the meat lover’s Casanova to keep that classic red-sauced love.

Camp Cheesecake

20151018_130832
http://www.campcheesecake.com/
https://twitter.com/campcheesecake
Main Location: Outer Cities, Etc

With many a new Minnesota food truck operation popping up this year in outlying cities, I’ve had to make acception of the fact that there are certain trucks I’ll never be able to get to; which I do believe I have briefly talked about in another review. Then there are those which I simply have to wait for that ideal moment when they’ve strayed into my web of edible capture! I make it sound like a clever trap, though really it’s just whatever distance I let my laziness stretch to.

Such was my great luck in 2016’s latest dessert truck, which seems to hang around all the most outer edges south and west of Minneapolis. Started by the Muddy Paws Cheesecake in St Louis Park, this popular sweets business took their catering aspect into the adorable little camper trailer-esque vehicle that is Camp Cheesecake. Yet was this business another one I had no confidence in approaching, as it hadn’t even eased up to the uptown area, only to see them scheduled for an opening party on Bloomington Avenue! So I got to pop on down and enjoy the dense creamy treat.

20151018_132446

As one would expect, the little trailer is filled with what else but Cheesecake? The business sets itself to stock a group of 8-10 different varieties for each day. There’s definitely no set list, I could only say one is certain to find the classic New York Style plain cheesecake and the most popular, apparently, Raspberry Swirl. Otherwise one can expect to come into contact with items like different fruit or seasonally-flavored Swirls, Chocolate Chip/Candy-Bar studded creations, Chocolate or Caramel-based custard, Key Lime Pie [also seems a favorite], and many more. Definitely take a look at the site for the ‘whole’ list; of which who knows if and when they’ll make even more.

 

Food: 7.5

                Let’s start with the positives. Definitely that classic, dense and tangy-style cheesecake, very craveable and good. And I actually ate all of it! I ended up getting two slices: the fun S’mores, with a layer of tasty chocolate cheesecake on top of the original, and the seasonal Pumpkin Swirl. Now, when it comes to cheesecake, so often have I started on a single slice, and close to the end just wanted to stop because of how heavy and monotonous it is; so I’ve always valued the ability to fully enjoy the entire thing. It probably helped that flavors changed from one piece to the other, but still I found no edible fatigue. Classic, delicious cheesecake.

Individually, I found a distinct disappointment with the ‘flavors.’ Firstly, for the S’mores, they should either do some more work on it or just call it ‘chocolate layered cheesecake’ or something; through all of that, the graham cracker crust is nondistinct and tasteless, more just a base for texture as the flavor is overridden. And there’s nothing marshmallow, toasted or otherwise! There’s that tiny little mini on the end, but no, that doesn’t count; neither does the argument that ‘the cheesecake is like replacing the marshmallow,’ because it doesn’t! You say s’mores, I WANT MARSHMALLOW. So I expect either the batter is flavored with the melted gelatin-meringue, or a big topping of the soft confection, both versions ideally toasted. Also, though the Swirl technique is a really easy way to add a flavor to cheesecake in an attractive way, it also carries the risk of… well, you can see how thin that puree layer actually reaches. Unless you’re lucky enough to get some or most of it that falls deep, the flavor we so seek to find becomes extremely subtle. Which is a shame, I DID have half of it that dipped down, and it was a nice classic taste that works well with cheesecake, but the rest was more like seasoned cheesecake.

20151018_132421

That useless bitching aside, here’s my REAL complaint. The cheesecake was dense, and cold, not really a problem except for the fact that it was… also a touch ‘flaky’ in the middle of one of them, in a certain way. Basically put, these were stored in a freezer at one point or another. Now… why the HELL are these getting frozen? They make it themselves, by scratch, supposedly every day… that’s the whole idea of who they are! It’s already cold and dense enough when being stored in a regular fridge, one only risks accidentally serving an icy-ish product to customers, of which there was already a faint hint in mine. Not to mention I can only assume a custard like this that’s been frozen and thawed is going to be at least slightly inferior to one that’s only seen regular, brief cooling. But if, for whatever the odd reason is, that they HAVE to store it in a freezer at one point or another, truly you need to make sure to give it even MORE time to ensure proper thawing. Please.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Each slice is nice and compactly packaged, no mess as you eat it with a fork and carry it around. Though if you don’t even care of appearances, the dense ‘cream cheese pie’ is easy as heck to simply pick up with your hand and chow down. No falling apart with only the most minimal traces left on the fingertips. Though it does feel a shame they hadn’t tried to go the extra step and provide these beautiful wedges ‘on-a-stick’ or in some other fun, more portable form. Oh well.
20151018_132249

Price: 9.5

                  $4 for a slice, and what’s even better is it’s $7 if you buy two, though they don’t say that sadly! A great low-priced dessert option.

Speed: 10

20151018_132301

Every one of ‘em is ready to go on order, just gotta put them in the box and pay.

20151018_130857

The TOE: 8

                  A little trailer that hands out cheesecake? What’s not to love about that idea! And it’s an adorable, consistently unique and attractive design; even the truck that hauls it around got some graphic painting on it. Food quality aside, though the feeling of ‘simple, classic cheesecake business’ is strong, I really do wish they would try for some more unique creations. Either amp up the flavors, get them covered in big guilty-pleasure toppings, or work on even more ‘mobile’ versions like ‘mini pies’ or, as mentioned earlier, getting it on sticks. Why not do at least ONE chocolate-dipped slice, flavor rotating weekly, for that fun street food appeal? Or roll some baked cheesecake filling into balls and coat in a variety of crusts/toppings and in a bag to carry around for snacking? SOMETHING exciting it needs, otherwise, after a visit or two… it just feels a bit boring, in my opinion.

Tally: 43/50

20151018_130846
Final Thoughts

You may not find these guys at a big local truck rally anytime soon, but regard any event, occasion, or random day one can visit, this little edible camper trailer offers a noted possibility to grab a sweet snack for then or later. Great for those who want that ‘one extra thing’ for just a few bucks, especially if they enjoy cheesecake. Personally, I’m not really one for the ‘Swirls;’ they look pretty, but as I mentioned the puree is often mostly just on the surface with no penetration. I would say most joy would be in those items where the flavor is mixed throughout, or mixed with bigger chunks of things (ah-la Butterfinger and Chocolate Chip cheesecakes). But those are how I MYSELF lean in preferential cheesecake options. This is definitely a classic and typical flavor line-up; pick your personal favorites or whichever flavors excite your interest. The one thing I would say: DEFINITELY avoid New York style. It’s delicious I’m sure, but why go for the standard on this rare opportune visit when you could get something different and fun? It’s like going to a special ice cream shop with 50 flavors one can only find in an outside state and going for Vanilla. I don’t care what you say, you people that do that are freaks, FREAKS!!

Bark and the Bite

20150926_220112
http://www.barkandthebite.com/
https://twitter.com/BarkandtheBite
Main Location: Breweries, Minneapolis (Maybe?)

So I guess I need to pay more attention to CityPages on a frequent basis, since it made for quite the little ‘blind spot’ for me in not doing so. That said, it DID lead to a rather fun surprise near the start of a good night out, so maybe not so bad of a situation afterall.

Let me run you down what happened. Finally, after weeks of distraction or not having any reason to do so, I got the urge to force myself down to Tattersall Distilling; well that wasn’t so difficult, it was the finding someone to meet me there to make it an ‘occasion’ that took a while. Of course before I went I checked out their little event page, the place rather well known for nightly correspondences with Brooks High Batter and other food trucks; but just my luck that it was THAT Saturday that had no truck listed for nosh possibilities. Guess Brooks went elsewhere. But oh well, wasn’t necessarily even in the mood for food, but it’s fun to see options right?

So I drive there, finally find that little pain-in-the-ass alley-that-doesn’t-look-like-you-can-drive-through to get to the cocktail room and park, and what do I see as I’m driving by? Not just a food truck, but one that I’ve NEVER seen before, so the back of my brain starts thinking about the money I’ll have to lay down that night… then it notices that it’s a BBQ truck and that number rises a little more. It explains why the food truck spot was blank on the website…

After an Umeboshi Sour, but before a late night Baby Spice (both of them damn good by the way, I need to go back to try out more of their creations), I head out to my first visit of Bark and the Bite. Of course it’s just my luck that they are indeed a new Twin Cities truck and not someone from out of town, guess that means I have to eat their food. Oh darn. They’ve been on the streets since the start of September; or to be more accurate, on the doorsteps of various breweries. So it didn’t take me that long to find them, relative to plenty of other periods-of-ignorance you know I’ve had, and it makes sense considering I don’t get the chance to brewery it as much as I want… like, almost never.

20150926_224901

As a typical BBQ truck should, the forward-highlight of its menu is of course a basket of Ribs, theirs Dry-Rubbed and Memphis style. As opposed to others I’ve found, though, the rest of the menu is rather simple. One gets their pick of 3 ‘pulled proteins,’ such as the typical Pork, Chicken, and a vegetarian inclusion of ‘BBQ Jackfruit’ (oh I’m talking about this guy later), which can be gotten on small or big sandwiches and as a classic ‘pile of meat.’ One then picks their sauce: Cherry Bourbon, Vodka Chile, or ‘Bark’ Sauce (a mix of whole grain mustard, brown sugar, and I think chilies and/or other bbq things). We then of course get a list of typical, sort of, sides; Cider Vinegar-dressed Slaw, Baked Beans, Arugula Potato Salad, and of course Hush Puppies, ‘Honey Spiced.’

There’s even a cookie! Browned Butter Chocolate Chip (with Pecans). So I grabbed one of those, and a few other things, and got to chowing down, thankfully with help of friends! Thought I’d have to bring home leftovers…
20150926_220629

Food: 8

Okay, had to get the Ribs since it’s their purported favorite/specialty/focus, and for sandwiches that Pulled Pork and the intriguingly unique BBQ Jackfruit… though it was so hard not getting the Chicken, it apparently was coming right out of the smoker! But money… was spending enough as it was, especially with cocktails that night!

Also I was able to get a taste of a Hush Puppy! Oh and these are good ones, and very happy to say of a distinctly different ‘style’ compared to those found at Funfare, which were small, crispy and easy to munch. Comparably, these are big globes of moist cornbready denseness, in the good sense, and with a light honey sweetness just barely glazing the outside; enough to get your fingertips a touch sticky but not enough to even say they’re close to being ‘sauced.’ It offers an actual element to the fried bread, and there’s that happy guilty pleasure we get when eating cornbread and something deep fried.

I should mention here, before getting into the meat, that I actually got one of each Sauce; I asked them to assign as to what they think works best for each, but they instead just put them in cups so I could swap and choose at will! Not sure if that’s what they usually do anyways for sauce sides, but hey it was great here! They all tasted pretty darn good btw, I think I like the Bark as my favorite, but I’m a big fan of stoneground mustard; or just anything with that notably different texture and stronger, ‘pungent’ flavors.

20150926_220758
5 Ribs come out on top of a bed of Coleslaw (sounds like I should have a punchline for this doesn’t it?), of which didn’t stand out too much; just a basic Red Cabbage-based salad, good and decent but nothing exciting or standing out. The ribs on their own now, I actually prefer when they’re NOT on their own; with sauce, they are wonderful, tender and flavorful, a nice porkyness with that mixture of deep spices and wet tanginess. But unadorned, they’re good still, aren’t chewy, tender and sticks to the bone like smoked ribs should, but there is this little oddity in texture, almost a… I don’t want to say chalky, but maybe a slight off-dryness either from being smoked just a little too long or, I’m thinking, not nearly enough; I feel like the timing is probably good but the temperature and smoke level might need to be higher. That’s me spit-balling though, I’m no expert in BBQ problem-solving. Suffice to say they’re not perfect but still good.

I’ll admit, I’m not as excited to see pretzel buns today as I USED to be, before practically everyone did it and ruined the specialty of using the ‘right’ bun for the trendiness, but they are damn good here. Or should I say they make them damn good; THIS is why I advocate toasted buns in most situations, for that moment when you bite into a sandwich, you get that mouth full of meat, sauce, flavor, bread… and then that thin layer of toasty CRUNCH to add that extra textural element, which is so needed with ‘tender-fillinged’ sandwiches like pulled pork.

20150926_220755

As for the fillings themselves, tender, not dry, toothsome and flavorful; the pig had that great distinctive ‘porkyness’ to it, though for a BBQ item I wish there was more smoke or spice flavor, I really couldn’t taste any. But that JackfruitSO cool. I mean look at the picture; can you immediately even tell which one certainly is the vegetarian pulled sandwich and which one isn’t? The only thing that helps is that the ‘bbq jackfruit’ is already mixed with some marinade flavoring, thus the added color to it. And god it was fun to eat; it wasn’t a complete ‘meat substitute,’ but it was actually rather close; had a full texture to it, soft but with a bite… if I had to compare the distinctive feel to it, though, I’d say the closest thing that comes to mind is the meaty quality of a good artichoke heart, but more shreddable. Then it had this little, sorta-pickled tang in the background of it, which also reminds me of some bamboo shoot dish alongside the texture… it is just so interesting. But at the end of the day, GOOD, vegetarian-required and curious will both enjoy this. Now that I think of it, I’m not even sure if any other BBQ truck or local business has offered a full, proper vegetarian substitute for a main entrée, and to such a degree.

Oh, and then there’s the cookie! It cost a dollar and… tasted like it. Not that it was completely horrible, you get the chocolate chips and the pecans, a bit of the brown butter… but after being baked and wrapped in that film for who knows how long, it certainly developed a not-so-great texture, rather crumbly without being crisp. May need to develop a better recipe, that comes out thicker and softer, or perhaps it was just an effect of staling.

20150926_220527

Holdability: 7

I got mine in ‘to-go’ containers, mainly as I figured I’d have quite a bit to take home, but they do use the classic baskets too, which aren’t AS cumbersome. As for the food, a little typical compared to other bbq places, nothing extraordinarily helpful via sandwiches, though the pork held together rather well. The dry style of ribs helped… though I did have the sauce on the side, not sure if normally choosing a sauce would have it on top; it’s either that, making it stickier, or it’s on the side, meaning something extra to handle. But not an overall mess. Forgot to grab a fork for that coleslaw though, but that’s likely my fault! And then the hushpuppies had that little tacky stickiness from the honey; not really messy, but has one licking fingers… a yummy trait indeed, but it should be noted as far as this category is concerned. I also imagine getting a ‘pile of meat’ gets one further involved with needing a fork; and since I doubt anyone wants to get that on its own, added sides will add more components to handle. Okay, list done.

Price: 7.5

$12.50 for the Ribs, of which you get about 5 plus a mound of that slaw, not to mention the chanced to get a ‘Loaded Platter’ of 2 sides along with a big sandwich or meat pile, a nice little deal for those who want the more complete BBQ meal. Without the platter deal, each of those entrée-like items goes for $9.50, and one can get those smaller pulled sandwiches at $5 a-piece to get a better chance at sampling the different fillings; and they’re not particularly small, still have a good little heft, so the price on its own is reasonable for what one gets, but can add up fast. Sides generally range between $2-$3, with the Hush Puppies at $5; one gets 3, but as you can see they’re a good size, and tasty… I say judge their value for price for yourself, it could go either way depending on personal opinion. Finally, the cookie, as mentioned, is $1.

20150926_220555

Speed: 8.5

Most prep comes simply in tossing things together with the various needed sauces/seasonings, piling it on the toasted bun or basket, and off we go; a little faster than average, but not near instantaneous.

The TOE: 9.5

I love the feel and personality of the outside, the name and design finally gives me that feeling of the ‘modern bbq food truck’ that I’m familiar with seeing from other cities, as opposed to the old-school, plain-designed truck/trailer with the long classic options menu; nothing wrong with those, but it’s the difference between seeing an old Mexican Taco cart and a bright, colorful modern fusion taco truck. They hit it nicely in my opinion. And I mentioned menu, which is something I really appreciate here; the normal thing  is one has to go up to a BBQ truck and you have to choose… Ribs, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken, maybe Wings, they got Sausage, and is-that-even-part-of-the-animal? Not to mention side listings. And when BBQ businesses are noted for having distinct personalities in each of their separate products, usually being ‘really good’ in 1-3 and ‘just okay’ in the rest, it makes that first choice hard… gotta hope you’re picking the right one. But here? Ribs, Pulled Pork and Chicken (and the Veggie of course, but you’re either doing that from the get-go or not); and one could get the pork AND chicken easily in two sammiches. It’s a lot more approachable, and nice to see a place that narrows down their focus, in my opinion. And with the names of different items, Memphis-style Ribs, Jackfruit, and particular options for sandwich/platter, the truck and menu does feel rather distinctive in personality compared to other BBQ trucks. Though we have been lucky in garnering BBQ food trucks in the past year that all set themselves apart from each other, but one knows what I mean still.

Tally: 40.5/50

Final Thoughts

The Pulled Meat is definitely where it’s at; whether it’s to grab a single mini for a low-priced lunchtime filler/snack (or a good way to sample BatB’s flavor cheaply during a food truck rally), or a bigger Sandwich/Pile to really load up on some BBQ goodness on whatever sauce style is your favorite. If you REALLY want the experience, and a nice loaded lunch, I say go for the Loaded Platter, Sandwich option (I’d really say any of the three, though you’ve got to try that Jackfruit at least once just cuz… I mean who else is selling something like it at the moment?), with the Honey-Spiced Hush Puppy and Potato Salad options… perhaps the Baked Beans too, though I haven’t tried it to confirm and I feel bean dishes REALLY need that confirmation.

Habanero Tacos

20150910_115925
https://www.facebook.com/Habanero-Tacos-636831153117512/timeline/
https://twitter.com/habanerotacos
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

Those who are somewhat familiar with my blog my notice a certain peculiarity to my archives, that being, except for a couple rare exceptions, I don’t really do reviews on Traditional Mexican Taco Trucks/Carts. Now the modern, bright, new-business, fusion/twisted, and other sort of taco-based trucks we see on our main downtown streets, sure. But as a general rule, I’ve made the decision to just ignore all the almost nameless, likely family-owned, no-frills and no-social-media-focus taco trucks that are so often seen in various parking lots, on the further outskirts of uptown and south Minneapolis, etc. You know the ones, the ‘taco trucks,’ those businesses that were likely the true precursor to our food truck industry in the US.

Note that this has nothing to do with any disdain or even disinterest towards these businesses; I absolutely adore taco trucks. They use proper masa tortillas, have a whole variety of usually delicious fillings, are NOT afraid to cook things like tongue or cheek or other offal (more people are coming to appreciate, but the rest of you are still pansies. Pansies I say!!), are often very cheap, and sometimes even offer a variety of options to eat with your desired filling; like going to Chipotle. There are reasons these kinds of businesses have succeeded for dozens of years.

But there are so many of them, parked who-knows-where half the time, usually with no online presence letting those unaware find them easily, and as much as I love the kind of truck… the fact is if you’ve been to one you’ve almost been to them all. The experience is rather identical; yes yes, there are little differences in flavor and quality between each, much like BBQ trucks, but it’s even less noticeable than that example, and I’m going to be happy either way. In my personal opinion, if I WERE to track down all the different taco trucks, I feel the only way to properly review them is between each other; or in other words, I’d have to start a whole separate blog, or blog page, devoted JUST to reviewing the aspects of the taco trucks themselves. And I don’t feel like doing that… yet. For now, it’s easier just to focus on the masses of every other kind, familiar and weird, that keep popping up in the Twin Cities.

So it was with much reluctance that I passed by Habanero Tacos at a farmer’s market some months ago, making the difficult decision to ignore it and save some money for other truck visits. The truck certainly fits into the same category as other taco trucks I’ve been to, so they were a no go. That said, of late I’ve taken strong notice of the fact that they’ve been parking in downtown Minneapolis quite a lot, they have a twitter and Facebook handle that gets updated, and are otherwise rather in the public eye just as strongly as some of our other food trucks. So I feel it only right that I give them my full respect and offer a complete review to add into the ranks on this blog for all the effort they’re clearly going through to get known. Plus, I like to think one can then use this as an overall idea on where taco trucks in general rank on the ‘food truck scale’ for each ranking category.

As for some details, the menu offers the chance to get Tacos, Burritos, Enchiladas, Alambres (meat sautéed with bacon, peppers, and onions; with melted cheese, I think it’s on rice or a big tortilla, basically an entrée), each with your choice of filling. One can pick from a list, slightly differing between item, including but not limited to: Al Pastor (Marinated Pork), Carnitas (Roast Pork), Carne Asada (Grilled Steak), Barbacoa (Shredded Beef), Pollo, Lengua (Beef Tongue), and Cabeza (Shredded Beef Head). One also has the chance to get a side of Elote (Mexican Street Corn, on the cob w/ lime, mayo, cheese, and spices) or Tortillas. Not to mention a full line-up of sodas, canned and Mexican bottles and guava juice (gotta love guava juice). That about sums it up, so let’s get down to it.

20150910_115915

Food: 9

                Can’t go to a taco truck without just getting the tacos; it’s a good way to try a couple fillings for cheap anyways. As expected, proper soft masa tortillas, double-stacked for each taco, garnished with onion, cilantro, and a section of lime for each taco. And yes there was a little thing of hot sauce, which I completely forgot to try on top of the tacos cuz they were SO GOOD; I love a proper taco from these kinds of trucks! But I did sneak a taste of the sauce on its own; has a kick, with some of those dried whole spicy chile flavors and some development start to finish.

Decided to go for the Al Pastor, ‘Marinated Pork,’ and the Cabeza, ‘Beef Head,’ for this trip. Both tasted great on their own terms, wrapped in their pillowy tortilla folds and with spikes of herby aromatics and bright crunchy onion. The pork’s marinade shone the most, with that distinctly unique tomato-chile-based (I think, maybe it’s a red mole or similar) sauce providing the most distinction; though on their own, the pork meat WAS a bit dry, luckily everything else balances it out enough to not really impact you. Oh but the head, fall apart tender and rich and juicy… well, not really juicy, in fact almost ‘slimy,’ but in a good way, like certain special Japanese noodle dishes. Bit of that fatty/collagen-y aspects from wherever they took that meat around the cow’s skull. And for those already trying to use excuses to be disgusted, shut up; it’s just like roast beef, amazing and super flavorful roast beef which is perfect like this. I only wish they had even MORE alternative cuts, like chicharrons, pig feet, brains, etc; but oh well.

They might deserve an even higher score, but I feel I’d need to try some other items for confirmation first; which also means it could just as well truly be deserving of lower, even if sticking with the fillings one knows are good. So as always, take these with a grain of salt; especially since I really just like this a general idea for all taco trucks anyways.

20150910_120122

Holdability: 9

                 Tacos are classic street food for a reason, they’re made to be able to pick up with one hand; and that classic double-tortilla design, as I’ve always said, is just so good. Can use it for extra support so none of the fillings fall out, or just use one tortilla first, let as much of that meat fall out as you can, and the leftovers turn into a second taco! Unless you only get one, which isn’t unlikely, one still needs two hands for basket holding. But there ARE options; yet another benefit to the classic taco truck; if one desires portability, the singular Burrito comes into play, not to mention the classic one-handed snack of Mexican Corn.
20150910_115703

Price: 10

                  $2.50 for each Taco, $8 for a Burrito, $7 for Enchiladas, $10.50 or $12 for the bigger entrée that is the Alambres, and $3 to get one of those classic Elote, this place has RANGE to fit exactly what you’re looking for. Whether one’s spending more on a big lunch, looking for a filling but more cost-effective option, or just wants to part with a few bucks for a soul-satisfying snack, or just to sample, these kinds of menus have it all. Yet another notable proof of evidence towards the taco truck’s success in engraining itself as THE classic American street food/food truck operation.

Speed: 8.5

I imagine it technically depends on the item, but most of the proteins/fillings are pre-cooked, may get a TOUCH of griddle time at the most, so they only need the filling time and come out quick. Alambres and Enchiladas will get more attention to cook everything together, I expect average wait on those, faster turn-out on others; they get those tacos out to you quickly! Just like any good street food stand.

The TOE: 9

                  My initial reaction when first seeing the truck a while ago, considering its plain-ish look, wasn’t all that inspiring; as evidenced by the delay in actually ordering from them. But then again, I was judging whether it qualified as one of the ‘modern’ food trucks which I mainly focus on. Truly, this IS a Mexican Food Truck, and it feels like it when you’re there and ordering from it. It seems to measure up just about as much as the others; perhaps there’s been some attempts towards a more ‘attractive’ design pulls it a bit more away from that rather traditional, operating-in-the-parking-lot-down-the-street feel that sort of comes to mind with these, but it’s not so huge. Plus I admit it that feeling in myself may be skewed simply because they’ve been doing a lot of business in downtown with the other trucks.

Tally: 45.5/50

20150910_120309
Final Thoughts

Gotta love a good Carne Asada, and if you can find ANY part of yourself to try it, get the Lengua or Cabeza, they’re always so good in tacos. Besides those, I’d say you’re certainly safe with anything else Shredded or Grilled/Charbroiled, then it’s just figuring out what kind of edible packaging you want it in! That variability, versatility, is what makes these trucks perfect for any need: on a budget, grabbing a snack between other things, sampling multiple things, getting a full meal, looking to eat there or move to another location, etc. Chances are you’ll find SOMETHING that fits your needs here, so long as you don’t hate Mexican cuisine (you monster). And definitely give the Elote a chance if you still have yet to try one; it can be a quick, cheap, and satisfying grab-and-go treat that’s worth the minimal spending risk, or can add it onto another order as a ‘side’ of sorts.

At the end of the day, Habanero Tacos delivers their food, for the most part, in the same manner as what we expect to come from these glorious vehicles. I hope you’ve had the chance to experience it or one of the many other classic taco vendors in the cities, or that you do so soon.

Rockin’ at Motley Crew’s Heavy Metal Grill in Lakeville

20150823_120857

Four months after the infamous and devastating explosion incident that destroyed one of our Minnesota Breweries’ most beloved food trucks, Motley Crew’s Heavy Metal Grill is back yet again, this time with their much-awaited standalone bar of the same name. Bursting out of the gate guitars blazing, the 40 days I myself have had to wait to travel down to their new location has been filled with packed nights, much local love, and a few ‘special visits’ from certain musical icons. As always I feel so rather crappy for not being able to go down sooner, this was the one truck-steraunt (patent pending?) that I actually wanted to make sure I was down for on opening day.

20150823_142133

But alas, the implantation of this brick-and-mortar (by the way, still hate the phrase, and yes I know that I have no proper reason for this) was straight down in Lakeville, 30 minutes south of Minneapolis and 50 from my own residence. So it sucks for me, but is a truly great thing for Lakeville; sadly, many a restaurant or other fun edible stop have been leaving the city over the past few years, limiting local options to only one or two places to dine out. Not only does Heavy Metal offer a different and totally awesome bar to change things up with every once in a while, which most of them have certainly shown appreciation for in these first months of business, but it’s only the first wave in a battalion of new businesses aiming to bring further fun and life back into the area. As anyone who’s been following the build of Motley’s restaurant is aware, a month or two from now will see the opening of a brewery-taproom in the same building, creating the perfect visiting experience. Not only that, but yet ANOTHER Brewery, this one with its own restaurant and apparently some kick-ass design ideas, will be opening in the space right BEHIND Motley’s, a trifecta of late night beer and bar food heaven.

20150823_142206

Though mostly bare on my visit, the walls of this hard rocker’s upscale-ish dive are already getting loaded with sweet guitars, flaming posters, and most notably Truck scraps. Yes, though the truck may be gone, its bits and pieces live on in glory within its successor, like a propane-fueled phoenix rising from the ashes… or scraps of twisted metal, whatever. If you look at the back of the menu itself, you’ll see a picture of the old truck parked outside their future space, already with their name on it… like a proud momma looking over her growing child. Sadly that was THE last picture ever taken of the old girl before the accident, displayed in yet another honorary position as part of this establishment.

20150823_125907

Currently we get to see this with some of the surviving classic attire so nostalgicly seen on the truck’s side, various stickers, license plate, and they hung the whole of the final menu in honor over in one of the corners. Then there’s the bar Hand Sink; who ever thought anyone would talk about a goddamn SINK in any business-related article? But one of the few surviving items from the vehicle, its hand sink festooned with stickers and all, has been given permanent place out front, still doing work and keeping its soul alive as part of the long working bloodline that is a restaurant’s kitchen and bar stations.

20150823_133256

And that’s just to start; if you get the chance to head down there soon, talk to Marty about decorations, that man has some PLANS for filling spaces. The original hood, or something, of the truck is going to be hung up in front between the air vents, one of the destroyed and sorta-twisted sides will garnish a wall, and an old logo that was GOING to be wrapped on the truck (but was way too big) is going on another wall.

20150823_123547

Keeping true with their old-school rocker lifestyle (the only kind worth living am I right?), they’ve also got a whole mess of other paraphernalia lined up and getting ready to go on display. Pictures, posters, guitars, Frisbees (some sort of big white disk, I claim all apology in completely forgetting what that was exactly), and various other things, signed by icons or just plain badass in their own separate ways. All awaiting their debut on the ‘bleak’ (inside joke, sorta, haha) and still quite-empty canvas; though I’m sure they’ve already gotten a few more things up by the time I finally get around to writing and posting this crap.

20150823_142120

But décor isn’t the only thing in development; as one should hope and expect, the menu keeps hold of every sandwich and beloved food item that the truck was known for serving for, two sections of which are filled with different steak/philly and chicken sandwiches. Of course one can still get a bag of the classic sweet and spicy pretzels from Sammy’s we so fell in love with from the truck, if there are any left that is!

20150823_130403

It’s not a truck-steraunt without new items though, to which they have quite a few… and they’re still adding more! The big focus so far is on their Burger list, filled with thick monsters topped by totally unhealthy things and given names such as ‘Kickstart my Heart,’ ‘Feed my Frankenstein,’ and ‘War Pig.’ A section of Chicken Wings compliments the proper atmosphere of the place, an ideal basket to eat with a big glass of draft from some of our local breweries (a small-ish selection for now, but growing, or at least in frequent rotation. Oh, and something cool, got the chance to go in the back with Marty, they actually have the kegs stored right behind the tap for easy handling; you’d think that’s obvious, but I’ve worked in kitchens, doesn’t always happen), dressed in classic sauces. Oh, and they have Seafood; Buffalo-style Fried Shrimp, which they plan on turning into a Po’Boy and/or other sandwich in the future, and Crab Legs. I shit you not, you can get a basket of simply steamed crab legs here. It at first seems so opposed to Marty’s opposition of places that just make their menu options as varied as possible, yet the singular point of ridiculousness with that ONE item makes it feel almost completely at home here.

20150823_131617

And that’s what’s here NOW. Inside scoop tells me (look at me trying to sound special, when I bet you anyone who even broaches the subject with Marty at the bar will get him telling you every little bit of the same information as I got from a computer screen) that we’re in store for some other special and fun ideas, such as a Juicy Lucy called the Iron Maiden, now-classic Peanut Butter-Bacon named Skid Row, and just a SIMPLE Cheeseburger (which they don’t have yet, for good reason in my opinion) named after Marty’s favorite phrase and one of his favorite bands, K.I.S.S.: Keep it Simple Stupid. Are you noticing a pattern with the names yet?

20150823_125914

Then of course there’s a burger topped WITH Philly Meat and cheese, a Philly served with Au Jus to make into a dive-bar Dip, Fried Cod (Sandwich version or non, former called Barracuda), Rib Tips, burgers made OUT OF Bratwurst, and a dessert of Cherry-Cream Cheese stuffed Tortillas fried and rolled in Cinnamon-Sugar known as Sixx Stixx (there’s quite the origin to this name, definitely try to get Marty to tell you about it if it’s not busy). One definitely can’t say any of this is high-class fare, or even gastropub, but we never really went to them for that kind of food in the first place.

20150823_130036

I actually went there with a buddy, so we got to try a couple things. Besides the always amazing pretzels, and a little sample of some ‘yogurt’-coated almonds made by the same guy that does the candied ones I oh so loved when they were in the truck, we each tried a burger and got those Buffalo Shrimp. Which are awesome by the way; deep-fried then slathered in sauce, what once was crispy is now almost soggy from absorbing that classic orange liquid, but I actually sort of LIKE that texture. Speaking of which, the shrimp were delightfully plump and bouncy, and there’s little beating the flavor of buffalo sauce, meat of some sort, and blue cheese dressing, which they also make from scratch in-house as any good restaurant should.

20150823_131729

That’s what you gotta get through w/ ‘Kickstart my Heart’

The burgers are monsters, that’s definitely the main point you go for with them; I’ll admit they’re not particularly juicy or of that perfect grind and meat that turns some burgers into massive balls of tender, squelching deliciousness, but they’re still cooked well and very enjoyable, especially considering the excess aspect. Just seeing them made us start talking about the ‘technique’ so often seen from Fieri on DDD, and then of course Marty comes over and asks us we got ‘the Hunch’ down! Perfect timing! My friend got Kickstart My Heart, a Double burger with 3 cheeses, 4 pieces of bacon, and a Fried Egg, and of course he then made it healthy with that ‘salad’ on top. I think we were able to get a good bite out of the bastard. Oh, and by the way, if you think your heart still has it easy for some reason, can order this one ‘Triple Bypass’ with yet ANOTHER patty, which has to be at least 8oz from the looks of it.

20150823_131608

‘Meatallica’

I felt I had to try the Meatallica myself: Burger, Bacon, Ham, a split and grilled Hot Dog (and not the skinny kind either), topped with Cheddar and… well that’s it. Lettuce and Tomato? Why the hell would I order that, this is the place that you shove those pretentions to the side! We don’t come to a place like this if we’re concerned about balancing our diets or looking at ‘perfect contrasting flavors’ for dinner that night. You go here to just shove a load of meat, cheese, and fried stuff down your mouth and enjoy it, washing down with beer. You can do that you know? You can take time every now and then to revel in something that’s bad for you… and this is coming from a guy who cares about food quality and crap. And I enjoyed my mountain of meat topped with cheap melted cheese and served with fries.

Speaking of which, I feel obligated to mention they DO have a house seasoning which they use on their fries, burgers, and probably some other things. It’s actually mixed in back, so not just season salt, and has an ingredient that provides a subtle little smoky aspect at times. I myself got the Cajun fries not realizing this, which I did enjoy, but one should certainly find interest that the ‘regular’ fries aren’t going to taste completely generic.

20150823_142333

Let’s see, final notes… there’s a big patio outside, looks great to take advantage of while the weather’s still nice. There’s a chair in each of the single-use bathrooms, no one knows why so don’t ask. The big sign outside lights up at night to look pretty cool. Glasses are monogrammed, and they always look into trying to get cool t-shirts made, so I’m sure there’s a few souvenirs one can buy if asked about it. And the whole team is awesome. Most of them are all from Lakeville and randomly got into the team through the kind of individual stories and happenstances that only a guy like Marty seems to keep walking into… like his baby duck.

20150823_133737

So, after having to wait over a month to finally visit and feeling rather crappy about taking so long… I now wish I had waited even longer! Now I have to find another good time and excuse to get back down to Lakeville once these decorations and new menu items get thoroughly engrained. Right now I’m thinking of a whole ‘Lakeville Day’ with friends and/or family, spend some time at the breweries once they’re in, start the day with lunch at a nearby Vietnamese place Marty says has quite the badass bowl of Pho, before finishing the day on another gut-busting tour of Motley’s expanded menu. If lucky, can do it at Pan-O-Prog or some other yearly festival.

The Truck may be gone, but the rockin’ spirit and attitude lives on! Though there is potential for mobile resurgence in 5 years or so, but for now we can satisfy our ‘cheesy-sandwich-deep-fried-goody’ happy needs down in Lakeville.

20150823_125726

Gotta get that commemorative picture in front of the Heavy Metal Grill rock idol centerpiece!

By the way, I’ll be making sure to upload a whole bunch of new photos once those upcoming truck parts and signed paraphernalia get jammed into the wall and ceiling. And what I can’t fit between paragraphs I’ll just jam in below here for simple viewing pleasures.

Bubba’s Fried Chicken (Quasi-Review)

20150817_130451

https://twitter.com/bubbaschicken
http://www.bubbasfriedchicken.com/

Our first Wisconsin emigrant food truck has arrived this year! I noticed Bubba’s Fried Chicken in downtown St Paul a couple months back, but with its very state fair concession-like trailer look, was rather cautious on the approach. Not to mention home research, both of them and their locations posted up through the Facebook page, informed me that their home base is in fact River Falls Wisconsin. As such, I knew I had to wait, see if the trip to Minnesota was a one-time only thing, or just REALLY infrequent, or if it became regular. As luck would have it, their travel down to our Twin Cities has continued to come around here and there, and on a recent day off that they happened to post their location in Mears Park (first, main location, and second, they annoyingly don’t update Facebook THAT much, so you’ll likely best run into them if you’re down in St Paul regularly or via luck on most occasions).

20150817_130224

Bubba’s Fried Chicken sells, what else, Fried Chicken, and not much else. The business itself originated in a storefront in their home state, but if I heard them correctly that sadly got shut down, leading, or at least encouraging, their food truck-forward business strategy. It would certainly explain why their logo includes mention of Fried Okra, Collard Greens, and Deep Fried Corn on the Cob, and yet on neither occasion did I see ANY of these. Which sucks, because fried corn cob sounds AWESOME as a food truck addition, perhaps of even Toe Ring significance if done right, and they’d complete its menu as a deep south/deep fried business. There’s not even much excuse; okra can be gotten year-round, it’s PEAK corn season, and they obviously have a friar and prep space, all that’s needed for those two items. Oh well, a man can dream.

The menu itself gives us an option between fried chicken baskets; 2 piece, 3, 4 Wings or 4 Tenders, all of which comes with house-cut Jo Jo Fries (I’ll admit, when I saw that on the menu, I thought it was the generic stuff that they probably bought frozen. So props in at least cutting their own potatoes). Though what they don’t tell you is that the ‘3-piece,’ probably like the 2, is just 3 drumsticks. It’s a real shame you don’t get the chance at the breast or thigh meat, a classic mixed-basket deal or something. But if you like Drumsticks best, or either of the other two cut options, then you get to have a whole bunch of it just for you.

And there are a few simple sauces available; a BBQ, Hot, and Ranch-ish, which I’m pretty sure are all made in house. The flavors and balance on each are all rather standard, simply enjoyable in what they are; to be thought of and used on the side as a typical condiment, nothing to really write home about.

20150817_130438

Food: 6.5 – a thinner-styled coating on this chicken before frying, so lack of audible crunch but it forms a tasty ‘fried’ layer that’s seasoned well, perhaps a bit heavy on the salt. The chicken underneath IS moist, with expected flavor but nothing outstanding. Standard fried chicken, executed well for the ingredients and methods used. The fries certainly are ‘Jo Jos,’ big, soft on the inside and soft on the outside, no real crunch; but that’s an expected trait of the style, so I won’t really knock them for it.

Holdability: 7 – Easy to eat-and-go, but still classically need a napkin just from the slightly greasy skin and moist chicken meat. I feel it’d be nice if we didn’t HAVE to have Jo Jo fries automatically load up every single basket, for both this and the price factor.

Price: 9 – $6 and $7 for 2-piece and 3-piece, leaving a good deal and option to upgrade to some more food, and $7-$8 for the Wings and Tender baskets. Overall good and affordable level, worth it for the AMOUNT you get, I find myself wondering about the price for just 4 chicken wings but then again realize that those might be the WHOLE wings, tiny drummy and other thing attached to each.

Speed: 10 – well the pieces and fries are ready to go… great for speed though maybe not what I’d ideally want from a proper fried chicken food truck.

Toe: 3 – Ultimately it feels like something that we see at a State/County Fair or some Music Festival Block Party, it’s hard to feel that complete personality which we find at other trucks; especially since it’s all just the few kinds of same-fried chicken and the potatoes. With those other items they promise, perhaps it’d help, contorting them to a full respectable menu with real options.

20150817_130503

Tatanka Truck

20150812_123435

http://www.tatankatruck.com/
https://twitter.com/tatankatruck
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

The first of two long-awaited and highly-anticipated food trucks to hit the Twin Cities in the latter part of the summer, with articles and interviews and lots of retweeting about them both in the past few months, Tatanka Truck now hits the Minneapolis streets to serve the very anxious street lunch crowd. Brainchild of Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota Sioux and owner of the Sioux Chef catering and culinary educational business, he yet continues his journey to spread the true native Ojibwe and Dakota food traditions to as many people as possible. With the recent partnership with Little Earth, he finally got to add a Food Truck to his arsenal, bringing some of these natural dishes developed over the land back to our sight. You can see the truck around Minneapolis rather often, but its mobile nature allows Sean to take his business to various Native American events, businesses, and celebrations in Minnesota.

There’s more that could definitely be said about the owner and business itself, but it seems plenty of other places have been doing enough of that well before the truck even opened, like This and These Guys, so if you’re one of the few who still have yet to get bombarded with that information, those links have some rather intriguing informativeness behind them! (Sean really has been doing some great things, this is definitely the kind of thing I know we all love to see spread)

20150812_122751

Offerings focus on, of course, menu items made with indigenous ingredients and cooking methods developed in the Native American cultures, transformed to best enjoy on the street. The main features are the Indigenous ‘Tacos,’ a corn and bean ‘Bread’ round piled high with Heirloom Beans, Wojapi (a native berry sauce), and your chosen cooked meat topping. Cedar-Braised Bison (Tatanka) with Sunchoke, Smoked Turkey (Mizise-Wiiyaas) and Forest Mushrooms, Sumac-seared Walleye (Ogaawag), and Squash (Wagmu) are the options. Or one can choose similar protein toppings (or not) and pop it on a Manoomin Salad, chocked full of wild rice, seeds, cracked corn, and veggies. On the side one can grab some grilled Corn Cob (Wahuwapa) with Pesto (or not), Cedar Maple Iced Tea, or some Energy Bars: their own Native Granola and Seed Bars or Bison-Fruit Jerky which they get from native Tanka Bars.

Oh! And you can get a ‘hot sauce’ on the side with the tacos. I should have asked what they used, darn those busy lunch periods…

20150812_122905

A basket of Bison with that intriguingly pesto-covered corn

Food: 8.5

                Okay now this was a hard decision, figuring out which protein to get. I’m still playing the ‘what if’ card with the Walleye in my head, but I’m just gonna go with it! Luckily the two I was debating between, Bison and Turkey, had the former bowing out as the guy ahead of me bought the last portion, so I could pick the Mizise-Wiiyaas without guilt! The bison did look good though, especially mixed with sunchokes and, interestingly enough, DRIED bison alongside the braised.

Results of the turkey? Juicy, tender, a nice surprise as I expected the smoked bird to be firm as opposed to these juicy shreds, and seasoned well. The ‘bread’ underneath is really more like a Corn and Bean Cake, soft and moist as one pulls pieces off with your fork (can’t really pick it up). As you pull and mix and scramble everything together, a messy-looking hash of flavors you feel came right out of the backyard, one worries that the soft nature of all the items will lead to a textural wasteland devoid of anything besides mush, but thankfully the shredded greens on the side actually help to contribute, giving just that scoche (yes I used the term scoche, I’m watching Sideways and feeling a bit snooty, but not enough to actually elevate the grammer and writing skills of the review as a whole) of a bite to contrast. I will say I’m glad I got the Hot Sauce, one because it tastes pretty good (love a flavorful semi-hot sauce with a mass of starch an protein) and two because, as good as the ‘taco’ is, there feels to be an overall ‘blandness’ to it (not unseasoned, it’s salted and peppered well). One could say the flavors are all in the same realm, and I wish there was ONE other element, whether it’s a fresh and bright vegetable, that other flavorful sauce, dusting of spices, etc.

20150812_124741

Which, in hindsight, the berry sauce alone SHOULD have taken care of, so either I just skipped over it in my head and didn’t let it shine on the tongue, or it sadly just wasn’t sharp enough, or needed more OF it on top… perhaps the issue was that it blended with all the other tastes TOO much for the good of the dish as a whole.

The Corn was tasty, fully enjoyed the Pesto topping with the distinct herbal-garlic punch, though it did clearly feel like it hadn’t reached the true promise that good, fresh grille sweet corn should get to. Basically, one can tell that it’s grilled ahead of time, as it should be in order to achieve that full color and flavor on the kernels for service, and then kept warm and waiting on the side. Again I don’t hate it or anything, I actually love getting grilled fresh corn as a side like this, just pointing out it’s not heavenly; which is what we’re used to in sweet corn season like now right?

20150812_122822

The Granola, which I got to snack on from a free sample tray, was good; I could totally see getting bars of this for work snacks and lunch! Nothing better than a great one made by hand instead of machine. As for that ‘Cedar Maple Tea,’ it offers a clean, lighter version of your desired sweet tea, very refreshing. The maple and cedar notes ARE there, but one does have to search for them, quite subtle; something I was looking forward to trying, it satisfies my initial craving to grab though isn’t EVERYTHING that I hoped and wished for, sort of like the rest of the food and truck as a whole. Don’t take my thoughts harshly on that however.

20150812_123534

Holdability: 7

               So, here’s the thing. I don’t mind if a food truck uses the term ‘taco’ for something that isn’t really a taco; I understand, it’s a cool and easy way to let people connect to a different food, not to mention emphasizing the street food idea of it. That said, if you’re GOING to use the moniker, I expect to be able to actually pick it up in one way or another, and not only do these little ‘cakes’ not hold in any of the toppings, I doubt one could even lift them on their own without parts of them falling off. As such, I’m gonna have to knock a point or so off, seriously.

That aside, the side items on their own are easily consumable by hand, while the mains really do require a fork for consuming, mixing-and-matching can certainly razz things up depending.

Price: 8.5

                $9-11 for the protein tacos, $8 on the Squash, $5 for the Salad with a $3 upcharge to add your meat of choice. The whole menu has a great range, with the ability to get that side of Corn for only $2, the energy bars for $2-4 depending on type and size, and $4 for the Tea. Though it can definitely add up to a decent total, since it seems hard to get JUST the ‘taco’ bowl.
20150812_122622

Speed: 9

 

It didn’t take too long at all; a quick run across the street to take a picture and feed the meter, and when I got back a couple minutes later (if that) the basket was waiting in the window.

The TOE: 9.5

                Whatever lingering effects from media attention aside, the fact remains that not only is this a unique truck serving distinctive offerings, the goal and focus of it all comes through very clearly. Not to mention it’s colorful, felt surprising and hollow but one has to appreciate a good design at the end of the day.

The Cedar Maple Tea feels almost a Toe Ring, though I myself wish there was some more impact to it; either more distinct maple flavor, a spice mixed in, or just something to really ‘feel’ that clean and natural sweetness. Still good though, don’t get me wrong.

Tally: 42.5/50

20150812_122536
Final Thoughts

For the ideal experience, head over when they’re at the park near the Minneapolis Government center on a beautiful day, grab a the Bison, Fish, or whatever ‘taco’ you might be craving, and sit down to relax and enjoy your meal completely. Also a great stop to pick-up a Grab and Go snack, the Granola or Tanka Bars, or when craving an interesting drink, either to complete some truck lunch thing or just when needing refreshment, whereas the Cedar Maple Tea should be tried at least once if one ever gets the chance.

Funfare Global Street Eats

20150803_173503

https://twitter.com/funfaregse

http://www.funfare-gse.com/

Main Location: St Paul, Etc

It’s a good thing I did some last-minute twittering, I was seriously about to put up a post saying these guys didn’t have a website! It’s tricky to find via google, but I got their twitter id and it led me straight to ’em! Still didn’t tell me too much else about them that I feel like putting down, but that might be the laziness. I do definitely suggest looking into the website to get a good clue to their personality.

20150803_173510

This truck also comes out as yet another build from local Chameleon Concessions, go lizards! After doing so many articles on the side for a certain southern truck builder, it’s always nice to come back and see the fruits of our own Minnesota-based team out on the street in their wonderful mobile glory.

But to get back to the truck itself, my adventure this day leads me to Funfare, or Funfare Global Street Eats, depending on how one prefers calling them that day. As the longer version suggests, along with the very postcardy décor on the side of their big red behemoth, they focus on providing a variety of classic International street foods from various world regions.

20150803_175131

And boy do they really accomplish this. For the past few weeks the menu has hold fast to offering the choices to grab a Cubano (from Cuba throughout Central America), Shrimp Po’Boy (Louisiana), Filipino BBQ Skewers (do I need to say this one?), Pork Steam Buns (Japan), Baja Fish Tacos (Mexico), Chicago Jumbo Dog, Cheese Curds (go Midwest!), Hush Puppies (more Southern Love), and Baklava (Middle East) for dessert. I hear they plan on changing the menu up soon, but I expect at least a few of these will either stay on or see frequent resurgence from time to time, so a good starter.

By the way, they sell Kool-Aid as a drink option… actual vibrant blue Kool-Aid. I’ll just leave it at that and get on with things.

Food: 9

                Suddenly I find myself loading up with FOUR of their menu items, two bigger and two snack-ish. So I’m gonna see if I can actually go through each briefly for once…
20150803_175236

First off, best Hush Puppies that I myself have ever experienced. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, like your favorite corn dog, but not dry in the slightest on the inside, still ‘moist,’ in sort of a touch spongey/doughey sense, hard to quite express. I was very happy to find a version of these fried cornmeal balls I enjoyed, with that notably soft onion-chive-y addition of flavor; a shame there’s NO sauce to dunk them in, some pepper aioli on the side would have catapulted these to perfection.

The best part of the Pork Steamed Buns is the first bite; it’s just that total pork bun flavor, with moist pig, perfect ratio of springy/chewy/tender steam bun texture (it’s so unique and distinctive), a bit of that slaw, and that marinade! For those who’ve had a pork steam bun, there’s that specific sauce flavor that’s unique purely to them, a sweet-tangy Japanese bbq sauce of sorts, and it is up front and center in the best way in combination with that pillowy dough bag. And of course I have to make mention of the interesting little form for these guys, like a Japanese bun taco. Which is cool, but whereas the first bite from the ‘top’ was perfect, the second ends up notably lacking filling, which is understandable and fine, the real issue is that this section of bun, folded over and almost double-layered, ends up notably… not drier, maybe ‘denser’ is the better word? Clearly inferior to the ideal, not uniform like the classic round buns would be.

20150803_173736

So I was going to go for the Po’Boy, just to be different, but then I saw someone else with one… and I’m sure it’s good, great looking veggies and toppings, but come on, that guy just needs more shrimp, it looks sparse. Those BBQ Skewers though… damn that glaze and char, reminded me of the Korean grilled pig in my favorite banh mi.

Then I saw a couple Cubanos come out and was like “Oh yeah, THAT’S what I’m getting.” Full press, flat and crispy top, melted cheese that strings properly when pulled, pickled which are THERE but don’t screw with the sandwich structure, mustard is present, and PIG. Ham and pulled, they got it… inane mention I know, but I’m still reeling from a recent cubano disappointment. This ultimately ate, tight and crispy but not hard crunchy, like I expect a Cubano to, with all the flavors. They nailed it, I was satisfied and happy, though I found there was no single item that really brought it to that AMAZING level, which any sandwich that everyone knows really needs to be in order to get that top class mark. Either a big mass of super gooey-melty cheese, this one was still simple and thin, or just bigger mass of extremely flavorful pulled pork, as again the meat was still rather standard but done well.

20150803_175101And finally, since I was at a bee-focused event, had to get that honey-soaked Baklava. I was hoping that finally, after so long, I would get a baklava from a stand that would be moist and tender and delicious, and they did not disappoint. Seriously, so used to having to choose between small squares of baklava, which are good but tiny, or big triangles which are just dry layers of phillo dough. And this was just a full mass of distinctly moist, sweet honeyed flavor and texture, not soggy at all and with a top layer that is JUST a little crispy-dry, combining with that soft and nutty paste of walnuts/almonds in the typical way. It was just refreshing and happy; if I really looked deeper, and had more experience with good homemade baklava, I’m pretty sure I could make certain points to the soaking syrup and nuts used. But when you really don’t care about thinking about it, this little dessert can just make your day, especially for the day.

 

At the end of the day, the food has a great start and is headed in the right direction to what it should be, but because they’re so close to perfection, and sticky very purely to the traditional compositions, it’s ever clearer to see that they are STILL not quite there yet. If they can make just a couple tweaks here and there, really complete each item, then Funfare is golden.

Holdability: 8.5

               Despite the variety, each of the options are consistent in that everything needs two hands, being eaten from a basket, and is all surprisingly clean consumption. Even the Baklava, though a touch sticky, again isn’t soggy or anything, so it only needs a few delightful finger licks following complete eating. It’s only the BBQ skewers that come with rice, something that requires a fork, but besides those the only issue for walking+eating becomes what ELSE you might get. Though I guess sides and dessert can just be dumped in the same basket as your big guy; not like any sauces are coming over to mix and mingle.

Price: 7.5

                $10 for the big two sammiches, $8 for the Fish Taco and Filipino Skewers, $7 for those mini Steam Buns, $5 Chicago Dog, $3 each for the fried side items, and $2 for Baklava. A notable range of low to mid-high, providing some notable options for one’s situation and preferences. I would say the items tend to skirt the edge of whether they feel totally worth it if not a steal for the price charged, while others I would hope for maybe one extra bun (I mean it’s either an add-on, in which case it bumps the final price up considerably, or it’s supposed to be eaten on its own, in which case you want some more) or more fried shrimp before not worrying about whether I’m just being a cheap, nitpicky b*^@# food reviewer.
20150803_173447

Speed: 8

Distinctly depends on the item. Most are close to ready to go, can only take a few minutes, but the main boys will be an average wait; Cubano takes at least 8 minutes on the grill. That is proper though. I will say I would have liked it if they’d offer me the option to receive some of my other things first, since there were only a couple other orders, instead of having to wait what took 10 minutes for ALL of it.

20150803_173544

The TOE: 8.5

                I wasn’t thinking I’d score them too high for this, my premier thoughts and impressions on when I first spotted them in St Paul (happened to be their opening day! But I had other guys to hit then) was just another random ‘let’s open a food truck’ ideas, they do ‘international’ probably because they couldn’t think of anything else more interesting, like those who just do burgers and meat sandwiches; which can be great, but also uninspiring. But just as we can find a sandwich truck that brings us to our knees, so does Funfare come to grab my own attention. Whether it’s presentation, the distinctive look and taste of each food, or just plain doing it right, I can officially say they are the first truck that, in my opinion, successfully offers a menu that feels like it’s focusing on different world food regions. This as opposed to a certain one or two that really just seem to come from the Middle East and Asia, or  then go back to the US only to feature a burger and philly cheese (it’s always the burger and philly cheese…). Funfare chooses distinct and familiar, but not boring, menu items that do express some of our favorite eats from around the globe. To this, I myself am somewhat eager to see what other food items they explore and switch out with, if they continue on with strong hitters or fizzle out. Guess we’ll only see with time.

Tally: 41.5/50

Final Thoughts

Echoing my ultimate impressions on food, the truck as a whole stands as a very strong, ‘almost perfect’ business in their particular realm of focus, but it’s currently just one or two steps behind the point of ‘ideal.’ But I feel with time and some effort, if applied, they can easily reach the heights of food and personality impressions as some of my absolute favorites, like Home Street Home and SCRATCH.

20150803_175050

So I guess that means we just need to keep visiting and enjoying their various treats now doesn’t it? Now, it certainly is difficult to make suggestions for a future-changing menu, but I do believe I can confidently say the BEST strategy for taking hold of Funfare, at least for right now, is to attack the small-plates for snacking or mini-meal purposes. Whether it’s grabbing the almost-toe-ring-level Baklava for your sweet tooth, some Hush Puppies or Cheese Curds to pop in the mouth as you walk between other truck delights, or those Steam Buns just because they’re pretty darn tasty and good. If you DO want something more substantial, I still gotta try those BBQ skewers; they just look so good, and the additional rice will help fill you up; though I myself would rather just have the skewers for a dollar less to walk around with. That and the Cubano are my strong ‘entrée’ points for now. As for what else comes along, just do your best to have an idea on what they did well with THESE and try to imagine what other items would be crafted the best. To that, I finish with a good luck, good eating, and a hope I can get myself back out there snacking with all of you soon once more!

Frio Frio

20150712_153732
https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/friofriomn
Main Location: Minneapolis/Nordeast, Events

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

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

1467269_392776584249887_2016870388724834089_n

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

20150712_154205

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

Food: 10

                It was a bit tricky picking, but something told me I had to try the Avocado-Lime, really get that proper Mexican inspiration, and the Piñata. They were both so good, firm but not hard or particularly icy, they each licked up easy, I mean the texture was just ideal. The avocado was fantastic, actually making it smooth and creamy, almost between regular popsicles and those gelato ‘popsicles’ we see sometimes. And of course the flavor came out great (if you haven’t had avocado desserts yet, you need to try them, it actually works really well when held back by other ingredients; almost custardy with its richness, and with a smooth, round green flavor) and was balanced nicely with the lime.
20150712_154221

Now, the Piñata… Lemon and Coconut Water popsicle suspended with, and I’m not sh*^@ing you, Sprinkles and Gummy Bears. And it is GOOD. I swear, I never thought I’d love sprinkles and gummy bears so much, but these are sort of the perfect flavors to bring them out in, without just tasting like extra pieces of artificially flavored sugar. Not to mention you get some fun, childhood-like things to chew as you go through it. I can only imagine how tasty the other popsicles are.

Holdability: 10

                 What can I say, you walk down a hot street, licking and munching a delicious popsicle in one hand, the fingers of only one hand getting a little sticky from the bit that’s melting off the popsicle, but you don’t care, it’s not impeding you at all and it reminds you of summers who knows how long ago.
20150712_153726

Price: 10

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

Speed: 10

 Reach in the box, grab the popsicle, hand it to you, and off ya go (if you so desire to leave immediately).
11393073_385892601604952_1498358675448950085_n

The TOE: 10

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

Service: +1.5

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

Tally: 51.5/50

10399999_392773140916898_2745842713502727030_n
Final Thoughts

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

Sal’s Place on the Road

20150604_125134
https://www.facebook.com/salsplaceonlinemn
https://twitter.com/salsplaceonroad
Main Location: St Paul

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

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

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

20150624_112917

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

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

20150604_125533

Food: 6

                My first visit actually had me starting with dessert! So, despite every parent’s worst meal-planning nightmare, I feel it only fair to discuss their sweets first, especially as they seem to be the main highlight overall (at least in my opinion). I myself was much surprised that the Chocolate Ravioli were deep-fried, it didn’t say, but it gave a nice crunchy outside. At first though, I wasn’t impressed… the filling didn’t stand out too much; but then, after my third, I realized my first couple pieces were actually rather thin. The REAL raviolis, with a good full tablespoon of hazelnut-chocolate inside… ahh, it’s like taking a bite of… well actually I can’t think of a comparison, but it feels a bit nostalgic. Like the best chocolate sauces and toppings, hot and runny, hitting every point of your chocolate cravings perfectly. It highlighted nicely with the firm crunch of the pasta, but as a whole I really did wish for one more element… after going past to start setting up this unique and interesting dessert, the dish needs SOMETHING else to make a complete and amazing plate, powdered sugar doesn’t do crap for it. Maybe just a drizzle of raspberry sauce or something (cuz it’d look like tomato sauce, right!?), or marshmallow (alfredo anyone?)…
20150604_125404

But I hold no complaints with the Zeppoli. They’re perfect. They may look a bit overdone on the outside, but it’s perfectly crisp, not greasy, with a tender interior that I can only describe as in the realms of the best, idealistic brioche and/or poundcake, probably leading more towards the latter. You bite in, enjoy the texture, the little eggy richness from the dough, the heaven of powdered sugar that takes one to the streets of Louisiana, and then realize there’s an extra little flavor there; a touch of citrus, lemon or orange. Simple and classic, something I normally would actually find boring, but for once thoroughly enjoyed the addition as it rounds out a well-crafted dough to make a uncomplicated doughnut sublime. Wouldn’t change a thing. Now onto savory stuff.

20150624_112906

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

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

20150624_112329

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

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

20150624_112403

Holdability: 8

                 One of the things I was most excited about when I first saw the menu was that my main worry of what was a very Italian-American style of business, typically filled with bowls of dishes filled of pasta and meat and sauce, very much expected to serve most of their usual fair in big to-go containers alongside plastic forks, actually took proper steps to twist and focus their food into a more portable means. As I’ve mentioned already, many main items are in sliders or a long sandwich, or are offered deep-fried as typical finger foods. Obviously the one pasta dish (and any sorta seasonal ones they say they do) still need forks, but everything else should be able to consume with hands easily, though the stuffing of the baskets with a buttload of chips feels like it curtails the portability feeling a bit (not to mention highly cheap and an unnecessary addition). Should I count all the powdered sugar on the Zeppoli and Fried Ravioli, not to mention its gooey chocolate insides, against them? Probably. Will I? Hell no; I mean that’s like complaining about mini-donut cinnamon sugar on your fingers (YOU MONSTER!!!).
20150624_112204

Price: 9.5

                  $4 for each dessert; $7 for any slider including a sampler of two (can get a sampler of 3 different ones for $9) and the Pasta; $6 for Arancini and Garlic Dunkers; and $8 for the sub. Really great range and deals overall, in addition to those massive additions of chips and that bigger fried breadstick on some, but the quality and actual size of those sliders (and unsatisfying bread) makes the lower price of THOSE understandable.
20150624_112158

Speed: 8

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

The TOE: 7

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

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

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

20150624_111730

Tally: 38.5/50

Final Thoughts

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

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

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