Camp Cheesecake

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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

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

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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

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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!!

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Leprechaun Dreamcycle (Quasi-Review)

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https://twitter.com/leprechaun69
http://www.leprechaunsdreamcycle.com/

Long long ago, in days past when food trucks only just started the ‘Lunch by the River’ phenomenon in St Paul, I recall coming across a little popsicle cart that would hang out by the crowds on hot days. The side was festooned with posters of products, reminiscent of a classic ice cream truck with our old favorite, Fudgesicles and Rocket Ships and the like, just in smaller form. Of course I ignored it, needing to save my money and not even sure if it qualified as a ‘must hit’ business, purely using pre-made consumer frozen goods as opposed to homemade specialty; as far as I was concerned, was it no different than the regular musical ice cream truck, which does not usually qualify for my writings.

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Years later and I start seeing pictures for Leprechaun Dreamcycle on Twitter and Facebook, and curiosity got the better of me for what could be a unique business. The cart has been notably updated; well, actually added-on, getting a second now festooned with colorful decoration, making their own cut-and-paste displays for menu items and prices inside the rainbow of unicorns and children’s fantasy that is the bike, cart, and umbrella. Of course the older cart is still in use, the owner’s son now taking responsibility and setting out to dispense frozen treats on his own time in the Twin Cities while father, Wally ‘O’Wanka,’ stands stout in his old timey white suit no matter the weather, red hair and moustache twirling in the breeze.

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The ice cream and pops are still the classics, from Blue Bunny ice cream sandwiches (I got the ‘birthday cake’ one, gotta love that sugar/sprinkle/frosting-extract flavor! And an ice cream that practically felt and tasted like marshmallows) to the classic Orange Dreamsicle. Though the owner has let slip that a friend of his is currently in the works of making 3 particular items JUST for them; could this friend perhaps be from Frio Frio? Who knows.

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Setting up at local events and St Paul parks, Leprechaun is truly set up for the children in all of us, but really excels with children in general. Did you know you get a free Balloon Animal with every purchase? I got a Llama (I think, it might be an Alpacca… I’ve named him George, do not ask me why)! They even have Coloring Books, which Wally makes himself featuring local St Paul parks and other things. A little guitar sits in the basket waiting to be played, and I won’t begin to try and imagine what else he has up those long sleeves, or hidden in that colorful contraption of his, ready and waiting to have a good time with. If there’s EVER a choice of street vendors to visit with the kids for a quick treat, then make it this one which specializes on the experience by leaps and bounds compared to others.

And isn’t that just the most adorable hitch trailer used to haul around this cart to their various frequent and changing locations?

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                 Food: 9 – Much props to the texture, the treats kept at the ideal so they aren’t super-cold and firm, giving simply with pressure from the lips while holding shape. Gotta admit, the flavor and sugars may all be factory-made and confected, but is there not that childhood nostalgia from these that we still secretly love? It’ll never be AS good as properly made, quality, natural flavors, but we can hold some appreciation for it. Really though, this is one of, if not THE, only carts practically made for the MUCH younger demographics, and we all know how they feel about dreamsicles, fugesicles, ice cream sandwiches, and all those good things.

Holdability: 10 – Unless you wait a while, not even melty and sticky… maybe for the kids.

Price: 9 – Mostly $3 and $3.50, with a $4 item and the dreamsicle at $2.50, or one can go even lower and get the rocket ship for $1.50

Speed: 10

Toe: 10 – I mean for the love of god look at it! And you get a balloon animal and coloring book! Need I explain more?

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Had to get at least one professional-looking picture in here! A shame I didn’t take it

Frio Frio

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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’).

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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!

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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.
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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.
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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).
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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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?)…
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!!!).
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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.
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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.

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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.

A Peace of Cake

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http://www.apeaceofcakemn.com/home.html
https://twitter.com/APeaceofCakeMN
Main Location: St Paul

As we wander the streets in search of food truck meals, sooner or later we’re hit with that familiar urge… the need for sweet. Sometimes just having a taco or sandwich won’t do it, but instead that need to finish a period of eating properly with some crave-ending dessert becomes all that’s important. But what options for this in the Twin Cities do we have? There are those Cupcake Trucks that are sometimes out, a few select purveyors of Frozen Treats, even a new Crepe vendor that’s hit our streets. Yet we’ve already seen these, the same old kinds of food we’re used to, with none of that true ‘edge’ which I myself always seek out from my ideal food trucks. If we’re lucky a savory truck might offer an intriguing little twist on some kind of dessert, but who knows which one and when they’ll decide to do it?

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Enter A Peace of Cake, already a dependably consistent St Paul native truck rolled out just over a month ago, offering something quite unique… well, actually, quite classic to the streets, but served in a way we’re definitely not used to (try to find another place that’s publicly known for doing this, I dare you). Despite the name’s assumption, Mini Donuts are the name of the game as a result of the owner absolutely abhorring the idea of throwing away food at the end of the day (I feel ya sister, much pain there), so instead they went for a medium that they could stop making whenever they wanted/needed and didn’t have to worry about produce, fruit, batter, or other things spoiling over a slower week.

Looking to recreate herself, owner Dana decided, like many food truck owners do at one point or another, that she wanted to work for herself. Thus the truck was started, along with their message (which can be clearly seen in the triple-logo) of Anarchy, Peace, and Mini Donuts, for “In Society, how can we be all upset if we find a little bit of peace and a little bit of happiness with some sugar on top.”

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Gotten in the classic little white paper to-go bag, these fried pastries can be dusted in Sugar, Cinnamon, Cardamom, or other Seasonal flavors. Or, in one of their “Boats/Barges” (really it’s just a basket, but let’s not rescind their right to amusing labels). Though it’s not that they’re served in these containers… but that, when in here, they are then completely doused in a variety of sweet (and sometimes savory) sauces and toppings of choice, like a big pile of deep-fried, O-shaped, buttery pancakes eaten in only the most sinful ways (screw berries, chocolate and caramel and nuts all the way!).

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The offerings themselves come in a variety of pre-made combos utilizing some form of Chocolate, Caramel, or ‘Vanilla’ sauce (though one can just get a basket drizzled with one of those), often along with other toppings like nuts, sprinkles, candy, etc. The Peanut Buster, containing chocolate+caramel+peanuts, is popular, as is the Oreo with the classic cookie and vanilla. Though there are also options like “Hot Cakes” w/ maple and powdered sugar, a Sriacha-Honey number, even a Strawberry-Coconut thing (among others, even Nerds), all depending on what’s on for the day one gets there.

And no need to fret the difficulty of hard decisions, as they offer the amazing option to split baskets in half with two options of one’s choice. Eaten with an environmentall-friendly, degradable ‘wooden’ fork, and this can certainly combine into a match made in sweet tooth heaven. Let’s see if it actually does.

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Food: 7

We have to start at the heart of things; the donuts. First off, let me just say how refreshing it is to finally be able to have a mini donut that doesn’t have every bit of it covered in sugar or something. I never knew how much I was missing out on this crispy, perfectly fried dough outside, encasing the buttery soft interior perfectly. It’s a good thing I didn’t have a bucket of these, otherwise I would be deadest on getting them all shoved into my or stranger’s stomachs before turning cold. They’re like the donut version of Sweet Martha’s Cookies.

So you could say it’s a good thing that they were covered in those sauces… because they did not make me want to eat more of it. As excited as I was, as delightfully sinful as it looks, and as much as I love dessert and sweet things… there was just too much sugar here. Seriously. I know I know, hey, I’ve watched plenty of food competition shows and yelled at the judges for bitching that “oh this dessert is sweet, and I don’t like sweet desserts,” because you know that if anything it’s just a tad more sweet focused than having that sweet+savory+whatever-the-hell-else balance that doesn’t even taste like a true dessert anyway. But I know there are also times when something really is just TOO sweet, I’ve experienced it many times, like those cheap cakes that are just filled with frosting that just feels like sugar turned into paste and rubbed across the teeth. There really is such a thing as too much, usually that point when the expression ‘tooth numbing’ comes into our head.

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And that’s what some of the main sauces tend to do here. Taking advantage of the duo basket to try the two most appealing things on the menu and in pictures, I went for the Oreo and Peanut Buster flavorings. To keep it short (maybe), the ‘vanilla’ sauce used in the oreo is nothing more than royal icing, the purest form of sugary frosting ever, closest to what’s normally used to frost donuts, but that’s in a thin layer. This is poured on in a thick glob of white, accompanied by the classic chocolate cookies, the flavor of which sadly doesn’t even stand out much. I was hoping to get that amazing ‘cookies and cream’ experience, but all I got was sugar and some cocoa-crunchy stuff.

The chocolate sauce they use for other things is quite obviously milk chocolate based, and tastes very much like a Hershey’s bar. It’s definitely a thick, sort of cloying chocolate, decent on the first bite with some caramel and peanut, but making you hate yourself a bit in the not-so-fun/ironic way we usually do with the idealized ‘sinful’ foods. I just… wish they did dark chocolate, not because ‘oooh it’s fancy and I’m grown up so dark chocolate is what I’m supposed to like,’ but because it actually has that proper balance of sweetness, not to mention the AMAZING deeper, chocolate flavor that we really want in these dishes.

If only a couple of these sauces were improved, some sort of marshmallowy-cream thing for the oreo and dark chocolate, probably a better caramel (wasn’t easy to taste, but I imagine it feels just as confected), or at the least feature more of  (or purely focus on) the other unique flavors/toppings their online menu suggests they have from time to time, then it’d be just perfect. Because I really hated the fact that I had to bitch like this here for this truck. Really I did. Luckily the donuts were good enough that, knowing there are other non-sauce options, I can keep the score for them at a decent point.

Holdability: 9

Either you’re getting a bag with the classic carry-around ability of regular mini-donut adventures or a basket covered in sauce, which may seem daunting at first in this line (if you use your fingers, yes it’s messy), but using a fork eliminates EVERY bit of this. I know I normally encourage eating with fingers, especially for something like donuts, but here it just feels proper to use their special forks to very easily lift each bite-size (put it all in your mouth at once, DO IT!!!) topping-covered dough ball at a time. They thus transform into the easiest and cleanest kind of basket food to eat on the street.

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Price: 9.5

Doughnuts really are quite the price-efficient food items, with a basket of 6 coming in at $4, doubling it for a total of $6, the value of which increases even further to the simple fact that you don’t have to buy separate baskets to try a couple different toppings. I’ll admit I didn’t pay attention to what the classic sacs of mini-donuts cost, but I think it’s the same for 10-12 are, but I think it was $4, or also $6 at the most.

Speed: 9.5

They’re not fried purely to order (but as one can tell from previous, that definitely doesn’t affect the quality of what you get), with batches ready and needing only a drizzle, sprinkle, or whatever one has on top for order.

The TOE: 10

Look, I love cupcakes, and crepes, and ice cream, and all that stuff, but we have needed a full-dessert truck like this for the longest time, one with that ‘food truck twist.’ The design is fun, the name is cool, their whole view on things is funky and a little different, which clearly comes through both with their image and the food served. They’ve taken something we’re all familiar with and love and just served it up notably different than what we’re used to, like making a dessert version of chili cheese fries or something; that’s sort of cool right? And the regular sugar/spice sprinkled options can still come in unique flavors if one so desires. This really is exactly what I’ve been looking for in terms of having our own special dessert-focused food truck. In essence, the whole menu is a giant collection of Toe Rings, some of the toppings just need tweaking… well, more than tweaking. But at the end of the day, the whole idea, uniqueness, and fun behind it launches top points for the experience category.

Tally: 45/50

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Final Thoughts

For anyone developing a sweet tooth while walking the streets, this is the truck to take advantage of. But if you’re not sharing a basket with a few friends, make sure to be quite wary which flavoring options one chooses.

Despite my own love of the concept, especially considering the chance to finally experience the raw crispy-butter edges of these donuts without being covered in a layer of sugar/icing, I would imagine the truly best option is going for the Cardamom-dusted donuts in the classic white travel bag for a fun twist on traditional mini-donuts that doesn’t numb our teeth in excess sugar. For the basket options, I would haphazard the Hot Cakes/Breakfast of Maple Syrup and Powdered Sugar would come together rather well; a bit more naturally sweet vs the artificial chocolate and icing. Though the Caramel on its own might work better than my experiences, so perhaps a simple drizzle of that.

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There ARE other menu items that weren’t featured that day-of which I imagine would work amazingly in the mouth. Sriacha-cha (using sriacha honey), Sweet Chili (chili sauce, peanuts, powdered sugar), and Strawberry Shortcake (strawberry sauce and coconut cream, yum) should all form some fantastic oral experiences at much better and more controlled, or at least contrasted, sweetness levels. If you HAVE to have something chocolate, and have a friend or two to share, attack the S’mores (we’re used to that Hershey Bar sweetness for those anyway) or Walnut Walkover (apparently that one has the walnuts mixed INTO the caramel, should highlight it more).

And please, PLEASE, until they change the topping, avoid the Oreo and other options using the ‘Vanilla’ sauce. I know it’s attractive and seems like a proper signature, but it’s just pure sugar royal icing that doesn’t contribute anything besides cavities. Look at the other options, I beg you.

Cranky’s Ice Cream + Geno’s Gelato (Dual Review!)

http://crankysicecream.com/
https://twitter.com/crankysicecream
http://www.genosgelato.com/
https://twitter.com/genosgelato
Main Location: Events/Markets, Uptown Mpls Streets, Etc

Summer is never complete without multiple ice cream stops, I should know; I basically try to hit all the good ones when I get the chance (when most of your meals are rather boring, or you’re spending much of your time controlling the diet and running on a treadmill, what can I say? You just end up craving sundaes, or whatever ice cream you can find covered in hot chocolate and crunchy things). And this year gave me the opportunity and personal drive to hit our main two mobile frozen-dairy businesses, both of which popped up last year and focus on hand-crafted, smaller batch products made with good local ingredients when they can find them. But instead of tackling separately (and having to debate whether they should be full or quasi reviews), I decided on something new, fun, and different! Which is why, for the first time, I’m writing a DUAL review on our two belters of churned sugar-milk ecstasy! Let’s see how it goes!

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Having opened in September of last year, Cranky’s Ice Cream has been setting up their cart at various markets, street fairs, and other events in the Twin Cities. Focusing purely on the classic American-style Ice Cream, these are the true Sugar+Cream (or some mix of milk and cream) bases that have been churned in some of our favorite classic soda shops for decades. No eggs here. Flavors themselves are also kept rather traditional, finding things like Mint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate, Coffee, Cookies n Cream, etc, while their more ‘fun’ and ‘experimental’ offerings still keep in line with these base desires. Doughnut, Chocolate-Orange, XXX Chocolate (no clue, but I want), Peanut Butter n Jelly, ‘Whiskey Sour,’ even one made with Porter. They also have tried a couple Strawberry things with Margarita and Jalapeno. These can all be placed in a basket, cone, or even a pint glass!? (gotta love that merchandise)

I was lucky enough, after quite a few disappointing misses, to hit Geno’s Gelato on their 1-year Anniversary! How awesome is that? Contrary to Cranky, these guys belt out pure Italian treats, offering churned Ices (basically Sorbetto), proper Gelato (a mix of Milk, Eggs, and Sugar), and apparently even Cannoli, though I haven’t heard about that offered on the cart until now. Produced from ages of the Gioielli family’s traditions and love for food and brought to life by chef Bethany Nelson’s creations, family member Brian takes these chilled delicacies and carts them all over the Uptown area on his bike-cart. Finding them can be an adventure, or one can simply give them a call/message and have Brian ‘deliver’ himself to a particular location in the area for your needs!

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Flavors are also rather changing, with classic and some twisted mixes based on the style. Some of the ‘ices’ can include Lemon, Mojito, Margarita, Strawberry-Lemon or, most popular, Mango Mint. Whereas the gelato consists of traditional Vanilla, Amarena, Nutella (okay not ‘classic,’ but simple), and Pistachio. These bases can then be seen highlighted with swirls of Salted Caramel, Cherries, or found as offerings like Blueberry Basil, Peanut Butter Pretzel, and Strawberry Champagne. All of it pre-scooped and handed out in their own pretty, attractive packages.

Food: 8/6

Making frozen custard without eggs (and I mean naturally, no damn chemical stabilizers and powders to cover up your mistakes you lazy corporate bastards!) can be a challenge, but when done right can lead to that delightfully creamy, simply slippery and sweet delight from our childhood. For the most part, Cranky’s does it well, creating frozen spoonables that I find little complaint in taking down; the texture and consistency isn’t able to get to that fully sinful height which the best custards can get to (I think it’s a roundness thing, not to mention that extra flavor depth that eggs and dairy can create), but good for the style.

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I grabbed the sampler, which for the day included Mint-Chocolate-Chip, Chocolate-Orange, they’re sorta-famous Doughnut, and Porter. The first two tasted just like one expects them to; the doughnut was rather awesome, it got the flavor and those little pieces of that classic cakey ballpark doughnut (the perfect kind for their style and cream flavors), I appreciated the fact that, mixed in, one could tell the doughnut improved the texture of the cream (sort of like those cake batter ice creams from you-know-who). The Porter, on the other hand… well, I love the idea, and it’s cool how they do it. They actually make their own porter beer base; dark malts, cooked with water for an hour or so along with hops, only not fermented into the beer and I’m pretty sure kept at its more concentrated, very sweet and malty-flavorful stage. This is then added to the ice cream, which makes it taste AWESOME, just like a simple malty porter, mission accomplished… until we talk about the texture. Which is icy. Because they added a liquid and didn’t find a way to get it back to a balance that would have left it churning smooth again; perhaps if they got it even MORE concentrated and syrupy to add beforehand. Oh well, it’s a single low point, the rest is nice.

Geno’s Gelatos, on the other hand… were all icy. I only got the chance to try two of their creations, both gelatos, but the structure of each ended up a little firm, sort of icy, not smooth at all. I should say though the flavor was AMAZING; I would imagine their Italian Ices are fantastic, fruity, and something where I don’t mind this not-so-smooth texture. We had the Blueberry-Basil and Cherry-Amaretto, the fruit of which is mixed in at the end (I think the cherries were dried) as opposed to pureed to flavor the cream like I thought it might have been. And I’m glad for this, really being able to get each of the berries, I think the cherries were dried, and the amaretto and basil flavors infused into the custard came out so nicely.

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But I still find disappointment when left with a custard known for its soft, fluffy texture come out so icy. And I know why it’s like this, ultimately a bad combination of unfavorable factors. Firstly, true gelato (which I know this is) is, as mentioned, a mix of egg, milk, and sugar, often with little to no cream. Even with lots of egg yolks, this can leave for a thinner custard, getting that ideal more difficult; then, Geno’s decided that, instead of keeping these in big buckets to scoop for service, they pre-scooped and transferred individual servings to small, portable containers for quick service. This is cute and fun, a cool little idea, but the time it had to spend out of the freezer to do this, even if brief, often makes ice cream icier (won’t go into detail why). Finally, these are kept in a simple box stuffed with ice to keep frozen as opposed to a temperature-controlled bin, which is VERY important to gelato shops, as true gelato is actually kept at just a little bit warmer than the ice cream we’re used to. This is a factor which helps to keep this milky custard smooth, whereas an even colder cart like this would just firm it up even further.

… sorry, I had to get that rant off my chest, been nagging at me that I couldn’t bitch out all the technical stuff (I may not be able to make the best ice cream at home, but I still know the important stuff about it!).

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Holdability: 9.5/9

Cranky’s Ice cream can come in a basket, or as I mentioned a pint glass, needing a spoon but super-easy to walk around with, and an absolute requirement when getting a sampler (the only way to do it in my opinion). But you CAN get the cone… not the fun cookie or waffles one, that wafer thingy, bleh… but instant one-handed eating, perhaps with some dripping depending on temperature and how long you take to eat it, somewhat likely. So advantage there.

Whereas Geno’s has everything in its own cute, adorable little to-go container for awesome fast portability to eat there, elsewhere, or on the go. Can’t go one-handed with it really, but extra points for its own tight, condensed little bowl which gives no mess whatsoever.

20150517_133532Price: 10/10

$4 for your ice cream of choice, or one can get a full sampling of all four flavors they have on that day for just $6, prices always come reasonable and one can get a decent deal for more. (can also spend $10 for a sampler AND logo-studded pint glass)

Geno’s differs with what one gets, $4 for each pack of gelato, $3 for an Italian ice, and $2 for a cannoli (if they have any). I feel like you’re getting a little less product with them, but the price option range dips even lower so money score rates about the same in my opinion.

Speed: 9.5/10

One needs only the minimal time to scoop the ice cream at Cranky’s, but the complete pre-packaged, personal containers for Geno’s truly makes this the best grab-and-go frozen custard out there.

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The TOE: 7/8.5

Ice cream always makes for an attractive and fun experience whenever you go somewhere, especially when it’s pedaled by such bright personalities as these. The whole concept of Geno’s, attached on a bike and reveling in the area and culture that is Uptown, really stands out and hits strongly, especially when one finally finds and flags them down off the street; though the act of hunting them down can at times be a bit of a struggle. Though the little personal packages are also a fun addition to this ‘atmosphere’ and identity, I do almost wish that I could see them scooping the gelato from some big tubs (especially since it’d probably be better for the gelato’s texture vs the container transference and other things). As for the one that DOES do it, a nice set up as well, not quite as colorful, seemingly closer to that older-school basic ice-cream-shop vibe, which has that nice appeal to it. Though I wish they either went more retro and ‘soda-shoppy’ or just refined and amped up their presentation/selection some more, as part of it feels just a tad ‘lacking,’ like they’re right in the middle between the rather basic/boring places that sell ice cream and the modern shops we often so love today (Izzy’s, Sebastian Joe’s, etc). Some sort of extra push towards retro or today’s modern would round things out perfectly; perhaps some options for toppings?

Tally: 44+43.5/50

Final Thoughts

20150517_133233Cranky’s brings a nice stop during events for those looking for something reminiscent of the ice cream we enjoyed growing up on, and is definitely one of those great places where one doesn’t have to settle on just ONE flavor. Though if you’re inclined towards that direction, and don’t just go towards the classics (I won’t judge, but I still think it’s more fun to have a flavor you haven’t likely already tasted 50 times before in your life), there are some notes to keep in mind. Anything flavored with something already thick/starchy/custardy, like Chocolate, Peanut Butter, or just involve a simple mix-in, and won’t affect the structure in any way except, perchance, to make it SMOOTHER, go for. The Doughnut is amazing for this, and I really enjoyed their Chocolate-Orange (anything chocolate or peanut butter is good I’d imagine). Avoid anything that will involve the addition of some other liquid, such as the Porter, Whiskey-Sour, and perhaps those Strawberries; they sadly don’t adjust it back too well.

Geno’s comes through as the perfect quick grab-and-go frozen treat, an ideal stop for street fairs with multiple food stops, especially for the price conscious. As one can assume by my reaction earlier, skip the Gelato, but head straight to one of the refreshing Italian Ices, where the texture is not just accepted but revels in the style. Mango-Mint is the real standout, but anything seasonal or alcohol-reminiscent should be just as fun. Though, now that I think about it, there is a chance the Nutella and Peanut Butter-based ones might turn out at least decent texture-wise.

Either way, both of these carts still make for a happy little frozen and flavorful treat on a sunny day. Do stop at one if you get the chance!

Cafe Racer Kitchen Vist (#1?)

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Well I finally got to MY most anticipated Truck restaurant of the year, the Café Racer Kitchen. I would have gone much sooner, but after hearing a month wait for their Beer and Wine license to kick in, figured I’d wait (not that I actually HAD any, but sometimes it’s nice to give restaurants time like that to settle into their groove). For that, they currently offer a few cans from Indeed and Bauhaus Brewing, along with an Argentine Red and White, though there is talks of some fun cocktails coming soon.

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A big painted ad for Orange Crush soda on the building’s side greets one as they travel around the corner; of course I don’t ask why it’s there, whether they did it themselves or were too lazy to take it off in the first place, thus it stays a mystery! Under the motorcycle-imbued sign and into the door, we find ourselves in a small yet very open environment, smooth and shiny wood booths and tables, mostly connected for an almost communal eating opportunity. But of course I have to sit at the bar, basically four seats in front of the till with a full-on view of the kitchen.

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Where I get to watch the small team work, the two people in the kitchen and the one working the front (it was a nicely quiet-ish Sunday afternoon, though I bet even in the ‘busy’ periods they may only have 1-2 more employees total) while almost casually yet quickly doling out the truck food.

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For those of you still unaware of their mobile focus, Café Racer generally sticks with the ‘choose your entrée’ style similar to Brasa, focusing on Central American flavors/tradition. One goes for Pulled Pork or Chicken (or a veggie dish –shudders-), with which they can make an ‘entrée’ by getting two sides (rice, yucca/carrot frites, plantains, beans n rice, etc) or having with a couple Arepas for a sandwich of sorts. They also bring an awesome hot dog with toppings which I’ve experienced Here. All of this has been brought to the menu, alongside a few new plates combining some of these select sides with bigger proteins a la Quarter-Chicken and Chimichurri Skirt Steak.

 

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I came during Brunch-Sunday though, so I got to choose between options topped with Egg, Kielbasa for the protein, and plenty of sweet potato hash, arepas tossed in for buns (breakfast sandwich), base (benedict), or just on the side like toast.

 

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For a fun, semi-exploratory and semi-just-wanting-new-food visit, the Steak just called out for me. Served with a single small, firm-yet-pillowy masa cake (I love how they do their arepas now, for their style) and a side of eggs made however you want (I went for basted in lue of no poaching, wish I did sunny-side or over easy though, didn’t realize the yolk was gonna get cooked through… cooked well for a fully cooked egg though), they did little to dissuade me from diving right into that steak and hash. The meat was definitely juicy and flavorful, gotta love that harby-garlicky chimichurri paste (really gets the crave and appetite going), it is a bit chewy but only so much as one expects out of a skirt/fajita steak. The texture is just as much a part of it as the flavor, I’ve known some chefs who completely get rid of it through very long sous vide techniques, but despite how good and meltingly tender that must be it just doesn’t really fit what this dish is supposed to be in my opinion. Sorry, I just couldn’t help wanting to mention that, I guess that’s what happens with proper food experience; makes you want to discuss other things about it.

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Can’t help but love a nice hash too, they certainly hit the craving. Roasted together with herbs, this mix or regular and sweet potatoes immediately had me noticing the divergent nature between the two tubers. Whereas the sweet potatoes were fully soft, I found the russets I had to still be sorta firm; I think still cooked, but just on that edge where it could have been undercooked with just a minute less time. At first I was worried about having to critique, but I actually enjoyed it; it gave another texture, again was in an acceptable cooking range, AND it brought proper variation to the hash. What’s the use of using two different potatoes if they both feel the same anyways?

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed eating this plate, especially when I got to chop everything up and mix it together, a proper hash brunch!

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Which is never complete without a bit of coffee and dessert (really brunch is a complete daily meal: breakfast, savory lunch/dinner foods, and sweets at the end, maybe with a bit of booze). The dessert is a housemade Tres Leches (white cake soaked in a mixture of cream, condensed milk, and some other dairy), this one made with a rather compact and dense texture for the thick monster, stuffed with that sweet cream oozing from the sides like a sauce. Luis then tops his with a layer of whipped cream (a classic ‘frosting’ next to meringue) along with some orange segments and a dark chocolate drizzle. A decent offering, served cold and creamy, made even better when consumed alongside the hot, bitter and slightly-creamy coffee, brewed from a blend made just for them and served as-is or ‘au Lait’ with some simple steamy milk foam on top.

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It’s a shame that I don’t drink coffee more, this is one of those situations where I really wish I could delve into and pick out flavors like I can with wine and spirits. But I can certainly tell this coffee blend has a personality to its own, that’s quite clear as day, which I’m sure any coffee aficionados can enjoy (whether some of these notes are positive or full-on-catastrophe I can’t say there; for instance, I particularly noted a certain bitter note that I couldn’t tell if it was from over-roasting or natural ‘green’ coffee bean tannins). Do what I did and go Café au Lait option, it’s delicious and one can still get the full flavor of the roast; definitely makes the dessert complete.

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Apparently, despite the month wait, it seems I was STILL a bit soon in coming; word from Luis’ own mouth states that they’re about to start playing around with some further menu changes/addition, including a bevy of small-plate options (sorta like tapas) and some further inventive desserts, such as a Dulce de Leche (a milk-focused pudding-like dish) that’s going to be treated like flan and eaten with papaya.

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I guess I’ll just have to stop by again sometime soon, which as you know is something I RARELY do for Food Trucks on their own (for efficiency purposes), let alone the restaurants that come from them. But I think Racer is the first truck-staurant that I have a sincere urge to want to intently go back to for further explorations (I still have more sides to try!), so do take the hint dear readers and help me help them keep this little café of coolio in business.

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Hot Dish “100 Favorites” for 2014-15

It’s a little late in response (though aren’t most of my posts usually nowadays?), but I do always love featuring the Trucks that achieved the graces of making City Page’s “The Hot Dish blog’s top 100 Favorite Dishes for the year. I wanna make it a yearly thing! No promises of course… I am quite fickle… and forget things… SURE I’ll have another shot of Vodka.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, awesome food trucks. Though quite a few of the ones to make the list this year were purely resulting of the Restaurants they generated, but it deserves featuring (and I need SOME kind of material to flesh this post out some… don’t look at me like that! I’m needy…). So, let’s see who made the list this year…

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#77: Taco Cat with “The Larry”

They may not be an actual truck, but their street food soul shines bright, plus I recently did a quasi-review on them and feel they deserve continued honor in that respect. And their tacos are rather awesome, as is evidenced here through City Page’s feature of The Larry, a pile of Chicken, Chorizo, and Cheese stuffed inside three double-wrapped masa tortillas. Of course it’s the one that I didn’t get…

#62: The Curious Goat with Goat Cheese Curds

Their menu is quite frequently changing with whatever local ingredients they can get their hands on, but it’s not often one won’t find at least a few dishes with goat meat and/or cheese on the menu. And they take this latter up to an epitome of experience by lightly frying curds of it and serving with roasted butternut, some spring onions, and a drizzle of honey (my new favorite cheese curd companion forever). Again, something I dearly need to have at some point… here’s hoping for a rally.

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#55: Smack Shack’s Shrimp and Grits

I may still hold strong reservations and annoyances about this truck (don’t ask me why, I’ve probably lost proper reason for it long ago), but one can’t argue their food always gets results in those willing to spend the extra buck to attend their mobile or standing business. Usually getting renown for the lobster, this year highlighted one of the best southern combos to ever grace the table: Shrimp and Grits. I know, the last word strikes terror and disgust into many a heart, but done right than oh my god… I’m still vary happy to have gotten it at Surly myself.

#54: World Street Kitchen and The South Side

Not surprising to see them on this list again, this time for Brunch! The restaurant location serves out a dish composing of a bile of hashbrowns, ‘secret sauce,’ and some big chunks of lamb topped with basted eggs (which, if they’re PROPER basted eggs, are easily the most sinful and delicious way to eat them whole I swear).

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#39: Chef Shack Ranch with the Big Boy Ranch Plate        

I almost probably shouldn’t even be mentioning these gals on the post today, since the restaurant focus has almost NO connection to what the truck turns out, instead serving out bigass servings of classic BBQ. And it’s not a bbq joint without a giant parchment-paper-lined platter dolloped with practically one of everything, like grabbing a charcuterie board at the more hipster-ish locations but with hot, soul-fulfilling smoked meat… and more of it. As it’s apparently some of the best bbq in the Twin Cities, this little selection of pork and beef moved itself rather high up on the list.

#25: Hola Arepa’s Corn Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

Of course the local famed belter of the stuffed corn-dough sandwich is now turning out a dessert version, stuffing sinfully smooth vanilla ice cream in a sweet cookie dough filled with butterscotch, fritos, and corn flakes. Why didn’t they have THIS at brunch!?

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#7: Hola Arepa and the Beef & Plantain Arepa

That’s right, they got on twice! (And they’re not the only ones, damn Spoon and Stable… making me want to go to you when I don’t have enough moneh) And fitting we end on something that actually could come out of the Truck itself, their classic masa ‘flatbread’ bun stuffed with sweet, soft plantain, rich beef, tasty pickled onions and of course some sauce. It then gets kicked up to 11 when eaten in restaurant and served with those amazingly thick, crunchy Yuca Fries that I just think are perfect. No wonder they’re at the top of the books.

Well, that’s the second year for me done and taken care of, we’ll have to see how the following 2015-16 season goes. Will more trucks move to restaurants and fill the brackets, or will a resurgence in interest for starting mobile operations take precedence? Find out next time (he says in announcers voice as if he was coming back to this in a week and not a whole year)!!

Top 20 Food Trucks, 2014

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Thought I’d change up my “Top” post this year, since it’s become so difficult for new trucks to push into the ever-higher scores of the best 10, and with all the great trucks out there, I thought I’d offer a quick feature of the top 20 food trucks in the Twin Cities. This is again based purely off of the ratings developed through my reviews, and I admit that perception of the ‘best’ is very different for each person. Not to mention, sadly, there’ve been a few trucks that came later on in the season I never got a chance to get to, so who knows what it’ll look like when I get to them (hopefully we’ll find out next year!).

So, here they are!

20140501_175614Placing #20, tied at 44pts: Fro Yo Soul, Hot Indian Foods, Undead Frank’s Zombie Bites, and Hola Arepa

A veritable cornucopia of styles, two new kids and two veteran’s, one that pumps frozen dessert and another that sizzles masa dough sandwiches, Indian burritos to deep fried goodies a la Psycho Suzie’s. My favorite example of the metaphor that is the Food Truck community.

Sharing #18 with 44.5pts: B52 Slider Squad and Jake’s Street Grille

Two maestros of the mini burgers end up sharing the score, offering juicy, hand-sized meat patties for our cravings.

Three-way hit at #15th place, 45pts: Home Street Home, Rusty Tacos, and Cupcakes on the Go

A couple of my long favorites in dessert and variety along with a veritable army of taco offerings.

20140828_113746#12th place, another three-way (there’s gonna be a few, and yet this is still family friendly!?) at 45.5: O’Cheeze, SCRATCH!, and Bachelor Farmer’s Sausage Cart

Two newbies slide in as we FINALLY get the grilled cheese business that the Twin Cities has desperately needed, not to mention a craft hot dog stand sitting outside one of North Loop’s favorite institutions. But of course SCRATCH still stands strong as it always has and will be with their awesome sandwiches.

#11, one of the few solo spot participants nowadays with 46pts (yes, I should probably stop being so generous with points and give more demerits to spread truck ratings apart better… sue me): AZ Canteen

Though they got bumped out of the top 10 last year, Andrew Zimmern’s amazing mobile station still holds a strong spot, both on the street and in my hear (cue adorably cheesy music).

And for the Top 10! Once again the list belongs to:

csh4#7th Place, 4-way tie at 46.5pts: Chef Shack, MidNord Empanada, Tot Boss, and Café Racer

#4th Place, another 3-way split at 47.5pts (can’t believe I haven’t gotten a 47-pointer yet): Eli’s Donut Burgers, Moral Omnivore, Paulette Bakery

#3rd, 48pts: Vellee Deli

#2nd, 49pts: NateDogs

And as always, #1 at a whopping 50.5: Potter’s Pasties

With luck, this coming year will show some amazing new guys willing and able to shake up the rankings a bit more, and with even better luck I might be able to try them out! Otherwise I might have to simply ignore next year’s rankings.

Thanks for dealing with me as always, hope this year is culinarily amazing for you all! Good Luck and Good Eating!

Food Trucks Giving Back Article

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

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