Twin City Fritter & Philly

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https://www.facebook.com/TCfritterphilly
https://twitter.com/tcfpmn
Main Location: St. Paul, Breweries, Etc

Food Truck Hunting is an interesting game, especially after your work schedule and various other distractions have increased to severely limit your ability at physical exploration. New trucks fly by under your notice, your own visits are sporadic and few in between, and an even higher percentage of trucks than before tend to elude your grasp, taunting you in a way reminiscent of the ghostly out-of-town vehicle, only this capture is destroyed more from the intervention of others than the prey’s silent evasiveness.

So is it that some of the more interesting events can unfold when one DOES go out hunting again. As it was when finally I thought I had cornered a coffee-infused rabbit of a prey after most of a year’s waiting and weak attempts at grabbing. A Food Truck Rally in the Fall, Harriet Brewery’s now annual event, in which the truck was listed, thus MUST be in attendance…  I nary had time to enjoy the full event for the smorgasbord of prey-set-to-music and drink it was, but I still had the chance to run in and spear my target before heading to work. Finally did I then arrive, stalking around the habitat of the ‘parking lot’ for my goal, only to find… it wasn’t there. Of course. EVERY time I almost have it they choose not to show. It’s like the Waffle Van Jazz Fest fiasco of 2013 all over again.

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Only this time I didn’t leave unrewarded. For where my original prey had disappeared, two new animals had taken its place. The just-reviewed Fro Yo Soul, giving a very quick kill with barely any waste to my resources, and the intriguing label of a deer named Twin City Fritter and Philly (hey look, it rhymes!). They weren’t the prize I wanted, but two surprising gifts instead of one isn’t that bad.

Thanks to the trip, I was able to finally discover both of these businesses. Fritter has been on the streets since June, apparently, a Family-run truck serving up their namesake sandwich and fried ball of dough. Only instead of serving a full, two-handed cheesy bread-box as usual, they focus on what they call ‘Fun Size’ sandwiches, offering both traditional Philly (with the grilled onions, peppers, and melted provolone) and Italian (simply covering the beef with spicy giardanera) in what looks like a thick bratwurst bun made out of Sourdough. These automatically come with a side of their trademark Fritters, cornmeal creations of cilantro and spices usually, though they also play with different flavors now and then (mine was a sweet creation studded with Mango and drizzled with icing).

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The menu, as I’ve found through research, isn’t always as indicative of what was shown during my rally visit. In the past, they’ve also offered Fries (or had them automatically on the side with the Fritters only available through separate purchase), big and small side baskets of fritters, a Fritter Dog (their own corn dog). But of particular interest to me, past menus have shown a secondary side with Whistler Soda! Love trying good, small brands, num.

Whatever one’s options during your individual visits to them, it’s like to turn out like mine, a little adventure.

Food: 8

                Considering the name, and menu’s lacking of some of the other options that have been offered at least in the past (wish I coulda tried some of those sodas, mm-mmmm I love exploring new, good quality carbonated sugar drink), of course I had to try the Philly. It’s too bad they weren’t doing their usual fritters on the day-of, but at least this way I got to see how well they transform it to other flavors.
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I’ll start off by saying that if you’re looking for a true, down-home, soul-filling replica of a proper PHILLY, this doesn’t really hit that mark; it’s not that loaded with the gooey cheese (and no option for whiz), not to mention it doesn’t have that little kick of heat many Phillies do. Also, I forget if they do pop the buns on the griddle in Philadelphia, but I know that Fritter doesn’t. THAT said, it is still a GOOD Beef sandwich. The meat is juicy, some of the jus sorta soaking into the soft sourdough bun, the onions and peppers are soft and piled on top… it’s satisfying, and a shame they don’t offer really large versions of it. Not to mention a bit of that mess factor as half the vegetables fall off when you try forcing some of that good stuff into your mouth. As a sandwich, I do feel they need a bit of sauce on it to add one more aspect to the flavors; either that or make sure they load more cheese and/or just, maybe crack some black pepper over the top before serving.

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Concerning the fritters, I’ve come to find in my travels that there are those who make their savory and sweet fried balls from a certain kind of batter, as opposed to a dough, that creates this particularly firm and crusty outside while the inside retains not a smooth, even doughnut-reminiscent result but something mealy. In particular I once had this thing that was labeled a beignet but was instead an over-fried ball of greasy, thick crust and  mealy and dense interior… not sure how the hell they ended up serving that, let alone labeling it a beignet. Rant aside, this particular style is seen particularly in cornmeal fritters, dough to how they integrate, and they rarely if ever impress me as something I’d desire over other fritter styles.

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Fritter’n’Philly, however, has done it pretty damn well. The crust is the right thickness, crunchy, and not greasy, while the inside is almost fluffy and soft, though one can still tell it’s cornmeal based, with just a tad bit of mealiness for texture. The mango came through surprisingly nicely, and the icing drizzle was interestingly welcomed; when eaten with the sandwich, it almost reminded me of having that Donut Burger at Eli’s. At the end of the day, if I had a fritter of different style yet equal level of execution I would probably prefer it better, but the fact they reached this pinnacle with their cornmeal batter is something that I feel should be noted. Such a shame I wasn’t able to try their original, fully-savory cilantro-based version.

Holdability: 7.5

               A little messy, sticky frosting and juicy, overflowing sandwich, but still easy to eat with fingers even while walking; one may simply want a napkin.
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Price: 8(?)

                There’s an interesting divergence in menu style from the time I visited compared to a photo they took of it a month or so ago. Besides, of course, the lack of Fries and Fritter Dog during my recon (which could have simply been due to the day, having hit it during Harriet’s Fall Rally), which both clock in at $6, the Sandwich and Fritters plate was listed at $8, compared to its earlier price of $7, which is what I think I was ACTUALLY charged… they probably forgot they changed the price, haha. Interestingly enough, the $8 instance only came with 2 Fritters, while the earlier $7 had 3… but then again, the original cilantro fried dough balls could be smaller. Of a final note, though one could get a thing of fritters on their own for $2 (or $6, also seen on an early menu, though I’m guessing that was a bigger bowl instead of a side of 2-3), one does not have the option for buying a Philly or Italian on its own for less money. I’m quite disappointed that that isn’t offered, nor the option to have one BIG sandwich, at least if one were to ask, as it seems like a common sense service.
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Speed: 8.5

 

Food came up relatively quickly, about a minute after ordering.

The TOE: 7

                There’s a certain ‘steak sandwich shop’ atmospheric feel to this place that reminds me of a visit to the Steak and Shake or other meat-sandwich-Kiosks. The automatic pairing of the sandwich with this unlikely side creates a psychoactive intrigue at the little uniqueness that the place offers. Overall it’s somewhat tantalizing and curious during the visit, with a notable personality, though somewhat even-toned.

Tally: 39/50

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Final Thoughts

When you’re not in the mood for a physically large lunch but still need some weight in flavor (as opposed to a light salad), grabbing the combo of fritters with half-sandwich seems to fit the bill quite well. Everyone usually has their preference between Italian and Philly styles, but if you’re not sure then of course start off with the Philly’s. On a secondary note, ordering the side of Fritters is a fun option when in need of a snack, either between trucks or whatever the situation is. The question is whether they’re only offering the particularly-cheap side of 2 fritters, great for one person, or a $6 basket, which I suggest sharing with friends. They seem to do both sweet and savory styles well, so no need to wait for specific flavors. And if you’re on the look for something unique and nostalgic the Fritter Dog may be a fun replacement for your favorite corn dog. I’m curious to try it myself, may even reach Toe Ring status.

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Fro Yo Soul

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http://www.fro-yo-soul.com/
https://twitter.com/FroYoSoul
Main Location: Minneapolis, St. Paul

Much like food trucks, the frozen yogurt, or ‘fro yo,’ shop craze has been blooming at a rather steady rate over the past decade. Being the live-in social outcast who’s never on the right web pages for staying up-to-date on these kind of things, I myself didn’t even discover these pump-yourself (oh god that sounds so wrong, but we know it’s so right) until a trip to San Francisco a few years back. For obvious reasons I jumped on the bandwagon and fell in love immediately, especially with some of the very special bevy of toppings to choose from, only to fly back to Minnesota, where though we have shops they are much farther away from my location than I’d like.

Now, taking this idea and turning it into a food truck isn’t that new either; special truck builders have been making these unique self-serve mobile fro yo creations for various entrepreneurs throughout the US for a few years. But sadly, we in the Twin Cities had yet to find one on our streets (much like the grilled cheese issue –shakes head-)… until now.

Fro Yo Soul entered the twin city street food race in late June of 2014 (of course I don’t notice until three months later… at this point I don’t know how much is my fault and how much is lack of others reporting), and so far has premiered with much acclaim. Much like the shops, Soul offers a set of frozen yogurt churners which one can pull from to have as much or as little of whatever flavor you desire. 6 of these machines are installed into the side, set into three pairs, each of which can be ‘twisted’ together if that’s one’s preference.

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The first pair of Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate is set to be a constant every day, but the other four machines are highly seasonal and changing often. They usually contain a pair of yogurt fruit-based options, like Pomegranate and the classic ‘Tart’ (plain yogurt) freezes, as well as a pair of Vegan Frozen Yogurts which really show the seasonality. On my visit these last two were Chai Tea and Pumpkin flavored, it being October. All of the frozen yogurt is completely Organic, and enhanced with vitamins and other good-body-ingredients (like they add at jamba juice or wherever).

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And of course, at the end of the line exists a variety of toppings; fresh Fruit, Cereal, classic Sprinkles and Candy options.  After pulling out as much of the frozen cream into your cup as you want and loading with toppings, the chilled concoction is weighed and priced accordingly, and we thus leave with a spoon in hand to enjoy the soft serve goodness.

Food: 8.5

                Best thing about going to one of these trucks for reviewing is I can sample multiple flavors without having to worry about exponentially large wallet removals. As such, I was able to grab the Dutch Chocolate, a twist of Pomegranate and Tart Yogurt, and their Vegan Pumpkin fro yo.
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As someone obsessed with ice cream, I can’t say that this reached the absolute pinnacle of sinful joy (well I guess it’s supposed to be good for you so that shouldn’t apply), but the yogurt concoctions were smooth, a little rich, without any undesired ‘milky’ flavor/textures (like Dairy Queen…). I did quite enjoy their chocolate, would definitely not mind a big bowl of that with some well-paired toppings. The fruit/yogurt options are somewhat interesting; it reminded me of all the Gogurts I was obsessed with as a kid. It really is the flavor and texture one would expect when they originally hear ‘frozen yogurt,’ whether that’s a good thing or bad in your desires. As such I will say that it wasn’t how I ideally want to experience the fruit flavor, almost felt confected/mass produced, but then again that’s pomegranate, where they probably had to use the pure juice, which CAN have that aspect to it when mixing with certain things. Perhaps other fruit flavors may come off better.

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And finally, the Vegan Fro Yo… actually came out better than what I was dreading. Texturally one could tell the difference between that and the original, but not in an inferior way. A little sharper, lighter in style vs the denser and creamier vanilla-chocolate, and the pumpkin flavor was handled pretty well I’d think. Lighter, retaining a bit of its sweetness and desired qualities. Very likely came from the can, it’s not as deep or complex of flavors that good, high quality ice cream places might make it, but it’s still quite good.

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When it comes to toppings, sad to say there’s not THAT much to choose from, at least not if you’re used to a lot of the other fro yo shops. A few cereals, fruit, and basic chocolate and gummy candies make up most of it; though I did find some interesting options in sprinkle cups of chia seeds, wasabi powder, and an option of sunflower seeds. I opted for the last, some granola (which was a nice version, not that crunchy though), and coconut. They don’t have any sauces (maybe on other days?), and I’m absolutely disheartened not to see the typical ‘pop pearls’ or, my absolute favorite, diced Mochi. Either way I really wish they amped up the number of offerings here; more fro yo options would be nice too, but I can understand the limited special requirements for that.

Holdability: 9

               Two hands required, but it’s pretty clean-going and unmessy.
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Price: 10

                At 58c per ounce, one really isn’t paying much for their selection of tasty frozen treats. With just over 5 ounces, my selection of three different options came to a bit over $3, and even if one really ‘loaded up’ to a heavy cupful I doubt they’d breach the $10 mark anytime soon. One can really see here how these shops got so popular.

Speed: 9.5

 

You make it yourself, time is taken up only by choosing your own options and weighing.

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The TOE: 7

                This style of truck and business is always fun and unique-looking for a reason, thus creating an enjoyable experience whenever one goes. On a down note, the act of doing everything yourself, though raising points in this category, also decreases due to a bit of disconnect from those running the business and experience in the first place. Also, I just gotta take a couple points off for having a topping selection that’s notably lacking compared to what I’ve seen in other fro yo shops (seriously, I want Mochi).

Tally: 44/50

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Final Thoughts

There’s not really much I can say here in terms of ‘suggestions;’ pick a flavor and put as much of it as you want on it, the place is as simple as that. Final options are all highly dependent on your own personal tastes, whether one enjoys fruity over chocolate or other flavors. All I can say here is that it’s a great place to get a treat on the cheap, so for anyone wanting SOME sort of Fun food truck experience with little money to spend it’s ideal. Not to mention a fantastic Dessert stop for Vegans (or anyone really).

Starting to think I should have just done a Quasi-review for these guys… oh well.

The Curious Goat

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https://www.facebook.com/TheCuriousGoatMN
https://twitter.com/CuriousGoatMN
Main Location: Breweries, Etc

The Farm to Table movement has been pretty huge in the past decade and so years, and though many area trucks apply the practice of getting most or some of their product from local farms, it’s much fewer that use the practice as their focal point and theme like many restaurants have. Enter in The Curious Goat, a big orange catering trailer that came onto the scene of Fall 2014.

Curious myself to try it, this feeling of interest only grew as I found their facebook and twitter page lacking in detail on their particular menu choices (at first, it is of course possible more info has been updated after writing this). All I could gleam at the time was a connection to a dairy farm, as well as a picture of the owner holding the most adorable kid (baby goat) ever, likely his own. Rarely out on the street, Goat has also stated that they mainly stick with a few certain breweries to cater at, leaving me to find the right weekend for a beer and lunch. Lo and behold, a wild Sunday opportunity appeared at Sociable Cider Werks, bringing me back to try and sampler and habanero-infused apple booze to pair with the new food discovery.

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My thoughts confirmed, Goat truly focuses on simple foods highlighting local Farm ingredients, working with multiple nearby growers and raisers. Menu is likely to change VERY often, using dishes that highlight a couple ingredients, like their vegetable dishes consisting of just a Cabbage Salad or Brussel Sprouts and Peppers. They usually carry at least a few Vegan-friendly fairs, as I found with the Caramel Apple, though of course protein will always be available. As with their namesake, they currently offer Goat in two forms: a Taco, and a grilled Crostini paired with fresh, local Chevre (probably the only item one can guarantee seeing year-round).

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Goat seems to practice the use of finding multiple forms of delivering these organic products to our mouth, from basket-based piles to different carb-wrapped hand grippers. Besides the taco, my visit also found bun-based Sloppy Joes and a Cauliflower Pita available. The limit of what kinds of food they may feature throughout the year is constrained only by which foods they can get their hands on and what they feel like making.

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Food: 9

                I was lucky enough to be able to try a few things on my first trip round, and here they are!

Considering the name, I just had to focus on goat-themed items, first up being the Chevre Crostini from Freewheeler farms; and let me start off saying I really have no complaints with this dish whatsoever. The baguettes were grilled beautifully, nice and crunchy and flavorful, and the cheese was able to shine its delicious and creamy freshness just as it was meant to. Garnished with fresh apple slices and lightly pickled onions, it made for a tasty, refreshing bite on a fine summer’s day.

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Following this with a warm Goat Taco isn’t a bad move, and as tacos go this one is very well put together. Good masa tortilla (not double layered, which at first I was upset about but there was literally no spillage besides 1-2 drops of juice, so it’s alright this time) and fresh herbs and veggies compliment a lightly-spiced, juicy shredded meat. I’d like to say how impressed I am at what first looked to be too much vegetation topping (a la Tiki Tim’s fish tacos in the early periods) actually contributed a much lighter element at good balance to the protein. The protein itself, which carried a good flavor through marinade and/or sauce, I found disappointment in lack of its OWN flavor. Or, put simply, there wasn’t much there in the palette that told it was GOAT as opposed to pork or some cuts of shredded beef. Wish that grassy quality was able to come through.

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After what was originally going to be my only two options, I couldn’t help but go back and try something that just seemed too fun not to get: the Caramel Apple, made completely Vegan (since caramel usually needs cream and/or butter to complete itself). Sadly not on a stick, the local fruit is cut into wedges and served alongside a container of cooked sugar thus mixed with coconut cream and other vegan substitutes, along with a few choice spices (not the regular cinnamon-nutmeg-allspice thing). When all is set and done, and the apple dipped, the dish thankfully avoids the feeling of an ‘inferior version to the originally,’ which many vegan recipes can do if not made well. The coconut added a tasty fusion to the flavor, the sauce’s texture was smooth, and the spices light and floral, overall tasting really nice with the apple; I’d love to have this sauce on top of some pie or ice cream!

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Holdability: 7.5

               Pretty variable among options, but nonetheless the intention behind these food creations is to have them enjoyed at the table of a local brewery, thus quite a few are designed to be much more comfortable eaten sitting down. That said, the tacos, pitas, and potentially sloppy joe eat a little more mobile, and the other items are still presented very clean, with little to no risk of mess. I will say I was hoping the ‘caramel apple’ would have come on a stick somehow, but the sauce was indeed very loose…
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Price: 6

                Very static; on my particular visit, the highest item was a spicy Fried Chicken at $12 while the cheapest was a $5 cabbage salad and the $4 caramel apple. The mobile protein entrees were $9 and $10, with other veggies hanging around $7-8. This is all of course BEFORE tax.
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There is something else I’d like to bring up. Apparently, on the particular day of my experience, there seemed to be some issue with the coin change; either they couldn’t get to it, or didn’t have any, or whatever it was, despite tacking on an additional 30-80 cents to orders due to tax. As a result, one was handed back purely all of the paper change and nothing else; in a sense, all menu items cost a dollar more than what was listed unless you paid with a credit card. Now, of course, I don’t expect or assume this is a constant problem, but I’m a bit upset at how they chose to handle it; in a situation like this, customer service would dictate it much more favorable and kinder to simply give out an extra dollar in change instead of unknowingly forcing people to pay more. It’s not much, but it’s one of the many little things in the business that helps to keep the experience for a customer, like a simple smile when taking orders.

Speed: 6

I felt like I had to wait a bit longer for the tacos and chevre than what it should have taken, especially with only one order in front (and that was out soon after I placed my own). I mean all the chevre required was toasted the baguette, everything else is pre-made; and one can clearly see the goat is shredded, thus pre-cooked, and would only need warming while the tortilla toasted. With a brewery experience, this probably works well though; you make your order, go and grab the beer selection, and then head to a table for them to bring out to you (they even give you those little number cards for delivery! Fun).

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The TOE: 9.5

                Focusing a menu and truck purely on Farm-to-Table and good, local products is always a great idea, but it’s not always expressive in the mobile game; which is why I absolutely love Goat’s ability to really make me ‘feel’ like I’m eating these ingredients through their menu of simple, produce-based dishes. Of course the name and display is quite interesting and unique and helps facilitate this along, next to its good-tasting food.

As the wave of excitement and ambiance leads me through, though, it makes me feel even the worse for not hitting that absolute peak which I wish they could get to. The menu and food has a noted feeling and soul to it, but it just doesn’t come together perfectly for a food truck; I’d say it’s missing something TRULY central and eye-catching, a focal point besides goat cheese crostinis… it needs a TOE Ring. My hope was that this would be the caramel apple dish, but cut up fruit with sauce on the side, no matter how good, won’t cut it; I wish they actually had taken a really small apple (and it was a small apple they used), or like a section of it (maybe gouge out little balls) and actually make caramel-coated local apples on a stick/skewer, and with those added spices they had it’d make a perfect fit, so long as they could get the coating set. Or something… it really FEELS like they could make something worthy of TOE Ring quality or something similar, and that’s why I’m missing it a bit more than usual (nonetheless, what they did accomplish here was still really good, so I think they deserve a very high score).

Tally: 38/50

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Final Thoughts

Truly one of the ideal mobile kitchens to order from at a brewery, on a beautiful blue sky day with outside seating and your favorite glass of local draught. Not to mention Goat also provides some of the better, tastier street options for Vegans (shame on you, SHAME!).

Though if you’re more protein-inclined, they include some great Minnesota-raised animals to chew. Sadly, though the Chevre Crostinis are a certain positive experience, the other goat-based item of tacos doesn’t feel too worth a visit. The Sloppy Joe and Fried Chicken, on the other hand, should offer fun options for those willing to pay more than usual.

I expect most any vegetable dish to be prepare well and proper, and put high suggestion on those like the Cauliflower Pita. As for the Caramel Apple and other desserts they may put out, not a bad experience if one has the urge for a little sweet in their day, but one shouldn’t be too upset if they decide not to get it.

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Green + The Grain

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

https://twitter.com/GreenNtheGrain

Main Location: Minneapolis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Food: 9.5

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

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

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Holdability: 7

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

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Price: 6.5

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

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Speed: 8.5

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

The TOE: 9

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

Tally: 40.5/50

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Final Thoughts

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

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

Food Trucks that Don’t Exist: a Dedication

So I was gonna post this guy a while ago, but apparently I wrote the draft, took a break before I looked up pictures, and completely forgot about it! So pretend it came out right after this article did!

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/06/fleet_of_dreams_the_best_food_trucks_that_dont_exist_yet.php

                I am in much agree-al with this latest CityPages Hot Dish article! If you have yet to read it, click the link above to view their opinions on Food Trucks we have yet to see. The Dip-based idea seems a bit odd to me (though I can see us having a market for it), but the make-your-own Pie concept could be heavenly.

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                Either way, it got me thinking about OTHER kinds of Street Food our mobile army has yet to tap into, for one reason or another. I did do a post about a year ago about people/restaurants that I’d like to see get in the business, but hashing out the food itself is yet another fun endeavor in itself.

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All things Japanese

                I’ve mentioned it at times in the past, and I’m sure by now many of you have seen some food show or another traveling through Asian, only to learn that the large Continent is a veritable wealth of various stands shoveling out mass amounts of traditional street foods. There are so many things we still have yet to be completely brought in from China, Korea, Vietnam, etc. But the country that excites me most with their Street Food is Japan.

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                Hot Dish already covers our sore need for good mobile ramen, but I would also so love to see someone shoveling out Takoyaki, spherical little “pancakes” cooked in their own grate with different savory fillings (usually Octopus) and covered in sticky sauces and bonito, just waiting for you to toothpick it into your mouth. Similarly, Dango, little sweet rice flour balls (similar to Mochi) already skewered with a bit of sauce on top. Could have a truck that serves both, sweet and savory oriental orbs!

                Then there’s Okonamiyaki, big savory pancakes that are cooked to order and whatever you want in them (drizzled in special mayo and sauce); Bento Boxesfor those on the go and wanting something “special;” Onigiri, simple rice balls stuffed with various fillings, think of all the cool fusion things we could do with that, while still keeping super-simple and affordable options for others; and of course, who could forget Yakitori, skewers of very simply and very skillfully grilled meats from every part of an animal, covered in a perfectly balanced sauce.

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Juicy Balls

                Subs, skewers, sandwiches, soups, fry baskets, what can’t a meatball be used in? And what can’t it be made from? So versatile with such a soul-filling warmth and joy when done right, there’s huge potential for doing something along these lines. And though we do have One Stand that uses a meatball sub, it’s just the one item on the menu; we need a true Specialty, like Devil’s Advocate before they changed their menu up (such a sad thing now…).

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Desserts Galore

                I’ve said it at least once before and I’ll say it again, we need a Dessert Truck! I’m sorry but Cupcakes don’t really count that much anymore, and our one Crepe Truck is… well… either way, all the other cities have one! Why can’t we!? Moooooommmmmmm.

                -cough- Sorry ‘bout that. Anyways, it doesn’t matter what kind, whether it’s one of those trucks that shells out all variety of sweets or a specialist; Pie, Cheesecake, Sundaes, something stuffed in a Cone, I don’t care, and neither should you! Give us more sugar, MOAR! I will say though, a good, proper Ice Creamtruck that makes their own custard from Quality ingredients would be extra awesome. Or hey, if Izzy’s wants to get in the game I won’t complain.

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Tapas for Everyone

                I know I know, we have A La Plancha now which serves up various “tapas” with their food, but it still doesn’t feel like they’ve gotten so deep down into the spirit and wealth of it that they could (and I’ve seen their truck out a few times). There really are SO many different tapas out there, traditional and non, a having a truck focus PURELY on these various small Spanish things which we could pick up and take around could be so fun. And let’s not forget about Pinchos, Tapas close cousin, basically semi-sandwiches or other “small” items with a thin skewer through them to hold together (and also keep track of how many things you’ve eaten). When I go for Tapas, I really want to get into the feel and culture of Spain, so let’s get a mobile eatery that can really do that.

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All Roads Lead to Dim Sum

                So Yeah, I want Dim Sum. If you want to hear my argument why, read this Post I did a while back.

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A Bit of Our History

                You know, now that I think about it, we really don’t have any trucks yet that focus on some sort of Eastern Europeanspecialties (besides that one Strudel Truck, but we barely see it anywhere). No Germanic, Russian, Polish, Czech, or anything like that, which is a shame ‘cuz it’s all really good food. True the idea doesn’t immediately conjure up “Street Food” images, besides bratwurst covered in sauerkraut (and we already have plenty of that), but there are some foods we know of (and many that we don’t I’m sure) that could do a great job on a truck. There’s Pierogies, cuz who doesn’t love dumplings; Piroshki, which are like Pasties but with a more bready dough (there’s a market stand in Seattle that makes awesome ones, perfect street food); Borscht and the Crepes like I said; many many regional snausagesto be used in dogs, sandwiches, what have you; various stews like Goulashwhich could be shoved in something; etc. And don’t forget the many many uses of sauerkraut and potatoes. It’s basically like talking about our favorite MN foods, so why not express them on the street?

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Everything Cake

                It hits me that we, and many others, have a Crepe Truck, a Waffle Truck, but why not have a Pancake truck? Thick and fluffy, but one could still wrap it in a cone or fold in half. Could fill and top it with anything, sweet or savory, as all different versions of pancakes do. Which is another thought, instead of just doing the one basic kind, a Pancake Truck could offer different batters (either pick and choose or each with their own crafted fillings): Potato, Johnnycake (cornmeal), Buttermilk, Thin European, etc. Who wouldn’t love the joy of taking something simple and nostalgic and getting serious with it, much like the Grilled Cheese idea (thank god I no longer need to add a “grilled cheese” section to this list).

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Fried Fury

                A lot of people like Anchor, our local Fish and Chips based restaurant and truck, but it feels like the menu is more restaurant-based than fish-and-chips-based; I mean they only have the onefish. How cool would it be to have a pure, simple, and classic Fish and Chips truck that, like the shops back home, have a whole selection of different fish to go in the fryer! Or maybe they take the fish and fries and stuff it in a grinder or tortilla (or, with the nation’s Indian ties, Roti) to make it fully portable! Slather on that Tartar sauce (per request of course) and really give us a Deep Fried delight. And why stop there, why not make a whole Deep-fried themed menu, span more than one kind of food item, cover some random crap in batter and crisp it up with heart-destroying deliciousness. I know there’s a place in New York (I think it’s called The Chip Shop) that does it, and they’re quite successful.

                Or at the least, maybe get a truck that specializes in Fried Chicken. We have some that do it (very well I might add) in sandwiches, but let’s get a place that really does it justice as the MAIN item.

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Temaki

                Oh come on, you knew I was gonna say it at some point (well, if you read my blog frequently). Sushi Fix STILL has yet to offer this perfectly walkable coneof Nori stuffed with sushi rice and filling. I won’t go into it much this time, but I still believe it would be such a great, fun, delicious Toe Ring type item to sell for the sushi lover on-the-go.

                Well, that’s my list, what’s yours? Do you have any particular Foods or Cuisine you’d like to see on the Minnesota Street?

Flavor Wagon

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https://twitter.com/Flavor_Wagon

Main Location: Minneapolis

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

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

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

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

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Food: 9

            Holy Sinister Starch Bomb Batman!!

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

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

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

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

Holdability: 7

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

Price: 9.5

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

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Speed: 5.5

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

The TOE: 7.5

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

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                      Tally: 38.5/50          

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Spring Food Truck Rally 2014, full of New!

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So, I was going to start this post off remarking about the good weather; the Spring Food Truck Rallywas this Saturday, and it was my first time at one of Harriet’sgatherings that it was just Sunny and warm the whole time! The curse of the rally being held in days interspersed and mixed with rainy sunshine was over!

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Well apparently that was just me, as I was only there for the first couple hours. Seems rain came down later… and the pattern continues. I swear it’s the weirdest thing isn’t it!? Every single one, different seasons, same basic weather. Maybe if they had one in Winter they coulda broke the spell…

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My luck in dodging the chance to get wet, the Rally itself was quite the fun success, as usual! Though boy did they crama LOT of food trucks in that lot, I can’t tell if there was more this year… or maybe just more people. There was a nice crowd, people everywhere, a big bustling horseshoe alleyways of those wandering for food, ending as usual with the shaded beer tent leading towards the taproom.

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Standing testament to their success over a certain other yearly truck fair, even with the noted crowds, people jostling for beer and food, listening to music, it was still a very comfortable atmosphere. No one was shoved “elbow to elbow,” most of the lines were quite small except for a couple relatively popular ones on that day, and they weren’t quite as torturous to wait through (well, maybe one). Interestingly enough, this was the first year that I have EVER seen the taproom band area floor NOT completely jammed with people, let alone almost empty (besides the chairs and couch). Guess most people didn’t mind listening at the many outside tables or during their edible adventuring.

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It’s a bit too bad most seemed to regulate their beer-buying at the outside tent, which casked four of the more popular options for fast retrieval. Unlike them, the INSIDE taproom offered those same beers and another four special, intriguing options. And though I love their Saison, I just had to get something unique for the occasion: a Barrel-aged Raspberry D.O.No, I don’t know what DO meant, I shoulda asked, but either way I found the yielding glass to be quite nummilicious (…I have got to stop using some of these words, my credibility wanes too much as it is). A chaste fragrance and filling flavor that holds reminiscence of recent raspberry and sour ales, with full body and deliciously heavy, grainy dark malt flavor with that certain blend of bitter hops and raw toastiness (or something, I still have yet to figure out the specific aroma elements for this) that I’ve found in many oaked beers. Overall I liked it; it wasn’t so much raspberry that the color changes and it’s basically fruit drink with beer (which certainly isn’t bad either), but it was more than those raspberry beers that only offer the barest whiff of affection in the aroma (also not necessarily bad, but certainly not my cup of tea; if you’re gonna flavor with fruit, then really FLAVOR it, am I right?).

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Beer’s not the only thing I tried, of course. One of my big reasons for coming out there was compounded by the ability to take pictures and sample from not only one, but TWO new trucks in the Minnesota scene! O’Cheeze is here, finally, bringing the Twin Cities our very first Grilled Cheese business! And it’s about damn time! Following them, and filling in for a an absent Sandy’s, is Pepperjax Grill, rolling their Philly Cheesesteak truck out from their many base restaurants in Omaha, Nebraska to try out Minnesota’s street industry. I did ask, they’re in the area to stay (at least for the summer), so a review of them and O’Cheese will be coming soon.

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Don’t need to wait for the other food though. And there was one food item amongst all the menus that everybody learned about, and I’d say at least 33% actually enjoyed. If you were there, you know what I’m talkin’ about: the Chicken and Waffle“sandwiches” from Lulu’s. Oh, classic, classic Lulu, offering us something that we just can’t say no to. Thick, crunchy, juicy fried chicken (you’ve read my review, you know how awesome their fried chicken is), this time pushed between thick and caramelly Belgian Waffles, drizzled with syrup, topped with Bacon, some sort of ranch-ish sauce, and I think a parmesan crisp? This basically stands for everything that Lulu is; pure, unadulterated indulgenceand happiness… in a very messy container. Great for fairs with tables! I didn’t mind getting messy to enjoy this spicy, crunchy, somewhat sweet bunch of deliciousness; I actually had to finish with a fork. The best part, I’d have to say, was the waffle; like the chicken, I would very gladly eat this separate and on its own, one of the best waffles I’ve actually had in a long time (good crunch, great flavors, still soft inside, etc). Using it here just compounds the amazingness of the whole dish.

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Now that I think about it, that makes a day of three different sandwiches. Huh, fun.

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So how do I finish off my palette after three heavy sandwiches on a hot day? Why with a popsicleof course! And it just so happens that Moral Omnivore has started selling a “Daily Popsicle” as their new dessert-of-choice. Like the chix+waffle, it made for another popular item amongst the crowd; I was quite surprised in finding out it was from MO, but very happy nonetheless.

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The flavor of the day just happened to be one of my favorite combos, Raspberry and Rosemary (too bad I had finished my beer by then); I just love berries and herbs, sweet or savory. As figured, the flavors were tasty, they weren’t afraid to showcase the rosemary. One thing I’ll say though, it was very icy… not too surprising considering it’s, as they said, basically just a fruit smoothie put in cup and frozen in a freezer. I didn’t mind too much though, they weren’t large or chunky; in fact, it works with the raspberry, very reminiscent of eating through the seeds (that’s what I thought it was at first). And I love that chunky fresh, tart raspberry feeling. Though hopefully it’s an issue that doesn’t come up in other, smoother fruit-based flavors.2014-05-10 13.07.26

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Though that was the end of my edible options that day, it wasn’t the last thing to see. Going off the popsicle, MO wasn’t the only one to have a menu change; there’ve been quite a few trucks upgrading from a simple white board to a nice, permanent design. Hibachi’s got a new, colorful yellow tag system to paste on the side of their truck. Brava, not so extreme, has brightened up the big plastic-enveloped menu items. Gogi Bros even got one of those Plasma TV Menu displays! (tried to take a pic, but it didn’t turn out well with the light)

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Not only their menu, Emconada’s gotten themselves a brand new truck! Though I forgot to go up and ask if the cart is still around, they’ll now be rolling up in a big, impressive orange van to stand out and rival the others! With the new truck comes some menu update, adding Burritosand Sandwichesto the repertoire (made with the same meat though, so I don’t see much need for a review). The cones have stayed the same, though they look a bit prettier with the sauce application on top.2014-05-10 14.06.56

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And that about sums up what I have to say. Overall I’d say it was another very fun, very successful rally by the MN Food Truck Association. Already I can’t wait for the next one, though at least I have a few events until then to keep me busy; Art-a-Whirl 2014is this weekend, get ready! Hope you all have fun, and an exuberant wish of Good Lucks and Good Eatings for the coming months!

 

A Reluctant Saturday Night Review, aka La Belle Crepe at Harriet

               I’ve been antsy lately, and last Saturday night didn’t help. It’s been… what, 3 months since I was last able to review a new Truck? And that was just temporary winter pop up version of something already existing. And now, with the snow melting and weather warming, teasing me with urges to go outside with visions of Truck rallies to come, only to be roped away with work and the realities that it’s still winter (well, not technically, but for MN…).

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                Thought I would have had this fixed a couple weeks ago with a great chance off to go to Harriet with a friend when the new Butcher Salt was out… and then work screwed me over. Again a clear ray of hope showed this past week; yet another new truck at Harriet, “La Belle Crepe,” and a friend available to join in a fun night of music, drinking and food.

                Well, there was a $5 cover, I didn’t find out until after I got there that the friend had a double shift, and the “truck” was just a catering table in the back corner. Can’t quite say which part I was most disappointed with, but how ‘bout we just focus on the food aspect?

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                That just really, really sucked… you don’t know how excited I was when I thought La Belle Crepe had started their own mobile operation. I’ve been to their café in downtown Minneapolis (you should too; it’s this tiny little closet-shop, like you’d find in France, just before 9th on Nicolette Ave), and they’re pretty good. We’ve been needing a GOOD, proper Crepe Truck for a long time, something with tasty components and a fun attitude.

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                Let me tell you why they would have fit the bill. Firstly, as one would expect, the crepes are awesome; good thickness, SOFT, really reminiscent of what the proper French pancake should feel and taste like. Add that to a copious variety of homemade fillings in the style of sweets, savories, and breakfast, and we have a delicious bundle of joy perfect for mobile eating. They aren’t all classic fillings either; one can get Caramel Apple, Orange dream, Spicy Chicken and Crab, Gyros, dill & Lox, Benedict, etc.

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                But wait, there’s more. Not only do they offer crepes, Belle also makes other French classic comforts like Gelato and Croque-Monsieur/Madame. Oh, and Vietnamese food, tasty tasty Vietnamese food like Pho and Bahn Mi. Reminded me of the Korean-Crepe truck my friend had found in Texas, only not quite so Fusion; Vietnamese cuisine HAS had a lot of French influence, so it makes sense with the concept.

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                Well, I had already paid the $5 entrance fee, so as much as I didn’t want to spend extra money it would have been a waste to just leave the place as-is. Thus I was able to actually sample one of their sandwiches, the Hoisin Pulled Pork. Oh boy was that good, each side completely slathered in the Hoisin Mayo, all those dressed and pickled veggies just shoved and stuffed in there (you should see them pile it on and push it in with the spatula), and the pork wasn’t too bad either.

                A little bit of sirachi on half with the tart veggies, it went really well with Harriet’s version of Sahti, a Sour Ale brewed with juniper berries and cedar chips instead of hops (tasted a bit like lambic, so I was already in a bit of a happy place).

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                The bread wasn’t the best sadly, being served without feeling the loving embrace of a searing hot grill or oven, but to be fair that was due to the setup. They DO toast it at the café, and I would assume if able to go mobile they would ensure a proper heat source to do it for orders as well. Also, the Cilantro (which there was a ton of, thank you! So good), served in whole bunches, was a bit… sagging. But again, I had ordered a sandwich about 5 hours (at least) after they got there with no proper refrigeration unit besides a cooler.

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                At the end of the day, they offer a fun concept with delicious, portable offerings, and I sorely hope they might get on the streets soon to properly replace a certain Other Truck. As for me, I still sit here, antsy and stuck, ever waiting for my first proper shot at a new truck this year.

               -sigh- At least it’s getting warmer.

SFC: The Ripe Pastry

And yet more leftover overripe bananas festoon our freezer. I got a bit tired of just turning it to bread, so I queried at350Degrees (again, thank you for the help) on some ratio advice and set about to making a major fusion Cookie project: “Brown Butter Banana Chocolate Chip.”

Been wanting to make a Banana cookie for a while, and a recent post on a brown butter chocolate chip was just too endearing to not want to combine the two. Though I’ll admit the final result wasn’t what my mind desired, I know EXACTLY what adjustments need to be made to capitalize on these delicious flavors.

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Brown Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Cookie (after adjustments)
1 Cup (2 Sticks) Butter
½ Cup Sugar
¾ Cup Brown Butter
1-2 Eggs
1 Tb Vanilla
¼-3/8 Cup Mashed Super-Duper-Over-Ripened Banana (1 SMALL fruit)
¾ tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2-2¼ Cup Flour
1 ½ Cup Smaller/Mini Chocolate Chips

Brown Butter is an amazing thing. If you have yet to experience this rich, toasty, nutty version of its original form, then I suggest you make some, right now. No I don’t care if you’re planning on cooking anything else or not, you just need to make the butter. Cook it, eat a spoonful of it and reserve the rest for other things later on.

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And really simple too, start by turning your relevant saucepan (for the sake of the Cookies, it should be large enough to take in all ingredients later on) to Med/Med-Low and start melting that milk-fatty goodness. Now just let it go…

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The plan for now is waiting, watching, and prepping your other ingredients as it goes along, making sure one stirs and swirls the pot every now and then (we want to thoroughly brown the butter, not let the bottom burn). At first it’ll start foaming and “simmering,” the water content in the butter slowly cooking out of the hot fat. As it goes along, the proteins and other “milk solids” start to unravel and tighten under the attacking heat, separating from the emulsion of the butter stick, and soon you’ll be able to stare clear through the fat to the bottom of the pan as if it was colored water, watching as the white solid flakes settle and move around the bottom.

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The butter will stop simmering around this point, which would be the signal point of completion if one had set about to make Clarified Butter. Just strain out through a fine cloth/strainer and use for all your butter needs. Or, of course, we can keep going on until it gets all tinted and nutty… which will start quickly but take a while to get to the desired point.

Just keep at it, I adjust the temperature a little lower to ensure it doesn’t go over on me (if making Clarified butter, I might suggest a lower temp to start with, mine was already a bit brown at the finishing state). It’ll start smelling like peanut skins, but as it goes that faint hint will deepen and bloom, giving toast and bread and spices, with a raw chestnutty color. For everyday uses, we take this off and carefully, slowly strain through cheesecloth or other fine apparatus.

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For the cookies, we keep it there and just dump in the Sugars. No straining or nothing, just keep all those milk solids in to better flavor our impending cookies. Though it’s not as simple as it sounds, we’ll be going through a little “process” with this sugar addition.

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Whisking the sugar mixture in vigorously, turning the butter into a smooth consistency. Take it off the heat to cool for about 9 minutes, going back every 3 minutes to stir vigorously once more. Besides helping to actually cool down faster, I believe this action is mainly to ensure the sugar and butter don’t separate too much, as it is very prone to do when hot (believe me). This’ll better ensure they emulsify easier when cool and we start adding in other ingredients, as opposed to the sludge-like state while still hot. I myself actually let it sit an extra couple minutes and whisked one more time just to ensure the success.

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Add your Egg and Vanilla to the now somewhat warm mixture and prepare to incorporate the Banana.

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So, here’s what should have been happening to your banana by now. Not only is this not a “fresh” fruit, this also isn’t one that’s been sitting “a few days and has a little line of brown spots.” This banana, now, THIS banana has been on your counter for a week, MINIMUM, perhaps 2. It’s skin has looked the same mud-brown mottled for some days, with no motion to continue its threat to cover the whole fruit. It’s sugars have ripened just about as much as they can on their own…

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And then you throw it in the freezer for a couple days, for both “storage” purposes and to push the fruit one final step, concentrating the sugars and flavors even further. As it thaws on the counter, which only takes about an hour, the fruit is left as a softened jelly of pure sweet banana flavor, just barely holding together. Do not be afraid of its blackened demeanor, there is no such thing as going too far with this fruit when cooking is concerned.

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With that gotten out of my system, we can start adding the banana, mashed, alongside the Dry Mix; I start with a bit of the latter to firm it up before mixing in the wet fruit. After, add in the rest of the flour, and more if needed, to reach what looks to be a proper cookie dough consistency (remembering it’ll firm up more once FULLY cooled).

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Leave to cool on the counter even further, folding in your Chips or other Mix-ins when ready (I split it in half and did a Regular and White Chocolate batch!). I’ve found I prefer the Minis when going for this new fusion, as the larger chunks just created these concentrated pockets of gooey chocolate which, though awesome, can override the other flavors I’m trying to shine very easily.

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Move to the fridge to chill down at least 2 hours or overnight; apparently the originator of the Brown Butter Cookie follows a technique of storing it a minimum 48 hours before cooking. I’m not sure what exactly is happening to it at that time, but there’s probably some logical reason for it.

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For ease of storage and portioning later, wrap dough completely in plastic, patting or rolling out to an even thickness that you’d like for your cookies (I go about an inch at least). Squeeze and adjust the sides ‘till it’s rectangular and store.

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When close to ready, transfer to your freezer for at least 30-45 minutes beforehand; this step really helps the cookie keep its height and softness when baking so it doesn’t turn into a thin puddle, though if that’s what you’re looking for (it does make a nice crispy cookie), then go ahead and bake for room temperature. Turn oven to 375F, slice the desired amount and size from your dough block with a handy-dandy pizza cutter (this can be done ahead of time before freezing), and space cookies out on a Parchment or Sprayed baking pan, and cook 10-13 minutes, turning the sheet around halfway in.

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Remove, transfer to a plate while it’s still soft and hot, and enjoy with a large glass of ice cold milk. Or on its own, it’s a pretty damn good cookie. A soft, more subtle note of the banana paired with soft, gooey rich chocolates, both bolstered by the gentle nutty, almost spicy aspect the brown butter imparts. All of this held in a baked dough that feels halfway between a cookie and actual banana bread. It’s a fun little taste factory.

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Hopefully your first attempt at this turns out more ideally focused than mine, though I’m sure the final result won’t be too complaint worthy either way. Good Luck in all your own upcoming culinary inventions and Good Eating them!

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Vellee Deli at Crema Cafe: the Visit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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