Main Location: Minneapolis, Events
Nostalgia has very much proven a key factor to many of the greatest restaurants, mobile or non. Being able to take us back to that experience we could supposedly only find 20, 30, or how many years ago. Though most of our Trucks focus on Regional Styles, Diet, Specialty Items, or whatever, we are still able to see operations like Neato’s and Bloomy’s follow in the old-school and bring to us something typical of a tiny, hard-to-find corner off the highway.
Moving onto the streets early this season, Starlight Diner continues this idea, bringing us back to the den of the “Blue Plate Special.” (one almost expects a plate of Turkey and Mashed Potatoes come November) Offering up baskets up Fries, Onion Rings, and old-fashioned Mayo-based Potato Salad, one can grab themselves a Hot Dog (topped with sauerkraut), Pulled Pork, or Italian Beef on a regular day, and items such as Tuna Sandwich turned Open Face on specials. Served in the traditional checkered-paper baskets, one almost expects to see them out with Turkey and Mashed Potatoes come November.
Of course, it’s not a Food Truck without offering a few plays on the expected (as seen with the open-faced tuna). Beer Battered Asparagus seem a customer favorite, paired with Rhubarb Ketchup and Bearnaise for dipping. In response to the warm summer weather, Cold Soups (like Watermelon Gazpacho) have made a come-in as replacement for the expected tomato (now if only they got a saffron-infused cheese crostini to pair with).
Serving underneath the classic frilled awning, their heads covered in the familiar paper hats, it’s quick to see their ties to the diners of decades past. If one has yet to find their own, special little 50’s (or 60’s, or 40’s, or whatever) based hole-in-the-wall, Starlight Diner is a great place to start!
Pulled Pork seems to be the specialty, so I definitely had to grab that along with a nice batch of potato salad (and a side of that interesting Rhubarb-Ketchup). Let me just say, as far as Truck-based pulled pork goes, it definitely acts as a standout.
Serving on a longer Italian bun vs the traditional round/burger, this well-toasted (REALLY well toasted; heck, it’s actually a touch over, but with the smoked pork that’s actually good) bread is topped with a tender, flavorful smoked n shredded pig. The taste of the smoke indeed comes through slightly, with actual pork that contains some flavor in itself (much like Racer’s). Topped with a few pickled red onions, and this baby is ready for bbq sauce; which of course must be applied by ourselves. It would have been nice if they at least mixed in a LITTLE bbq sauce on their own beforehand; I definitely understand leaving it to personal taste, but though there is some nice tenderness and juiciness in the product, eating as-is without any sauce mixed in still creates a slight feeling of dry-ness and heaviness just a bit off from perfection. Suffice it to say, when loading up with the Sauce, LOAD it up; its flavor needs to come through the giant mound of pig, and it could use the extra moisture.
A special throw-out to that Potato Salad! One of the best joys I find is in those items that, in the everyday scenario, one just doesn’t really like (not hate, but just don’t like), and then finding someone who does it properly. This concept is so epitomized with their potato salad, based purely around that cheap, yellow-mayo based style we all see at the deli counter and only dare to get for company picnics. But made right, with the big cold chunks of boiled and roughly-broken, starchy potato, folded with the thick and creamy mustard-mayo and dotted with halves of briny-rich black olives; this is the potato salad we all wish we grew up on.
And finally, of the things I sampled, the Rhubarb-Ketchup. I LOVE homemade ketchups, and this is no exception. Ultimately, it sort of tasted like a cross between Ketchup and a Spiced Berry Pie filling (in a good way).
As for the sides which I was able to view: fries seem a definite improvement than when I first visited. Though not likely to be in a hall of greats, they look to be cooked well enough, and though soft are sure to have nice flavor and richness. Onion rings are in that similar mediocre category; the crust seems to have potential, but with bits of direct-contact-fried onion sticking out here and there, one certainly thinks technique needs improvement. On the contrary, the Beer-Battered Asparagus has seen, and looks fit for, much positive reception.
Offering various basket-based items which invariably require two hands, their sauerkraut-topped bratwurst even spilling off the side a bit. Pulled Pork is somewhat on the edge between walkable and “ehhhh, might enjoy it some more sitting down,” but not too much so. One thing of note that I VERY much like, when ordering just a sandwich or just a side, one receives in their own small basket to walk around with. If one orders TWO things, however, they are invariably placed within a larger blue-checkered basket to enjoy at one’s pleasure. Of course, many “styrafoam-box” places do this automatically, but that’s mainly cuz they’re already using a giant box anyways, even for smaller things. Basket-based trucks are rarely seen with separate combos and singles, nor having variously sized containers depending.
A wide range settling from $3-$7 (w/ $8 “entrée-size” Salad and certain $1-2 options), this menu offers a seeming dream for the price-conscious customer. $7 stays the main for sandwich items, while (currently) offering some cold soup/s at $3 (and $2 possibly… still unsure if Chili Mango is a soup or a sauce…). With a menu range like this, one might expect a score of 9 or, even more likely, 10 out of my general ratings scale; even I want to give them that! However, what stands out to me more than the lower prices are certain “annoyances” and “inconsistancies” I found in comparison to their food.
When looking at fries and onion rings, $3 and $4 don’t seem like too outrageous of costs, even with Rings that look like this:
I’ve seen other places charge around this much, so it’s only a minor thing. However, the potato salad, that glob consisting of only cold potato, mayonnaise, and black olives, of which I was only given a couple SPOONFULS… that is NOT proper $4 menu pricing. And now we look a little higher, at the $6 cost of Beer Battered Asparagus: that’s a basket of ASPARAGUS, fried, for the cost of an lower Food Truck entrée. Oh, but of course, it DOES come with two little sides of special sauce… that must be the extra $2 from its proper cost. Which seems to make the most sense, as they decided to charge me an extra $1 when I asked for the Rhubarb-Ketchup; that’s right, a whole dollar for that dinky little paper thumbnail. Anchor Fish and Chips charges half that for 3-4X the amount of Tartar sauce, and THAT is unacceptable. This is a condiment, people, not a side; on that note, similarly charging $1 for Pickles? Now, if it’s a pickle “Plate,” I can see; but so many other trucks offer their homemade pickles on the side for ready use and enjoyment by us customers. With that clearly leading example, we should not be having any Truck that performs anything of the contrary nowadays.
On a final note, in Menu terms, I’m also very glad they started labeling their Dog as “German” as opposed to the “Handmade” they displayed in the opening week/s. If not, I would have definitely taken points off for the obvious mis-appropriation for a dog that was supplied by someone else (even if it’s of high quality).
The TOE: 7
Nostalgic nature says for a lot, its definitely hard not to think of the old-school sandwich-slinging, potato salad bucket diners when one visits. However, I feel this may be the only thing they have going for them when it comes to the “experience” aspect. For instance, though I highly dislike using this as a negative aspect, I can’t help but feel the plain and boring color design immediately sets one’s idea a little lower (like walking into a bad bathroom). The menu, though good, is still somewhat plain and unexciting in its actual items (before ordering). Ultimately, I think one could equate that, though the nostalgia is there, the actual personality required to back it up still needs work.
Yeah, remember the whole Condiment and Pickles thing? I’m still annoyed about that. This is a very basic, very fundamental Service Concept, seen very much so in restaurants and ESPECIALLY in Food Trucks. If there were other trucks doing this, that would be one thing; but simply put, there aren’t. Both Housemade Pickles and Sauces are on display and made available to squirt and top as we please, with no cost seen besides what we’ve already paid for our food.
There’s a particular term in the Service industry; “Give them the Pickle.” It was developed from situations like this.
For those craving a bit of nostalgic in their Trucks, or just looking for a nice pork Sammy at a good price, this is the place to go. I think I can ultimately say, too, in the question of “What Truck should I get a Pulled Pork sandwich from,” this is the one I suggest. Not necessarily because it’s the best (that’s still in debate… VERY much in debate), but because I find it one of, if not the, most “Distinctive” and interesting of the group.
I do not see much merit in getting any of their sides; again not due to their quality, but the price charged for them. One can find similar or better fries anywhere, and $4 is too much for that small amount of Potato Salad (which really sucks, because on any given day I would be BEGGING people to get this because of how good it is). And of course, don’t ask for any of the special sauces no matter how good they are, not unless you’re willing to argue over the price (I actually would have myself if there wasn’t a line behind me and I was caught off guard with its ridiculousness).
My 2nd and Final main suggestion, this is probably one of the better places to visit on a HOT day. Grab a bowl of cheap, cold Watermelon-Gazpacho and enjoy and refreshing lunch!