Bubba’s Fried Chicken (Quasi-Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tatanka Truck

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

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

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

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

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

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A basket of Bison with that intriguingly pesto-covered corn

Food: 8.5

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

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

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

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

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

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Holdability: 7

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

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

Price: 8.5

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

 

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

The TOE: 9.5

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

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

Tally: 42.5/50

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Final Thoughts

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

Misfit Coffee

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http://www.misfitcoffee.com/
https://twitter.com/misfitcoffee
Main Location: All Over Minneapolis

A couple years back, a certain person attempted a modern coffee cart in Downtown Minneapolis; seems quite a few people are rather aware of this fact. Alas, they didn’t make it, yet another casualty in the mobile service world; I partially feel bad for never making it, though also partially relieved I didn’t forsake my then-even-narrower wallet on a review that would never be able to happen. If you’re wondering where this is going… no, the owner is not back, I have no clue what the heck they’re doing now (if you’re reading this, best wishes! Please don’t hate me…).

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It is today that the next generation makes their attempt as Minneapolis gets its second in the line of coffee vending businesses, only this time it’s a full-on Trailer with… well, you’ll see. Misfit Coffee comes to us from across the border, the three co-owners of Marcus, Mitch, and Alex hail from Milwaukee. All three of these guys have been working since age 13/14, Marcus in particular having gone into all levels and aspects of the coffee world, the leading thought man behind the business idea after they all decided to get into the mobile food world. Putting their heads and money together, these three friends (well, two are brothers; hinty, names share the same starting consonant!) set out to fully develop their immersive, quality-focused coffee experience in the Twin Cities.

Having only opened a couple weeks ago, the trailer is still finding promising locations to keep regular residence, hopping around various spots in Minneapolis to give access to as many people as possible. Of note, they’ve served so far in front of the Guthrie, Downtown, the U of M, and in Uptown in front of the Apple Store. After catching up to them at the Mill City Museum, I got the chance to interview the three owners and dragged out quite a bit of information (so prepare yourself for a much longer review than usual)!

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Apparently they chose Minnesota (note they only had the ONE showing in their home city to make sure everything ran smoothly; sorry Wisconsin, they’re all ours now!) due to our personal love and acceptance of food trucks, particularly our openness to ‘specialty’ and unique trucks vs the older classics. Not to mention the tie-in fact that it’s easier to get the licenses here. As Alex puts it, “Some places are rather iffy, not sure if they wanna let you in, here they’re TRYING to let you in.”

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The trailer itself was made to focus on a ‘curbside exposure,’ a fully open-air design that not only allows one to truly witness the zen experience of these brews being crafted, but also to allow for connection and conversation between the guys and yourself. They even have magazine for perusal! Oh, and some led lights inside, in hopes of late-night ventures where they can turn off all other lights and get that cool color-changing glow and atmosphere.

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As for the coffee, beans are sourced from Valentine Coffee Roasters in Wisconsin, a producer which Misfit obsesses over from the quality of the roast to the sourcing of the beans; particularly in the expression of body and ‘terroir.’ They currently offer 5 kinds from different countries for their pour-overs: Bali, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and also a Decaf variety. Now note, they didn’t make their sourcing decision lightly; much time was spent trying coffee and roasters all over the country, from Nashville and Atlanta to Chicago and us, apparently close to 100 cups worth of ‘samples,’ before their decision to stick with the Wisconsin homeboys.

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These can then be ordered in the typical wide variety of options that we’re so familiar with having access to, but with a twist. Whereas they do indeed have the classic mixes, such as Cappuccino, Mocha, Americano, Latte, etc, one will also find a few more intriguing and different mixes not commonly seen… and a few modern techniques to boot. This culminates in the whipped dairy offerings of Con Panna and Cortado, but lower we explore some, let’s call them ‘espresso cocktails,’ called Chata’Lata (mixed with homemade Horchata) and Spro-da Pop(espresso and Mexican Cola). THEN there’s the different pour-overs, like the Chemex and Siphon (and no, I do not know anything nor did I ask about those… I had a lot of information as it is, cut me some slack! So demanding…)… but all that pales in comparison to the Nitro Cold Press. Cold pressed coffee, made in batch and then stuck in a pressurized tank, to which they inject with Nitrogen and let sit, waiting to be poured from a ‘tap’ and over ice when ordered. Basically it’s like the method for making Nitro beer, but with coffee; I’ll describe the results later.

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By this point you might be wondering about the equipment; I mean, I wasn’t, but you’re all most likely better people than I am. As you can see though, and will through various pics, as much attention that went into sourcing the beans and coffee went into the machines that handle them. The big white behemoth of the espresso machine itself is a Synesso model, made in 2008 but I think based off a model from the 1900’s, and cost $10,000 on its own. And lying on top of it… actual coffee cups? Yep, for those who don’t absolutely have to go and travel with their caffeine needs, they will pour your coffee or espresso into one of their various special mugs, like these copper dealies with glass extenders to fit it all and also see any layering effects, to enjoy on the side of the trailer while you relax. This allows one to fully experience these different brews and mixes, for the container one smells and sips from can make all the difference (just ask a wine snob, like me!).

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But that’s the kind of effort they go to for everything, which we can see just by looking at something like their Horchata recipe. After trying the best cup of this Mexican rice milk from a certain vendor at home, the group obsessed with trying to reproduce it, or find something better, but couldn’t; and after resorting to weeks of begging after begging, finally squeezed this heavenly mixture of creamy rice and cinnamon drink. I had the chance to try a tiny taste of it on its own, and believe me when I say the effort was worth it. Following that, all their ‘flavorings’ are made only with the best ingredients, using real vanilla beans, hand-made caramel, and chocolate from Indulgence vs the normal cheap syrups we so often see.

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Of course they also offer some quality Teas and other coffee-free options for people to choose from, like those Mexican Colas.

A final fun note, if one looks at the back of the trailer, they’ll see the very well-known Apple quote, a company which Misfit follows quite intently in their respect of the how and why they do things. “’Here’s to the Crazy ones, the Misfits, the Rebels, the Troublemakers, Round Pegs and Square Holes.’ They inspired, kind of, the name a little bit… -and we understand how they are, to not go by the status quo, we’re trying to DO something different and be ourselves and, you know, take a risk and take a chance. So it was really cool to be in front of Apple and to get the support too that we got from them was awesome cuz, you know, they understood us, we’re misfits.” – Marcus

Food: 10

                In terms of the coffee world, Misfit truly occupies itself in the top tier for our community; with amazing quality and distinctly regional beans with personality; both traditional and fun style offerings; much effort spent in ingredients/recipes and development;  all of which comes through clearly with their fantastic execution. As someone who’s not really a ‘coffee drinker’ in any sense, but wants to get into the world of it to be able to experience and recognize the fine craft, I myself have felt disappointment trying cups of jo at good places like Spyhouse yet still found struggles in trying to find the particular ‘palette’ of the bean that was written up; those notes of berries and chocolate sadly eluded me. I figured it was like cigars and red wine; you REALLY just need the time to develop the palate, get it used to the flavors, before seeing this, something I’m sure most people who drink coffee on an almost, if not, daily basis automatically have. Thus has my appreciation for certain establishments like this grown when I come to discover clear differences or personality traits in what I try that day; that in fact there IS a world and approach to coffee that anyone can began at while learning about distinct flavors and changes from the beans, roasting, and handling.
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For example, the Cortado I had, a double-shot espresso layer with steamed milk if I remember the style right, was made with the Brazilian coffee beans (all items under the ‘Espresso Bar’ category are made with a single bean variety that they choose and grind on the day of), a variety they said displays peanutty, dark chocolate, and those earthy notes, and I could clearly taste peanut butter and other such things through the creamy soft concoction. It was fun seeing the distinct layered effect through the copper and glass cup reserved for these styles, not to mention being able to enjoy the full texture and flavor one can only get through this glass, as opposed to the paper to-go cups. It certainly pays to be able to sit and enjoy these with the fellas when you’re not on-the-run!

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Now, follow this up with the Peruvian bean, a cleaner, lighter kind of coffee, with some citrusy notes and more of a milk-chocolate body. It was perfect in the Nitro on a hot day, served on ice; as for the actual unique nitro style… everything I love about nitro beers, mainly that thick but super smooth texture that just aches to be drawn down one’s throat. Then there’s the added creaminess. The guys make sure to advocate that customers try it plain first before adding creamer, because guess what? You don’t need it, the effects of the foamed carbonation really do mimick that bit of steamed milk or other dairy that’s added in, making it seem richer when it’s just a straight cold press. Absolutely delightful.

And finally, a return visit on the same day (I was lucky) had me trying the Con Panna; basically much like the cortado or a cappuccino, only using pure whipped cream as the source of dairy. Thus one would get a result that’s super thick, super rich, on its own practically a total caffeine ‘cheat;’ like starting off a day with hot chocolate. Only I then decided to use the opportunity to try one of their ‘additions,’ the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt sauce, which just made it sinful, pure dessert in coffee. Oh god I just had a terrible thought… what if they had ice cream and used this for an affogato? Run!

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But I want to be able to express that the sauce, while not just made from top quality chocolate and salt, came through very distinctly without fully overpowering anything. I love it when you can TASTE the sea salt, too, without it being ‘salty;’ it can be tricky to accomplish, but such a good balance. Overall this was like salted chocolate-coffee mousse in liquid form… only get when you’re feeling naughty and just don’t care.

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I would like to finish with this note that, as was mentioned by co-owner Marcus, Misfit in general tries to focus on an older ‘original’ style of ‘roast profile’ from their beans. Whereas many modern coffee businesses in the US usually focus on turning the beans into a coffee that ends up ‘fruitier, cleaner,’ simple bursts of flavor, they themselves keep to those natural earthy, spicy, ‘terrestrial’ flavors emblematic of the area they’ve grown in and the people who’ve handled them (very clear in that deep nutty, but not roasty, notes of the Brasil). In a sense, seeing the ‘terroir’ of coffee. As a fanatic of the wine and alcohol world, this particular idea actually tickles me to no end, as it seems to perfectly mirror the different styles of ‘old world’ (France, Italy, Spain, etc) and ‘new world’(US, Australia, Chile, etc) wines; the latter of which are very FRUIT forward, made for solo drinking while the old world all distinctly have some sort of EARTHY aspect to the palate, and excel alongside food.

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Look at that foam line, ever reminiscent of the ‘Angel’s Lace’ phenomenon in properly poured beer

So if you’re still wondering why I’m talking SO MUCH about these guys, my deep and pure love towards the world of food and spirits, how things connect and how completely different ‘products’ can have such similarities throughout their life and how people enjoy and experience them… things like that are what stoke the red-hot coals of my excitement centers. And the great thing is that we all have this interest for food and drink in one form or another, no matter how mild; we’ve all developed special memories that things like these has been a part of, it really is an integral part of what connects people nowadays, and I am one of those who just loves to delve deep into that topic in conversation and express it to others whenever I can. So, to cut this short, now you have an even better understanding to WHY I won’t just shut up sometimes (believe me I wish I could), and I do apologize and thank you for reading through my additional ramblings!

Holdability: 10

               Whether it’s in a to-go cup or the nicer for-here, it’s still coffee in a cup.

Price: 9.5

                Most 12 and 16oz cups range between $3-$6, while 8oz only ever get up to $4 at the most. The more fun coffee-free specialty items themselves also go $3-$5 dependent on item and size. $0.75 extra to get one of the sinful flavor additions, or a dairy alternative. And of final note, the Nitro coffee charges for $4.50. Overall a nice wide but lower range for a coffee joint.
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Not only are these prices, on an overall scale, equal to or better than one’s typical Starbucks/Caribou, they’re better than they SHOULD be. With the clear amount of effort and quality that went into the developing of these recipes, ingredients used, etc, all of these drinks should clearly be at least a couple bucks more; and if they were in a café they would be. It’s likely only because they started in a trailer, an overall better (but still expensive as heck) startup vs most brick-and-mortar businesses, that they can list these at awesome competitive prices for top-quality coffee.

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Speed: 9

There are quite a few options, simple and fun, that are basically ready-to-go, a couple that may only take a minute, but make no doubt about it, for the rest you WILL have to wait (again, beans are ground and dripped to order)… I mean, like 3 minutes or so. Which for any boutique coffee place a-la Spyhouse is typical for the specialty drinks, and still faster than ordering food at most trucks. Plus one can spend the time easily chatting up at the window, so that time can fly.

The TOE: 10

                You know, with everything that I’ve written so far, and my obvious zeal towards wanting to talk these guys up, I don’t think there’s any additional explanation I need for this score I’ve chosen today. And as you can see, I got in as many pictures today as I could! (the following section sort of replaces this too anyways)
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Service: +2.5

                Simply with the act of taking a picture of the truck from behind, which they spotted through their secret tiny window (Damn them!), did an immediate conversation start up from nothing, leading to an unexpected amazing hour-long start to my day. I cannot stress too much how willing these guys are to get into their product, their process, the street food scene, or just any sort of chatty, friendly conversation. I myself rarely seek out anything like this when I do my visits, but they just ended up pulling me in, and apparently I’m not the only one; heck, near the end there was a female customer who ended up getting a picture taken holding their copper water pot. From this one can only imagine what their daily customer service is like in making a great experience to go along with their product. Either way, of all my truck visits, the optional ‘service’ section has stood out the most here, so I only think it fair the score matches, whether it’s truly differential to other truck businesses or not.

Tally: 51/50

Final Thoughts

Do you like coffee, or want to learn about it, or are just sort of curious about why some people actually drink it? Perhaps maybe you like Horchata (anything with this, by the way, awesome) or Tea? Do you live, work, or otherwise ever get down to the Minneapolis area? If any of these apply, then go to Misfit, at least once; see for yourself what they’re like, get a chance to talk to Mitch, Marcus, and/or Alex if possible. For the in-depth coffee hipsters and aficionados, you can experience some of your favorite coffee styles, an even a couple I’m sure are new even to you, in heavenly form and at a damn reasonable price. For those just starting out, you can spend only a few bucks to try something new, different, and I promise delicious.

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As for suggestions… it’s all good. Whatever kind of drink you’re craving, they’ll have something to fit it. From the super-rich, devilishly dessert-like creations of Con Panna, Hot Chocolate, or anything with their Caramel and Chocolate additions. Or if you’re looking from a finely crafted espresso+steamed milk/other dairy creation, the kind with the pretty designs on top, like Cortado, Macciato, or the oh-so-classic Cappuccino. Then again, simple Pour-Overs, of various kinds, can hit the notes of anyone looking for simple purity. If there WAS one thing that is a must-have, especially considering the idea that it might be a hot day, it’s the Nitro Cold Brew.

And the best part? Whether you need to grab-and-go fast or can sit down and relax for a while, absolutely any needs can be found and expressed here to acclaim. I obviously had the time of my life here, and I don’t even drink coffee. Go on and be a misfit along with these guys, chances are the rush will be from more than just caffeine.

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

Funfare Global Street Eats

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https://twitter.com/funfaregse

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

Main Location: St Paul, Etc

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

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

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

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

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

Food: 9

                Suddenly I find myself loading up with FOUR of their menu items, two bigger and two snack-ish. So I’m gonna see if I can actually go through each briefly for once…
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First off, best Hush Puppies that I myself have ever experienced. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, like your favorite corn dog, but not dry in the slightest on the inside, still ‘moist,’ in sort of a touch spongey/doughey sense, hard to quite express. I was very happy to find a version of these fried cornmeal balls I enjoyed, with that notably soft onion-chive-y addition of flavor; a shame there’s NO sauce to dunk them in, some pepper aioli on the side would have catapulted these to perfection.

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

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

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

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

 

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

Holdability: 8.5

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

Price: 7.5

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

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

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The TOE: 8.5

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

Tally: 41.5/50

Final Thoughts

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

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

MoonDog

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https://www.facebook.com/MoondogFancyMeats

Main Location: St Paul, Farmers Markets, Lift Bridge/Alternative Breweries

Either I completely forgot about this guy, or I hadn’t heard about him at all until I saw info on a Food Truck Rally for the U of M’s ‘Bee Research Facility’ (or whatever it was) opening party this past Monday! I wanna say I forgot, simply to give myself at least SOME credit that I had paid attention to his existence for at least one point in time… anything to make myself look better…

Either way, I got to stop over and officially visit Moondog for a long-awaited visit, as the guy normally trucks his shiny metal specialty Hot Dog Cart out to the more out-of-the-way Breweries like Lift Bridge and Hammer Heart, amongst many other locations not normally so close to my Twin Cities stomping grounds. I feel I should also say that I was heavily debating just doing a Quasi-Review for this, small dog cart where most of the stuff speaks for itself; but if Natedog gets a full review than so does this guy! I show no favoritism, except when I’m biased! (Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right…)

And this little silver box on wheels has some interesting facts unto itself. Firstly the fact that 10% of all sales goes to the 2nd Harvest Heartland charity.

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Though they aren’t handmade by the food slinger himself, all Hot Dogs and Brats ARE produced locally by Big Steer Meats in St Paul. They use All-Natural, Grass-Fed, Hormone + Antibiotic Free meats, all of which are Smoked for cooking/curing purposes; the tastiest form of preservation (don’t tell Gravlax I said that, she’s still bitchy I haven’t called her in forever). The specific wurst selection is sometimes changing, for instance I overheard him mentioning having a Jalapeno-Pepperjack brat on that day, they usually keep a staple selection of: Hot Dog, Pork Bratwurst, Beef Bratwurst, and Bison (+ a bit of pork) Bratwurst. These are then topped with choice of classic fixings; you know, onion, hot peppers, relish, kraut, ketchup, regular+brown mustard, with an option of sriachi for the hipsters (and yes I debated it… while wearing a fedora… you shush), none of which I’m sure is made by himself besides the diced onions, but what hot dog vendor does one expect them to be?

AND of course there’s the typical options of bags-o-chips and cans-o-soda for sides + refreshment, all standard, though at least the chips are semi-interesting and not just Ruffles or Lays. I think I’ve run out of things to say now, I feel I had SOME thoughts on the philosophical side of mixed spiced meat, the nirvana of casing and excitement for local food carts… but who wants to read about that?

Food: 9

                Best parts of a Dog and Wurst are a good snap, which they have, and a tasty interior, which they also have. The hot dogs used aren’t of the same purely-pink, emulsified mold as we’re most familiar with; not that there’s anything wrong with that when it’s done well. Instead it’s blended with other spices and goodies, reminiscent of a seasoned Italian pork sausage, giving a more personality-focused wiener to which to enjoy our toppings; of which I chose the giardanera-like hot peppers.
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Sauerkraut and brown mustard topped my Bison Bratwurst, since I’m always a fan of the Germanic classics. Again the flavors were good, the wurst didn’t quite wow me as MUCH as I wanted to, was hoping for that deeper, denser Bison/Beefy flavor; there felt a ‘thinness’ to the flavor, almost like a good drink that’s had one extra ice cube added, and I myself would have heavily enjoyed some added seasoning in which case to bolster.

Holdability: 10

               What can I say? There’s a REASON hot dogs are classic street food.

Price: 8.5

                This is why I partially wish I started this blog at the same time as the trucks came out; go back to an old post to compare menu prices for scoring, and it was of course in the time where I wasn’t taking damn pictures cuz I had nothing to take them for! Thank god for Google Images right?

With dogs at $4, Brats at $5, ‘Meals’ (+chips and a soda) $1 extra, and ‘2 Dog/Brat Meals’ basically just double the price of a single wiener in each category, the costs are a buck or two higher than competition and local sausage god Natedogs, a guy who makes his own amazing condiments mind you. The meal deals are better priced, in fact cheaper, but then again they don’t have the specialty sodas. Apologies for doing this via comparison, btw, but in this situation it’s a very effective and direct measure. Oh, and obviously prices are still rather awesome for street food as-it-is; especially when one of the items can be made from Bison.

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Speed: 10

Technically it takes like half a minute if getting toppings and/or multiple dogs, something I would normally bop down to like a 9.5, but that IS up to us; one can have instantaneous if needed.

The TOE: 8

                Normal hot dog stands have a hard time excelling in a section like this I’d imagine, there’s too much of that ‘mass production/see-it-everywhere’ feel. Having your own and outfitting it with a unique name and your select sausages from a local place, however? That does pretty damn well, especially when you clearly communicate through signage and personality how special and awesome these products are, which Moondog does. In my opinion I think it’d be nice if the cart itself got some extra decoration/paintjob, and if one went the extra step to get some unique and special, ideally homemade, toppings in addition to the dogs themselves. Little things like that round it down from something purely distinctive and experienced down a few pegs, but it still stands out strong as an independent cart, there’s no way I’d mistake any memory for that of the often-boring ‘vienna wiener’ carts.

Tally: 45.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Wanting something portable? Want it at a good price? Want a classic piece of Americana street food? Want it to satisfy your soul a little? Want to not have to wait for it? Well it sounds like you want a hot dog or bratwurst. And if you’re at a brewery or event that Moondog happens to be at, a visit there will fit any of these qualifications; not that anyone has needed an excuse to buy a hot dog, from what I’ve seen. Do I need to even promote something like this?

I’d say the main interest for me would come in seeing what different Bratwurst selection he’s got for the day, getting something interesting and special in that category, or just enjoying the classic but unique Hot Dog. But at the end of the day, everyone has solidly developed their own preferences on what kind of sausage and toppings they get at carts like these, so I’ll leave the final decision to you, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Panini Pinups

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https://www.facebook.com/paninipinupsmn?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/paninipinups
Main Location: St Paul, Etc

Generally speaking, it feels like most trucks, when they don’t have a specific food theme or culinary style to them, automatically turn to one of two menu focuses, if not both: Tacos and Sandwiches/Burgers. Sometimes this is done well, simply using it as a package for their unique and delicious flavors, while others I swear just feel like an answer to a question. “Okay we’re doing a food truck, what should we put on it?” “Uhh, sandwiches.” “What kind?” “Let’s just do good ones and it’ll be fine; we’ll get a burger on and people will buy that too.” Which sadly sort of works, but I’ve always felt a lack of that distinctive personality note to them, like what’s found on Filius or O’Cheeze.

So turning all your sandwiches into something simple like, say, Paninis definitely comes through as a plus in my book. Which, obviously, is what Panini Pinup has come to do. After having to work under other chefs for years on end, the owner of this new truck decided to set out and be his own boss for once to succeed, offering up a few classic sandwich options from their steel grey contraption, all pressed tight between two hot grates.

Besides offering up their versions of a Chicken Club and Cuban, one can also find a fully vegetarian Mediterranean featuring hummus, feta, and olives. Then there’s the Spam, classically bedecked in American cheese and bedecked with pineapple or tomato as one prefers. Or, for the simpler tastes seeking just something crispy and gooey, a Grilled Cheese.

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They do also sell a couple interesting drinks of note, often as great compliments when they stop at sports and high school events. There’s cold-brewed High Brew Coffee in cans, interesting and tasty-looking, and apparently a locally-made Sports Drink called ASPIRE. I was almost tempted to try one if I didn’t have so many other street edibles that needed buying that day!

Food: 7.5

                The best part of a Panini is the crust, and these definitely have that; thickly developed, compressed, crunchy, with those great sorta-butter toasted flavors we look for; for some reason I had expected a flat pressed griddle for it, but the grooved grill-style really makes these sandwich breads into something nice and happy.

My own ramblings brought me first to the Spam, Hawaiian style with Pineapple, and the Cuban. The former of which seemed to take advantage of that refrigerator grilled meat+cheese sandwich flavors I so enjoy at lunch. The pineapple itself, despite the thick pieces of it, didn’t seem to ruin things as it’s likely to do, the flavor was certainly fine. That said it didn’t excite me either, was just ‘pineapple and spam,’ overall the flavors didn’t have any distinctive notes that really make me crave a re-order. It could have, there’s supposedly a Sriacha-Mayonnaise on there, but one can barely taste it; they need more of that flavor here to distinctly contrast with the pineapple and boost the generic canned meat and cheese flavors. Still enjoyed the flavors, but it could distinctly be better.

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The Cuban was given a similar choice in a garnish; regular mustard or jalapeno, both of which came from a certain yellow bottle. Of course I went jalapeno, you need SOME of that in a proper Cuban. Overall the flavors were good, in fact probably a touch better since you got more of the contrast from the tangy-sweet-spicy mustard, briny pickles, and that uniquely swiss cheese; but as Cubans go it didn’t stand out TOO strong. And part of this is from a particularly interesting choice they seemed to make. So, besides some Ham slices, the only other meat they put in there was… Chicken. White meat chicken, chopped up… where the hell is the pulled pork? There’s a REASON Cubans use some sort of slow-roasted pork along with some OTHER pork product, and that’s because it’s delicious and one can still taste it alongside those other strong flavors. Instead they chose a rather flavorless chicken… which I’m not even sure if they cooked themselves; they might have, but who knows.

Because besides that chicken, IF it didn’t come pre-cooked, it feels the only things they would have actually prepared are a couple of the sauces, cooking bacon for the Club, and then just cutting things up. There seems to be very little self-produced, transformed items being used on this truck; which is a great strategy when trying to reduce the time and cost of prep and production, but at the same time it results in the reason for why neither of these sandwiches had SUCH a strong impression on me and my taste buds as I’ve found at plenty other trucks in the cities.

Oh, and the Cuban didn’t get heated ALL the way through too; when touched, parts of the chicken were still cool. Something to note, though I think it’s only a POTENTIAL consequence for the Cuban and Club sandwiches; the others aren’t as thickly stuffed.

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Holdability: 6

               I was rather disappointed here; though, I should start out and premise by saying that we find something that’s not really messy, and IS easy to eat; two hands are required, it being served in basket and all, but can initially walk around with. That said, the real strength of paninis as street food is that firm, crunchy seal that holds everything together in one tight package, a monumental barrier that coils around its captives like iron chains. And where the bread is prepared and cooked in a way that makes this possible… they built the sandwich wrong, lubing up the chains and making them slip.

To put simply, on both of these sandwiches, the very top layer underneath the bread ended up as thick slices of something wet; pineapple for the Spam, Pickles for the Cuban. This ended up having the top piece of bread move around more, leading to some fillings falling out or other interesting instances. And that’s annoying, because it shouldn’t be happening at all, and shouldn’t have even been an issue. All they’d need to do is put a piece of cheese, a lot of mayo, or some other adhering layer between these and the bread, or just have them sliced much thinner so they end up actually melding and not disturbing the sandwich mechanics; a very important thing you know.

And I do want to get this off my chest, part of me does rather wish they did something like those longer hoagie/sub/Cuban rolls for the bread instead of the wide flat sandwich bread. Part of me just envisions that more for paninis, I feel it’d probably help keep things locked down better, and they can be just wrapped in paper and eaten with one hand; though these could too if they weren’t cut in half. But that’s a personal preference, there’s little wrong with their choice of style, just execution.

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Price: 7.5

                8 dollars across the board except for a plain Grilled Cheese, which comes in at 6. Simple basic prices for this kind of menu.

Speed: 6.5

The wait may perhaps be about average like the other trucks, but I feel it’s taking longer than it should as they not-so-quickly assemble each sandwich to order, dab both sides with melted butter, and have to wait minutes to then be pressed and grilled. This sort of item can and should be pre-, or mostly pre-, assembled so it can be quick-finished and popped in that hot, heavy plate and done like a couple minutes after the order is heard or seen.

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The TOE: 7.5

                Overall the design, theme idea, and menu look/feeling is a rather good start, they’ve capitalized on a truck that can hit distinctly in our minds, they just need to work on it more. The truck is still a bit bare I think, the menu either needs more or just BETTER and creative/interesting options that are clearly filled with things they made themselves, and maybe serve the paninis partially with a foil/paper cozy instead of in a basket so they can be taken and gone in an interesting fashion. Just put all alone in a basket is just… boring.

Tally: 35/50

Final Thoughts

You know, currently, I think the best approach option to this truck is to simply get a Grilled Cheese; it’ll be made quicker, capitalizes on all the positive aspects with little risk of encountering the not-so-great things, and of course comes a bit cheaper. The Spam makes for a nice Grilled Cheese + fun meat option, I’d probably try getting it with the tomato in hopes the top slice won’t slide around so much; plus it tastes better with the American cheese I’m sure. And finally, I say this last as I haven’t tried it yet and can’t put any positive opinion both good or bad, I would assume the best actual ‘panini experience’ would come with the Chicken Club. Their particular chicken doesn’t thrill me, but it has bacon and should hopefully be able to squish down so it’s ALL heated with no cool spots; though since it’s a club it shouldn’t be much of a mind here. Though I am curious to try the Mediterranean myself, maybe if it was a buck cheaper and used something else besides JUST Feta; poor sandwich, it doesn’t have anything that will properly melt, like Mozzarella, which CAN be considered just as Mediterranean.

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Parkway Pizza Trolley (Quasi-Review)

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http://parkwaypizzamn.com/

Well, this should be a quick one, so figured let’s just do a quasi-review for it.

It seems Parkway Pizza has stretched out from its home base in St Anthony and Longfellow, joining the catering and street vending scene with a trailer that can be transferred to events, fairs, and catering parties. Lucky me, I got to see it 3 days after it received its official paint job, so it got all bright and snazzy; they’d already hit quite a few gigs beforehand to apparent success.

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The setup is a bit surprising at first, but understandable considering their very ‘to-go’ pizza style, as the trailer itself doesn’t have any cooking equipment inside. Counter, hand sink and other sanitary requirements, and needed storage space and equipment was about all I could pick out. As such, the pizza seems to be just transported from the restaurant in the classic carry out boxes, sliced and held waiting, warm. Orders are by the slice, which I myself hold as a rather appreciative option for when you don’t want to shell out a higher amount to get a whole pizza, even if small-ish.

As such, selection depends on whatever is there and what pizzas haven’t been fully bought out; I myself found it odd that, though it was only a bit over halfway through the day, they almost ran out by the time I visited, and the event itself wasn’t that busy. So either they refill with restaurant deliveries on longer days, or just not fully prepared yet. So all I had was a cheese, but anyone who’s had Parkway knows what it tastes like; and those who hadn’t, just imagine the typical home-delivery pizza style. It’s like that.

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Food: 5 – It’s fine. Again nothing much to say besides basic pizza style, especially after it was made some time beforehand and loses that really fresh heat and softness.

Holdability: 8.5 – Just ask a New Yorker why pizza-by-the-slice is a good grab-and-go. Or check out that skyway pizza place.

Price: 9 – Only $4 a slice, and apparently mine was unevenly cut small so they gave me an unasked dollar off, very appreciative! Wish the quality was better to really make it feel special.

Speed: 10 – Everything’s already sliced and ready to go, the main benefit here next to price.

Toe: 3 – At the end of the day it just feels like what it is, a trailer connected to an original pizza restaurant where you can grab a simple slice if you’re in the mood for it. Nothing that really drags me in much from the street if I didn’t have to do a review on them. Maybe if they had a pizza oven there to cook completely or from half-baked stage, or something nice to really keep them warm and hot at least.

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The Bison Butler

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https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/thebisonbutler
Main Location: St Paul

Those who’ve read a few of my reviews are probably used to me starting off now and then with an exasperated, apologetic, and overall depressed statement on my inability to get to certain trucks as fast as I would enjoy. Often the issue is pure circumstance; knowing they’re out, but never having that perfect day or chance to visit. Other instances I run across a truck that I simply haven’t heard of, or only saw twitter of it one or two months after opening. But the worst feeling has been revisited this recent week, ambling out to find a truck that not only do I have little to no recollection of, but that’s apparently been in business for multiple seasons. Perhaps the name and paint looked familiar, that I may have seen once before, but truly was this vehicle alien to me, and thus I had to amble up and find out more about it.

This big yellow truck with the buffalo and grass painted on either side is The Bison Butler, a business that finds two particular impressive points to it. Firstly, and most expected, is their exclusive use of Fresh, Local, and Hormone-free product, including their Produce, Pork, and especially the Bison meat. Secondly, the goateed gentleman behind the operation painted the truck himself! Doesn’t his bison and signage look awesome? I’ve always found it sketchy doing non-professional wraps and paintings on trucks, you can always tell and it’s not always the best, but ya gotta love the simply well done, sort of native hulking figure standing there, waiting to be gazed on as you eat one of its brothers (Maybe this part would have fit my TOE section better? Oh well, come back and pretend this is the intro or finale to it later).

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When asked, they SAID they’ve been on the streets for 4 years, of course making myself feel really bad for not getting out to them sooner, I’m sorry!! Though as I write this I actually researched their timeline and found that opening happened in June of last year (perhaps he HIMSELF had 4 years experience on the streets, who knows), so I don’t need to feel SO bad now. Still need to get out to more of these guy, gosh darnit…

That aside, the truck itself really focuses on simple, classic Street Food bison and pork items. The American mammal comes in Burger, Steak Taco, and Sausage versions (I’m assuming the last is like a link sausage for bratwurst lovers, but don’t hold me on that; could be patty sandwich). Pork is often Pulled and placed in a Taco, Sandwich, or their Cuban Wrap alongside ham, pickles, pepperjack, and their creamy House Slaw. They also have a Bison Hot Dog and Rib Tips.

OH! And it’s not a local meat business without some Beef Sticks for sale on the side! In hindsight, I really should have bit the bullet and tried one, or at least asked if they make it themselves or get it elsewhere (I’m heavily guessing elsewhere). Maybe on my next trip to St Paul, they seem to be in Mears Park quite often nowadays; I’ll try and report if it’s particularly impressive!

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Food: 6.5

                Starting off with the Burger; which is offered in Mushroom+Swiss, Cajun, California (American Cheese, Lettuce+Tomato+Onion), Cheeseburger and Plain; I felt like trying the Cajun to see how they did it, as the others seemed easier to guess. Sadly, like all ‘cajun-spiced’ burgers I’ve had, you barely taste those spices, and the single thin slice of mass-produced pepperjack doesn’t actually help it; so note to all, IF going for a burger, some other option. The patty itself is of the thin and flat style and well-done; not my favorite, but considering it’s working with a very lean meat, it’s a smart choice. Any thicker and it would likely run the risk of drying out when fully cooked (and I guess there’s some reason you don’t do lean burgers medium rare? No clue what it is). Now, as a Bison Burger, this is done very well; it’s not dry or chewy, still tender, has that great little edge of gamey/earthy flavor we look for with alternative meats, and the bun is grilled. I can’t stress how much I appreciate the proper creation of this item. That said, as a burger overall, it doesn’t thrill me much; I actually read some other post on them, with a guy mentioning how juicy it is, and I’m sorry man, it’s not juicy. It’s tender, there’s a touch of moisture that leaves it enjoyable with no real complaints, but it’s not juicy. A burger should be an experience, a meal, a handful of thick meat and flavor that makes our eyes clothes and throat work happily as it’s shoved down our gullet as the juices drip down our chin or onto a plate; I still think the best ones are medium-rare or medium. And this okay-sized, thin-pattied slab of ground meat just doesn’t do that. If this was cut in half and made into sliders, it’d probably do much better; but on its own, it simply doesn’t hold up that well.

Well, moving on. I have similar opinions on the meat used in their Bison Steak Tacos, filled with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and blue cheese; feels like tenderloin, it bites easily, cooked well, a bit gamey, but it doesn’t come through in that fantastic way we hope for, sorta like those grilled asada steak tacos. Probably would be nice if it was cooked on an actual grill instead of a flat top to better get that an actual crust. What I do like about it is, for one, the inside of the taco has obviously been griddled for a bit of extra flavor, which is cool! The other fillings taste really good together, reminds me of flavors you’d expect in a basic steak restaurant, but it’s all so… dry. Not like chewy or bad dry, but they really need a sauce here, or just some pico de gallo; it’s lacking in necessary acidity, that extra element, and mouth-filling/flavor-carrying moisture, otherwise it’s just earthy, gamey, and a bit sweet from the onions.

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Just remembered, forgot to mention the fries, those aren’t all that enjoyable; in fact they’re quite weak, so one should feel no real necessity in getting them.

There is a bright spot though. I decided to bite the bullet and also grab a small, cheap Pork Taco, made from slow-cooked, local and hormone-free pigs, which first off is where I found the joy that is their Coleslaw. Purely creamy, great crunchy texture, I wouldn’t mind having this at a BBQ or at on any sandwich or burger (that’s what they should do, just top the burger and taco with THIS stuff, maybe some BBQ sauce or something else too). And that pig… oh god, this is why we need to do more proper farm-grown, local animals. It actually had flavor, was tender, moist, and it’s in two other menu items that I bet I’d enjoy VERY much. Just wish they did some more with it, everything is rather simple.

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So though executed rather well, the food I had wasn’t completely inspiring; though I hold much hope for the pork.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Since the food is rather non-juicy and devoid of much-adored sauce, it’s all actually quite compact and easy to lift and consume from its basket.

Price: 7.5

                  $8 for Bison Sausage, Rib Tips, and Cuban Wrap, $9 for the other two Bison options, and some good deals on the other pork items such as the Sandwich for $7, Hot Dog for $6, and $4 for a single taco (so a bit of nice range). They even have a combo deal of $10 Sammich/Burger with Fries and Water (which I completely forgot to grab xD darnit).
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Was thinking of scoring this a half point or so higher, but only a couple of these come with the fries (which again, not that great or numerous), and though I won’t argue the higher cost of Bison meat, the amount of meat isn’t quite that numerous, for any item I’m sure.

Speed: 8.5

I saw a Pork Taco, ordered alone, come out almost immediately, so one can assume all pork items to go out really fast, with the wrap and sammich maybe taking a touch longer (and of course enough time to deep fry that hot doggy), but the burger and steak taco needed about average amount of time, if not a bit more, to prepare. Variable, but good speed possibilities.

The TOE: 7

                  There’s the stuff I said earlier, and the fact that we get a place that deals with that classically Midwestern unique animal for meat, even if I do like the simple pig better. Sort of makes me think of the kind of place I might visit at a state/street fair; you know, during that period of life where you weren’t trying to down every completely new and weird creation out there and were drawn to those buildings displaying the fact they had Deer or Ostrich burgers. Though I do feel I’m missing that full-on feeling of place and experience looking back on it.

Tally: 38/50

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Final Thoughts

As much as I want to promote the fantastic focus on local, grass-fed Bison, I would actually implore anyone visiting to attack the other items with that slow cooked, deliciously organic and tender pork; they really do give a better lunch experience. The Cuban Wrap has that little bit of uniqueness and complete composition, while Pork Taco offers a quick, affordable grab-and-go option, both of which contain that really nice creamy-crunchy slaw. If absolutely craving that wild-roaming beast, go for the Snap Dog; hot dogs always have that perfect texture, it’s only $6, easy to grab and go, and they deep fry the bastard! What’s not to love? Though I would rather get it without the fries and have them pile on that coleslaw, maybe some nice stone ground mustard to make it perfect.

Oh, I guess I SHOULD add this in too, because I know there are those who are still planning on heading gung-ho to grab a burger, probably because they aren’t as picky (but seriously, I don’t get how people can know about inch+ thick, super juicy, medium rare and flavor-packed burgers and put something like this on the similar level of enjoyment? Again, it’s made very well for a bison burger, but if offered the choice between those two burgers then you know where I’m going), I would probably just go for a Cheeseburger, or California if you prefer the American cheese. I saw a picture of the Mushroom-Swiss once, and the fungus looked half raw. Something to consider.

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.