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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O’Cheeze

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http://www.ocheeze.com/home.html

https://www.facebook.com/o.cheeze.a.truck

Main Location: Minneapolis, St. Paul, etc

It is here! Finally, after a couple years with an uncomprehendible absence of a popular business idea that just makes sense, someone in Minnesota finally stepped forward to plant their feet and bring us that which we have sorely needed: a Grilled Cheese Sandwich Truck (I would have settled for a restaurant too, but mobile’s even better).

Those familiar with practically any post I’ve made are aware of my strong feelings and plight at the noted lack of this “theme” in our city’s culinary lineup, mobile or mortar. Well the wait and torture is over, for O’Cheeze has arrived to fill our stomach with happy, melty tidings. After marrying in 2013, the wedded owners quickly decided to take their very much shared love for the pressed dairy sandwich to business, moving to the streets to gift us all with the love of hot cheese between bread in the following year. And I thank them for it, god bless the both of you!

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The specific theme is Gourmet Grilled Cheese, and though the term “gourmet” can probably be debated on meaning, the fact that these are more than your average sandwich is definite! Options rotate very seasonally, with slices of crispy bread being stuffed with everything from avocados and bacon (an oft-seen item in the changing recipes) to mashed potatoes to macaroni and everything in between. From what I can tell, there do seem to be a few “constants,” in particular their main version of the classic, appropriately named the Not-so-Classic, filled with a sinful three-way of Irish Dubliner, Havarti, and Cheddar Cheese. A grilled Capresehas also found popularity, focusing on the melted Mozzarella with tomato, basil, and balsamic. But of course nothing stands out quite like the Macaroni and Cheese sandwich, served of course with an extra slice and cheese on top of the classic pasta. That one I want.

Of course they also have a few tomato-ey soup options, such as the Toma-Catoand Tortilla; I’m guessing at least one of them changes seasonally too.

Now we just need someone to open up a full-service restaurant and everything’d be money…

Food: 9

                Choices choices abound, it’s hard to pick just which sandwich to get to best encapsulate every single other, but at the end of the day I went with the presently seasonal Hooligan: the bastard offspring of a drunk Irishman and a Grilled Cheese (oh god why did I put that image into my own head…), they stuff this sandwich with a mound of Garlic Mashed Potatoes, an Irish Whiskey sauce, and a thick slice of Dubliner.

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And when I say a thick slice, I mean a THICK slice; look at that bad boy in the picture! Now that’s love right there, big and melted. The bread was cravingly crisply, just like it should be. Oh, and the potatoes… skin on, rough masher style potatoes, though still smooth, and full of delicious (but not sharp or pungent) garlic flavor, exactly how I like them. The sauce gave a noted tang and extra dimension within the mouth without being particular forward and demanding us to notice it. Put simply, this was a damn good sandwich, and if it’s any indication then I’d say the rest follow suit, though likely in their own ways (I doubt the Capreseis quite as “sinful”).

Misgivings for me are two-fold, the first being the odd inclusion of puffed rice “tortilla chips” on the side, which are a different and fun little side over fries and chips, and I think they’re supposed to be cheese flavored (though doesn’t taste like it), but it just feels a bit useless to me. The second oddity for me is a slight disconnect from the “ideal,” original style (or technique?) of a good grilled cheese. Hard to say what I mean, but there’s not really much Press to these, the bread and ingredient aren’t that pushed down into a tight, almost Panini-like bundle. And the cheese, so delicious and good, still has yet to reach that almost overflowing, gooey melted presence. Though I’m guessing the Not-so-Classicreaches this sort of state that I’m thinking of, with its inclusion of Cheddar and lack of bulky ingredients, it would be great if they got their other sandwiches to reach this pinnacle. Not that they aren’t already amazing, I’m just nitpicking them in terms of perfection.

You know what, why I didn’t get a bowl of soup while I was there I don’t know. It’s only classic to eat grilled cheese with Tomato soup, and getting a combo would not have cost that much extra. Being at a Rally, I guess the excitement of the event and back-thoughts telling me to conserve money for other things ruled out, and I missed an opportunity to give a full report. For that, I apologize, and I promise to grab a bowl of soup and completely update on its quality the next chance I see them. Though logic holds that the Toma-Cato(or whatever seasonal soup they have) is gonna be pretty darn good. They’d probably give some actual use to that side of rice-tortillas.

Holdability:8.5

                Probably one of the easiest things one can eat out of a basket as it is, grilled cheese being purely designed to have everything stick and stay in its place despite all the gooey meltiness. Though this can only go so far when being served in a basket, forced out of the throne of one-handed perfection it so deserved due to the oddly useless choice of those “chips” on the side.

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Price:9.5

                  $7for the Mac and simple all-cheese sandwiches, with $8for all containing different ingredients. Though the soups come in at $4 for a cup and $5a bowl (great deal for those wanting a big helping of liquid warmth), they offer a $2off deal for a combo. A great excuse to bring one back to their childhood of eating Grilled Cheese and Campbell’s.

Speed:8.5

               About an average wait, not too long; probably even better considering the number of people ahead of me. Soups are likely to be instantaneous, and though most sandwiches (I saw them place the mac n cheese in a sauté pan to warm, not sure if it’s done to order or if they warm batches in preparation for the the sandwich) are put together ahead of time, it still takes a couple minutes to properly griddle and crunchify the buttered bread.

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The TOE:10

                You know what, for once I don’t even feel like I need to explain myself here with how much I’ve cried for this truck to be born. Though why they have their own awesome scooter I don’t know… but I want one. OH, and I like their menu design (alright last thing).

Tally:45.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Ummm, go here? Now? About sums it up. It doesn’t fit the “snack stop” theme, but the sandwiches are great for any of those seeking the now-classic street food fare, whether it’s to experience the “new” and “sorta-hipster” versions of an old favorite or to simply be brought back to nostalgia. It’s an ideal walk-and-it, and the combo makes a great sit-down meal.

My main sandwich suggestions revolve around the Mac and Cheese(god that’s so good) and any Seasonal which contains a healthy dose of Bacon and/or Mashed Potatoes, the Hooliganand B.A.C.H.N. being prime examples of the recent weeks. Though the Not-so-Classicis always a solid choice when one’s simply aching for the basic, cheese-centric and crispy deliciousness.

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If getting soup, which is one of the better cost meal deals in the mobile line-up, I would advise choosing whichever option sticks closest to the simple, Tomato-centeredoption (I like a good Tortilla soup but it doesn’t necessary draw much appeal here).

Spring Food Truck Rally 2014, full of New!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Upcoming Events after the Rain

               Re-going over some event sites and articles on new trucks for better preparation in the coming season (really need to start planning truck trips, try and get to any new guys I’ve missed), I’ve come under quite the personal revelation.

               We have quite a few Food Truck gatherings in the coming months.

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http://www.mnfoodtruckassociation.org/event-details/spring-food-truck-festival/

                Even with the Association’s Spring Rallyaside (which again, is on May 10th, at Harriet Brewing, Noon to 7), which I am excited to go to and stop by the new O’Cheeze Truck, another set of annual events have popped themselves up later in June.

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https://www.facebook.com/nefoodtruckjam

                Up first (well, second after the Rally) is the NE Food Truck Jam, an event which seems to have started last year without my notice. Started up by the East Minneapolis Exchange Club, the little gathering started as another way to raise money for local charities. As such, of the three here, this is the only event that has an entrance fee/tickets, though they’re only $7with advanced (aka before June 20th) buying online, link on their Facebook page. They only had 5 trucks last year, though hopefully their 2014 event will amp things up a bit more; hard to say, though, as they’ve only advertised Gastro and Anchor on their page… and it seems like the “Jam” is being held at 612 Brewing. Would be odd if they didn’t get a decent showing at least, as they’ll be bringing in a wealth of local bands and beer (supposedly a lot, should be able to wet the whistle quite well).

http://www.mnfoodtruckfair.com/#about

                The Jam is set for Noon to 5pm on Sunday June 22nd,one week before the 3rd Annual (aka the third desperate attempt of the:) Minnesota Food Truck Fair, or the “Uptown Food Truck Fair” as listed in the Association’s Event page (hopefully this is a sign they’ve had some involvement with the event). With another summer coming up, the organizers of this yearly debacle try once again to create a gathering that runs smooth and doesn’t piss too many people off.

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                Which… just might happen this year, despite bringing in over 35Trucks (or maybe because of it, a lot more options for people to spread out to). Located at Lake/Hennepin and 31st/Holmes, the event this year is completely spread out around a whole, large block. All the trucks will be spread out in various parking lots and lined up on just one side of the street (apparently a big change from last year) to expand walking area and improve traffic conditions (again, also apparently a big change from last year). Various booths for beer, a music stage, and other things that I have no clue what it is (no info key on the website yet! Haha) set up throughout as well.

                The Fair is set to go from 11am-9pm, again on Sunday, June 29th. Seems this year has a theme too! “$5 Pair Share,” which basically means each truck is offering a unique, affordable $5 menu item that’s made to share with a friend. I’m thinking I might have to query a few of them and try at least one from one of the more familiar trucks, see how they’ll take the idea. Either way, I can’t wait actually head out there this year (shocking, right?), at the least get to some of the newer trucks I’m sure to have yet ventured out to.

                I hope to see as many of you out to these events as I can! Can’t say whether or not I’ll head to the Jam; at the very least I’ll try to stop by and take pictures from above the 612 lot to see what it’s like. Have fun until then, good luck and good eating!

 

SFC: Substituting for a Donut?

               It’s been a couple weeks since I started my Fruitcake, 14+ days of alcoholic spritzing, and as promised I am here to turn some of it into a Street Worthy Creation. Of which I’d been wracking my brains about a bit, since I don’t see any reason to do more Bread Puddings, not to mention all the sandwiches I normally do, I’ve become quite cautious of even more without good or unique reason.

                At the end of the day, I decided to take inspiration from a recent trip to Kentucky; or, to be more specific, one of those amazing Grilled Cheese Sandwich Restaurants there that we STILL have yet to open up in Minnesota. Anyways, besides an entire wall filled with different variations of the classic (including a whole section that included different potato chip additions), they also had a section of “Dessert” Grilled sandwiches made with Donut Buns (a-la crispy crème glazed style). Some had actual cheese inside, some used a flavored marscarpone, many incorporated fruit, but they all looked soooooo good. The one I had to try had both peanut butter and marshmallow marscarpone, blueberry jam, and bananas; and yes, it was awesomes, and also a bit messy, and very much something that I think should be seen on Eli’s truck soon (whenever they get back out…).

                So, an awesome Sweet Grilled Peanut Butter-Jelly Dessert Sandwich, coming right up.

                We start by taking a nice, not-too-thick, clean slice from our ageing Fruitcake. To best keep a clean cut, use a finely serrated blade, cutting somewhat quickly but carefully.

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                Thoroughly butter the smoothest sides of the cake slices you have and get them ready for assembly. My favorite little “technique” to laying them out is setting the buttered side of one on top of the buttered side of the other, so one doesn’t need worry about the cutting board/counter/plate getting all smeared with milk fat, not to mention you don’t have to clumsily attempt to assemble in the hot cooking pan, or invert and struggle to butter the other side while the sandwich is already pressed together, or whatever.

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                At this point we can start stacking, though since all the fillings today are pretty soft (semi-fluid?) I suggest depressing the center of the bread with a firm push of your spoon.

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                As for the actual fillings, I didn’t have any mascarpone, but I did have some Double Cream (like Devonshire cream) which I mixed with some Peanut Butter and Powdered Sugar. I was also thinking of using yogurt as a possible substitute.

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                Spoon the smooth substance into the middle and top with your favorite, or most available, Jam. I used some Marmalade we had in the fridge.

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                Finish “garnishing” with some actual Nuts for texture and a little bit of actual White Cheese, Monterey Jack in my case. Yes I know, savory cheese in such a sugar rich dish, perish the thought, but I’ve seen them put slices of Swiss on the ones out in Kentucky, and you mix a slightly tangy-salty thing with rich-sweet centers it’s not too bad; just avoid anything really strong and pungent. Heck, I didn’t even taste the cheese at all after cooking it, next time I’ll be adding even more.

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                Add a little spritz of our soaking alcohol and we can fry. Get a sauté pan heated up, medium to med-high should work well, moving the bottom of your sandwich in the center to start griddling. With the particular delicacy/unfirmness of the stuffings, it’s extra important to be VERY careful in your overturning of the sandwich.

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                Ohhh, this cake fries up SO well. Look at that dark, evenly thick butter-crust on it. This would be so good as is, but I think we have to finish with just a bit of powdered sugar.

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                Wrap it up to go and chow down. And mmmmm is this bastard good… moist and sorta gooey, rich and sweet insides, crunchy texture, all that good stuff. I’ll admit I was happily surprised that it actually turned out as delicious as I thought (few things rarely do), and the fruitcake was just so perfect in it. All its complexities came out while still acting as a solid container for everything else; and it still had a noted brandy-ness to it.

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                Overall I feel quite happy with my choice and outcome, though if I had the chance next time I think I’d love to play around with using Goat Cheese for my mascarpone substitute. Of course, using Donuts instead of Fruitcake would be fun to try too at one point.

                But whether you end up using your Fruitcake for fun little side preps or just consume it all as-is during the holidays in question, we’re all sure to be treated to something delicious. Good Luck with the upcoming preps and your Cake ageing, and Good Eating.

Pleading for Lunch

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               Had me a Grilled Ham and Cheese sandwich made with Beer Bread for lunch today! Exactly the kind of thing one could see on a Grilled Cheese Food Truck if we ever got one, like This Guy!

                And yes, this IS a part of my never-ending sub-or-up-front-liminal tirade to try and convince SOMEONE to do a Grilled Cheese thingy in Minnesota! For the love of god people PLEASE! They’re so good… so good…

Jellybean & Julia’s

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http://www.jellybeanandjulias.com/  

https://twitter.com/jellybeanjulias  

Main Location: Etc

            With an Anoka-based Deli found in the basement of a building on Main, Jellybean & Julia’s rolled onto the Streets late last year. Though most of us central Food Truck goers may be unaware of this considering how much off the beaten track they usually are. With their main Truck-sites revolving around wide-distance Wineries, and other stops with similarly-far locations, visiting the mobile operation requires a lot of either luck or dedication. I myself only found the chance to try them during an “Anoka Sidewalk Show” (which I am… relatively close to, at least compared to Goose Lake) where they parked out front of their Deli.

            A big black truck with bright pink and electric-blue logos reminiscent of certain artificially-colored candies, the imagery of the van much belies their actual menu. Kept simple for the often un-truck-seeing wineries (I’m guessing), the stark white marker board offers a couple un-complex Burgers (Cheese and Loaded), a Pulled Pork, and two Bacon-centric items (one being a Wrapped Hot Dog, the other a Grilled Cheese). All of which one can get with a side of Fries. From what I garnered from the Chef/Server, this is basically THE set menu, with little to no other changes or additions.

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            Oh, and not to be dissuaded from a lack of detail, they DO sell the Mexican Bottled Coke! I myself didn’t know that with the menu only saying “coke,” so I figured I’d at least help spread the awareness.

Food: 6

            With a limit of only one item for me that day (had a party later, I so didn’t need to eat multiple things beforehand), I limited myself to the Loaded Burger and a side of Fries. About a 1/3lb patty I believe, this little fella is topped with Cheese, Bacon (both a given), Grilled Onions and a Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise.

            Bun is toasted very nicely, and both the burger and toppings offer a moist juiciness to the palette. It ultimately is a good and enjoyable burger, however this comes in a very simple, average fashion; it’s the kind of burger one expects to find in a pub or bar. It’s definitely a good burger, with little real flaws, but again there is nothing in it that makes me really wish to rave and express the quality. Sort of like a Patty Melt… it’s all juicy and tasty and good, but really that doesn’t have too much to do with the actual burger quality.

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             Fries are highly unimpressive; though hand cut, or BECAUSE of it, they’re all soft and highly salted. I can’t tell if they’re fried only once or just not done all that well twice. They are sorta nice dipped into the Bourbon-Apple-BBQ sauce they have in the giant pump outside (though they really need the tart, sweet ketchup); would probably do well on the burger too.

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Holdability: 9

           Gotten without Fries, items seem to be easy enough to handle, sandwiches and dogs wrapped in foil to consume with one hand or two if needed.

Price: 8.5

            $6-8 for the bigger items, and a $4 Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog, the prices here are overall pretty fair and decent for the products; at least no obvious overcharging.

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Speed: 7.5

             Average speed.

The TOE: 3

              Amazingly Underwhelming… that’s just about the only two words I can think of to sum this up. I am so… disappointed in what I finally found, after months of trying to get to them. It’s not even that the menu is so boring, it’s how it compares to their actual Deli. You go to their site, you see all the things they offer from their original brick-n-mortar business; they have Paninis, and Wraps, Cupcakes, and other really delicious, tasty things, like something called the “Heart Attack.” All of these items, so perfect for a Food Truck, so EASY for them to be able to produce in that small area; they’re already doing the prep somewhere else. And how fun and awesome would it to be to finally have a truck that specializes in both sandwiches AND cupcakes?

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             But no… they serve a couple burgers and a grilled cheese, things that aren’t even on their original menu. It baffles me to think of how this decision came to be. Though however it did, this is nonetheless the final result, an odd contrast to the amusing and fun name and Truck design.

             I will say this; I can see it’s a good thing they stick to the outskirt events as opposed to the main downtown Truck venues. I don’t see how they’d survive otherwise.

                         Tally: 34/50

Final Thoughts

            IF one ever finds themselves going here, say if you’re at a winery and hungry, then I would probably say go for the Loaded Burger or Bacon Grilled Cheese. They griddle the bread and things nicely. Other than that, just go to their Deli; it’s a lot more fun and has better items… though it’s only open from 10-2.

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SFC: My Italian Sandwich

              The Grilled Cheese has seemed to become one of the most ubiquitous and popular items on Food Truck menus. Home Street Home, Fork in the Road, and R.A. Mac Sammy’s all seem to have their own special version lauded by the many customers. It’s certainly no wonder, though; it’s crispy, buttery, nostalgic, a gooey-melty pile, yet despite all that cheese it is somehow the easiest sandwich to eat with your hands ever. I’ve been waiting to try my own special version lately, and got my chance this afternoon.

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            We just recently bought this loaf of “Honey-Sunflower Seed Italian Bread,” of which we still had half leftover from the Spaghetti Dinner last night. Soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to make some really good sammich from it (I know that’s not grammatically correct, and I don’t care, I want sammich). The question is, what to fill it with?

            The answer: Fried Spaghetti.

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            For those of you who don’t know what Fried Spaghetti is, time to celebrate; this is by far the best way I’ve found to use any leftover spaghetti noodles and sauce. Extremely simple too: take some butter, melt it in a warmed-up sauté pan, and then just toss in the leftover spaghetti (mine had pieces of sausage and veggies in too, so it was even better). Toss around, and just cook until it’s warm again and all that extra buttery goodness makes your spaghetti shine. The end product is just soooo good and bad for you, you can really taste the butter in the now-oily/concentrated tomato sauce. Seriously have to give it a try next time you have spaghetti.

            Well, back to my lunch; we take the sliced bread, butter the sides like we usually do. For cheese I used Swiss, since I didn’t have Mozzarella (until of course someone got back from the store an hour later with a whole log of it… of course), but I actually found that unique tanginess went pretty well with the buttery-cooked tomato pasta.

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            Top with the recently-fried spaghetti, a sprinkle of parm and another cheese slice on top, then move back to your just-used spaghetti pan to griddle. No need to waste all of that spaghetti-enriched butter still coating the bottom.

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            I always find it amusing how, whenever you start these sort of sandwiches they’re all tall and wobbly, yet somehow by the end they get pressed flat and succinct (with the help of your handy-dandy spatula of course). At the end, it cut nicely, and ate even better; all that good grilled swiss flavor on a slightly different wheaty bread, with that extra addition of sausages and Italian stuffing. Gotta admit, it was quite the Grilled Cheese, I hope you have the chance to try it yourself sometime.

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            Until then, I’ll have to figure something else out to do with lefotvers.

 

What’s your favorite Grilled Cheese Fillings? Do you have any restaurant/truck that you just like the best for it?

Top 10 Trucks, 2012!

Three seasons done, over 50 different Trucks on the streets, our Food Truck Culture has increased quickly and dramatically to all of our benefit. The Foodie nation within the cities has taken a firm hold of this new practice and started paving an even wider road towards the future.

            For now though, I’d like to celebrate the many Entrepreneurs, both original and new, who have helped boost this movement and fan base in the forward direction it’s been taking. This is the Top Ten List of Minnesota Food Trucks, 2012!*

10th Place: a big surprise for my first list, we have a THREE WAY TIE!!

            At 45 points each, Home Street Home, Rusty Taco, and Cupcake on the Go

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With each of these trucks offering a variety of their choice Menu Items (whether it be Sandwiches, Tacos, or Cupcakes) in a timely manner, they have already cemented themselves into the role of the quality, fundamental “Food Truck.”

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With a special note, offering their product at instantaneous speed and proving their focus to everyday desires, Cupcake on the Go has edged ahead of A Cupcake Social as the best Dessert-only Truck this year!

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9th Place: SCRATCH with 45.5

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            The best toasted sandwich bread in the State encapsulates their rich, often spicy flavors and sharp textures. Home of one of the few, and my second favorite, Toe Rings in the business, the Ginger Rice Crispies. Scratch skyrocketed themselves to a special place in my, and many other people’s, heart the moment I first visited.

6th Place: ANOTHER three way tie! At 46.5:

            Chef Shack, MidNord Empanada, and Tot Boss

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            A perfect example of what one can get with COMPLETELY different establishments. An organic, locally-focused Truck based off of well-made traditional Street Food; a Chef deep-frying Ecuadorian Dough-pockets filled with all variety of stuffings; and a place that only sells baskets of Tator Tots dressed however one wants. THIS is pure proof of what exactly a Food Truck scene can be, and that one doesn’t need to conform to a specific mold, just as long as they do it well.

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5th Place: Eli’s Donut Burger with 47.5

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            Rarely seen but often remembered, Eli’s offers the most guilty of pleasures one can find in any Establishment, Truck or Not. Preparing it all day, the burgers fly quickly at a low price, filling your stomach with the artery-clogging deliciousness of sweet, salty, cheesy, meaty goodness. It’s not the expected everyday combination, but it works more wonders than you can shake a bacon strip at… though that’s mostly because it ends up eaten before getting so far.

3rd Place: 48-point Tie between AZ Canteen and Vellee Deli

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            This just seems right. The two Trucks that I believe really encompass everything the TOE stands for, each offering handheld Street Food with a heaping helping of Soul. Andrew Zimmern did right in his menu and specialty items, creating that unique blend of both local and world street food cuisines. Though used often, the Asian-Mexican Fusion of Vellee offers items that one just can’t help going back for… even if they don’t have the budget for it.

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2nd Place: NateDogs at 49

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            Locally sourced with handmade condiments, Nate gives us the pinnacle of what a simple Hot Dog Cart can be. Hitting every single point of the rating system, it is no wonder that he has launched himself all the way to #2 in this countdown. I cannot wait to go back.

     And finally, the tippy-top pinnacle of the Trucks to appear so far!

(Highly-Annoying, Exaggerated, and Drawn-Out Drumroll)

POTTER’S PASTIES at First Place! With a score of 50.5!

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            The ONLY Truck so far to reach and go past the Maximum 50 points, Potter’s has it all. Good Prices, Instantaneous Speed, Easy-Holding and Eating, Fantastic Service, and Good Comfort Food that holds itself in its unique niche. It’s no wonder they built two trucks for twin city offerings. This is and always has been a Must Go for anybody who loves food (and that’s not a small group now is it?).

            This has proven to be a great starting season for our new Culture. I can confidently say that I am very happy and proud at what our Trucks have been able to achieve and come up with, and I cannot wait to see how this Top Ten Looks come the end of Summer.

            Until then, I shall dutifully enjoy my food as always.

*Note: all lists, both now and future, are purely based off the cumulative score garnered in my Ratings System. It is not based off of only one aspect at a time, though if there is interest in that I can always form a Top Ten based purely from “Best Food,” “Speed,” or others.

Fork in the Road

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forkintheroadtruck.com/ 

https://twitter.com/forkNroadtruck

Main Location: St. Paul

            “The Big Orange,” Fork in the Road has settled itself into a St. Paul truck staple, being one of the first Trucks to receive news attention after their release. Focusing on familiar foods with their own house-made additions and twists, Fork offers a variety of different options that switch daily. The bulk of their menu containing sandwiches of one type or another; such as grilled, subs, sliders, hoagie, taco, etc. They also serve soups and salads, both pasta and leaf styles.

            With no real singled-out area of protein, a trip to Fork can yield any type of meat-laden option surrounded by bread (or tortilla). Guinness-braised Bratwurst, pulled chicken and pork, meatball and salmon sliders, cured sliced meats in a sub… one can find practically everything you would expect to on the street.

            So many options, it is difficult to determine which ones really shine above the others. From many reports, though, the sandwich to get is the Grilled Cheese with BBQ Pulled Pork and Caramelized Onions. They also sell a Buffalo Chicken Sanwich, BLT with Avocado-Mayo, and Guinness Chili.

            Not to mention they do love using Texas Toast for some of the sandwiches (and no, not the thick, frozen kind we find in the supermarket… I think).

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Food: 7.5

                The Pulled-Pork Grilled Cheese really IS good and yummy, with that perfect grill and the whole nostalgia+ thing going on; and it’s hard to not like something with caramelized onions. From the continued business and sound of the menu items, I doubt there are very few things that simply aren’t well made and add up to a good lunch.

                I very much appreciate what it is they do, but I find overall the food tends to lack a bit of… “soul,” of “focus,” that a lot of  other Food Trucks have in spades. I would go on, but I think it’s best to read the TOE section for a full explanation and understanding of where I’m coming from.

Holdability: 7.5

                Sandwiches are served cut, in a basket, surrounded by potato chips. Luckily they’re usually easy to pick up, at least the grilled ones are. I am not too aware of the hoagies and salmon sliders, those may be more iffy.

                I cannot imagine that the salads are ones which you would be walking down the street to enjoy; those seem more “find a nice bench or go back to the office” items. Soups are a little easier, supposing one only gets them and nothing else. With their hardiness though, I don’t see that as an issue.

Price: 9.5

                Very good prices, $6/$7 for full items (you can get salads in half orders, which cost $4), and I would say it easily makes a great deal for the food options being served.

Speed: 8

               Pasta salads and soups made ahead of time, grilled sandwiches come fast, and others come at the expected pace, leading to a good speed.

The TOE: 6

              Fork in the Road has a big tendency to stand out from a crowd; the color really brings out that positive quality for them. Also, I think this is another case where the name used actually ADDS a little bit to that dining experience.

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             As to the food, after a bit of thinking, I actually sort of like the idea of the pasta salads; it’s nice to see a place that does them well. Salads in general for Food Trucks always puzzle me, but these are a good addition, and there are always people that want a salad with lunch. Soups are never a problem, and I love the fact that they use Guinness instead of a regular Ale; brings that rich, dark chocolate and coffee flavors that work so well in chili.

             When I talked about the idea of “generalities” in my review of Gastrotruck, this is what I meant. Go on Fork’s website and look at their menu, and you’ll see what the problem is:

             There are way too many things there.

             Now granted, they only use a small amount of those options each day, but every single menu option is different. The only common ground is that MOST of the items are sandwiches, and even those you have Italian, Southern, Bar Food, Salmon, Fresh, Meaty, EGG SALAD… there’s no focus. They do a taco and a wrap; not TACOS and WRAPS, just a single of each.

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             All of these are good, solid menu items, but they distract from any attempt to try and solidify what exactly it is they do. There isn’t a single thing on here that really FEELS that special, and nowhere near are they to having a Toe Ring.

            I personally think that they should draw some of these options back, figure out what works best and keep those, with maybe a couple more new regular items of a similar style, just different formula. As for ideas, I’m not them, I can’t say where their hearts lie, but if it was me I might consider doing a mostly Grilled Cheese styled concept. The BBQ Pork Grilled is a really good sandwich; it needs to shine among a group of its own kind, not shouldering itself with a mass of differences. Plus, the cities don’t even have a Grilled Cheese-themed Restaurant (which is surprising, I mean come on we’re Minnesota). A truck like that would stand out COMPLETELY and add that great uniqueness to the entirety of our Food Scene and Culture.

            So keep the salads and soups up, and let’s hope that there is some more streamlining with the main menu items.

                     Tally: 38.5/50

Final Thoughts

            Okay, let’s get salad and soup out of the way: stick with the Pasta Salads, particularly I might try the Orzo if they happen to have it on. You can find a decent leaf salad in most restaurants, but the pastas done well are rarely handled. All their soups are the rich, belly-filling ones, but I would stick to the ones that lay on the more extreme end in that respect. Guinness Chili and Loaded Baked Potato are easily gonna fill that need for the down-home beer drinker; not to mention fill your stomach for a really low price.

            After looking over the menu, here are my suggestions for sandwiches:

  • BBQ Pork Grilled Cheese (no more explanation needed, just good)
  • Meatball Sliders (easy to walk and eat, smoked gouda gives a different, tasty note)
  • Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (for the bar food lover, creative twists on this are usually fun)
  • Santa Monica BLT (for the health conscious; on a whole wheat, avocado + blt is almost always a good, balanced combination)