New Bohemia Truck

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https://www.facebook.com/newbohemiafoodtruck/
https://twitter.com/newbohemiamn
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

With what’s likely my last solid truck review of the year (unless for some reason I’m actually able to find another yet-to-hit food truck in the upcoming insanely busy, hectic, and cold holiday season), I take on the result of one of the Midwest’s own growing bar concepts. Taking the heart of casual soul food that is German and Eastern-European faire, my favorite kind by the way, New Bohemia has opened at least 6 different locations based mainly around a wide selection of Beers and amazing sausages.

I’ve dined there myself a year or so ago, so I’ve seen the results of their work and atmosphere. Thus it was no surprise to chain adding a food truck to their lineup; there’s clearly both the ability and success for them to do so.

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Obviously their truck can’t shell out ice cold pints of frothy goodness, but they do have Draft Rootbeer and basically everything else! 10 different options for Bratwurst from basic Beer to unique/interesting Teriyaki Chicken to practically-insane Rattlesnake-Rabbit. These are split, grilled, and piled in a bun with the two toppings of one’s choice (Bacon Sauerkraut, Spicy Kraut, Sweet-Hot Peppers, Beer Cheese, Cole Slaw, or Beer Butter-cooked Onions); along with a veritable smorgasbord of different housemade Beer Mustards to squirt on at your leisure. Of course this also includes some Beer Cheese Curds, and… a ‘Giant Pretzel the Size of a Pizza’!? For $14, that thing better be huge!

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… yep, that’s a big pretzel. Could have eaten my food off of it… as much as I don’t care about pretzels for lunch even I’m highly curious about  what it tastes like. Moving on, then there’s the apparent chance for Fries, which similarly to the sausages gets the chance for 2 free sauces from its own group. Oh, and for whatever reason… two Salads (Strawberry Spinach and Apple Jicama).

As much as I’d like to try and think of a cutesy or informative paragraph to briefly entertain your reading, this article has been long enough coming and I need to get it out. With luck, in perfect time for the Turkey Day Season! So enjoy the last review for a while, cheers (toasts with a pretend beer since they wouldn’t give him a real one)!!

Food: 9

                Duck and Cilantro was my option of choice… because I’m too cheap to even go a dollar over for one of the ‘adventurous’ meats I love so much. Though to be fair, I DID try one of them a couple years back in the bar itself and loved it… just can’t remember which one. With a solid little snap, the skin is joined with extra flavor and texture from the ‘split-grilling’ method, whereas a link is sliced almost fully in half, spread like a butterfly, and griddled inside-down to cook for service. Always a delicious way to enjoy. Especially when the base sausage itself is just darn good, and if one can say anything about Bohemia, much like any decades-old family-run butcher/charcuterie, they’ve got their sausage recipes DOWN. Flavorful, balanced, peppery and/or herby and/or spicy and fatty where it needs to be. Num. If I remember correctly, the bun holder did not get any, or much, actual toasting, which would have helped to elevate the enjoyment even further.
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As for the toppings, of course I went for the Kraut, no complaints there! And the Beer Butter Onions seem to be quite a signature: they tasted good, but I was hoping for more cooking/grilled-caramelization, more beer flavor, and more BUTTER, I mean please it’s in the name. The sauces I tried for the fries, wasabi-ginger AIOLI and stout bbq, were both similarly well made as expected. And yes I got some fries to go with it; it’s classic, and much cheaper than getting a secondary sausage. Good texture on the outside, soft on the inside, addicting simple seasoning work, if one WANTS fries with their dog for lunch it’s definitely not an option you’ll regret.

Holdability: 7

                 For a sausage, the end-of-the-day verdict isn’t quite as ideal for holding as one would expect. Piled with that kraut and onions, or whatever toppings you choose, in a large soft bun, picking this up isn’t quite as clean and easy, so it’s good that it comes in a basket. Though of course the Curds, Pretzels, and Fries eat clean with fingers, but are again basket foods (okay maybe not the pretzel, but how often are you likely to buy that?). Part of me feels so ridiculous still talking about this… but the other part of me loves stubborn, weird consistency!!

Price: 8.5

                  A range of $6.50-$8 depending on your selected ‘level’ of sausage, which comes at a decent size so can be a nice stand-alone lunch. That said, if you want fries will have to fork over $3-4, so might as well get the larger option, making a complete meal not so bad considering (especially since they ARE good fries). We’ve already mentioned the $14 Pretzel (oh look there it is again), then there’s $8 for the Beer Curds (there better be a lot), and finally $5-8 for the Salads… which shouldn’t even be worth mentioning, guh.
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Speed: 6.5

It’s been a while since the visit, but I remember wondering why it took more than five minutes to grill a sausage, which should have been pre-cooked already and simply needing the searing. I know the fries weren’t an issue, I saw that they do batch-frying so that it was ready to just scoop into baskets as needed. Sides and sauces should similarly be heated and needing scoopage. That said it wasn’t truly a ‘long’ wait, just a bit more than I expected considering.

The TOE: 9

                  Though it’s from a pre-existing chain, the business itself has developed enough identity, feel, and uniqueness that it easily transfers onto the food truck to separate its own ‘air’ distinctly from others; if anything, it’s ideally suited for a mobile business.
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Tally: 40/50

Final Thoughts

Despite not having it myself, one should keep Bohemia in mind for one of the strong possibilities in acquiring quality drink consumption for your street-based lunch with their Local Draft Root Beer. I forget where it was from, but it wasn’t something I was immediately familiar with and sounded damn good. Speaking of unique things to them, though I find great curiosity and excitement in the idea, at the end of the day the ‘Giant Pretzel’ is just something kitschy, and likely not really worth it, especially for fourteen dollars. If they offered it for less, maybe at ten, then certainly consider it; but I know how much it costs to make, just ignore for now unless REALLY wanting some fun group snack to slather in mustard and various side sauces.

Truly, I cannot pick your guides in the world of all things linked, especially with all the little ‘categories,’ but a suggestion from each sounds fun right? Definitely do a Macaroni and Cheese-stuffed for the heavily affordable Classics, the Duck w/ Cilantro in Premiums (just solid goodness), and for those feeling experimental (which you really SHOULD be) the Rattlesnake-Rabbit is a rare white-meat treat. The Fries are NOT a bad decision, especially alongside Jalapeno Beer Cheese, Wasabi-Ginger Aioli, or Stout BBQ.

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Very much would I like to go back and ask what beer is in the Curds batter for yet another potential truck to get a good version from.

Electric Burger Co. (or: Vin’s Italian, the Sequel!)

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http://www.electricburgerco.com/
https://twitter.com/burgertruckmn
Main Location: Minneapolis, Breweries, Etc

Whoever thought I’d have to redo a FULL review of one of our local trucks (little updates are one thing, I’m talking about the whole shebang here), but that’s just what Vin’s Italian has made me do! A couple months ago the guys completely rebranded their baby into the Electric Burger Co, changing their focus from the Italian Sandwiches to, you guessed it, Burgers and Fries and such. The reason, supposedly, being to offer a more appealing kind of food and menu when parked at breweries, their main gigs. And what can you say, people like burgers and beer!

At the time of hitting them, the menu itself is mostly focused on basic hamburger, cheeseburger, and ‘Deluxe’ (the basic topping combo) options, which can all get bacon or an extra patty for additional cost. These are paired with their Coleslaw, Fries, and the ability to get a Kramarczuk’s Hot Dog. Next to these, they’ll feature 1-2 ‘Special’ burgers, and even a dog at times, with some different toppings. This is only temporary, as the idea is that it’s currently in the ‘testing’ period; after they’ve done enough sampling of different specials, see what they like, certain ones will be added permanently to the menu. Popular ones so far are the ‘I Don’t Give a Shiittake,’ the classic mushroom+swiss, a Blue Cheese Bacon one, and the pickled jalapeno topped ‘It Gets Cheddar,’ which was on today.

If you like the names, you can get in on the action and suggest your own! Tweet them some really weird and funny name for a burger, and if they like it they’ll put it up on the street at least once! Just make sure it’s not something from Bob’s Burgers… there’s a list, look it up.

A note on the product; the burger patties come from Swanson Meats in Seward, and the buns via Denny’s Fifth Avenue Bakery. It’s always nice to see where things are coming from locally I’d say! The pickles are made by them though… gotta love a good pickle.

Had to wait a little while to get out to them, but I found a beautiful sunny lunch period in the middle of the recent week to hit up downtown Minneapolis. So here’s the new scores, with their comparison to the original displayed in () next to each.

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Holdability: 8 (+2)

                 I actually expected to take points off of this, since we all know how burgers can be! But they actually wrap it up in a perfect package, and the burger plus its fillings are small and kept rather tight in their bun… which has some other aspects to which I’ll get into later…

Price: 8 (+0.5)

                  More of a range than before, with the option to get a good $5 Hot Dog, basic burgers ranging between $6.50-$8, and the specials being $8.50. Fries and slaw are automatic, so again would always like the option for not-so, but it makes the price paid even more worth it, even if they’re a smaller addition it seems. $1.50 for Bacon and $2 for an extra patty though, not particularly pricey but they do give ya a hit.

Speed: 7 (-1.5)

Definitely took ‘em longer to cook the burgers than build their sandwiches, felt like a touch of a wait too but only a bit more so than average for a burger truck.

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Food: 4 (-5.5)

                So this is normally the first thing I start with in these but… ahhh, god, I just don’t think I can do all of this and then expect you to have then taken actual note of the other things. I was so looking forward to this guy, I remember clearly how good their Italian Sandwiches were… they had to make some pretty good burgers if they were gonna switch from that right? Apparently no. Apparently, they didn’t spend nearly as much time in development as they should have.

I’ll keep it simple as to why. The burger itself was thin; which isn’t a problem on its own, I’ve had thin patties which are good, but they still need to be moist and juicy, which this was NOT. The bun wasn’t toasted, and was a bit crumbly/’bready,’ thus there was way too much of it to eat with the burger. Toppings barely came through with flavor, which sucks because I love good grilled onions, and the idea of those pickled jalapenos, probably made by someone else, as the main feature of that burger was rather unexciting. And the cheese wasn’t melted… barely even warm, I mean come on. It’s just… disappointing.

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Overall, this wasn’t, necessarily speaking, a ‘bad’ burger, but it wasn’t memorable or particularly attractive in any way. And of all the burgers I’ve had from food trucks, it’s easily one of, if not THE, least successful in execution. They need to make some serious changes here; either by making a thicker patty with the same bun, but toasted, or a smaller burger bun and simply better executed, juicy burger. That and actually putting the darn cheese and toppings on the patty while it’s still on the grill.

Nice shoestring fries though, crispy and potato-y with a nice sea salt, I could totally handful my way through a big bag of these.

The TOE: 4 (-5)

Everything is great until you actually get the burger, and then it takes a dive. And not just because of the quality of the food; the whole name and concept and idea of it, especially knowing what the history of this truck is connected with, creates an electrical air of anticipation. But even by just reading the menu, even if it WAS filled with some of those other ‘special’ burgers, starts one embedding themselves into this trip of simplicity; and no, not the good kind. There’s no sense of unity, no SPIRIT left, just what feels like an idea that was thought up to fix an ‘issue’ that was probably barely even there, and then put into action before nowhere near enough thought and proper preparation/testing had been fully invested.

And the worst part is that this could be so much better. They can make great food, we know this, they’ve proved it in the past. I still don’t understand why they felt they needed to change… I mean, I UNDERSTAND, but was there REALLY a need for it? Whatever, the change has been made, and it wasn’t handled well, which in itself is baffling. Think, for a second, how easy, how lazy it would have been, yet at the same time absolutely AMAZING, if they had just made burgers and topped them with all their previous sandwich fillings. The only change they literally would have needed to make was making small sandwiches in a burger bun, with a burger, and then piling it with tomato sauce + mozzarella, or giardanera peppers, or that awesome fried eggplant, or whatever, and all that other stuff they have. It would have been SO good, super unique and cool, different, while at the same time keeping to their original selves. Could have done so many fun and exciting menu items that I know would draw people… but no.

Service: +0.5

                We’ll keep this, they’re still as amicable and friendly as before… makes me wish I didn’t have to say all that other stuff.

Tally: 31.5/50 (-9.5)

Final Thoughts

You know what, I just don’t even want to say anything else, I don’t think I can even… anymore, with this thing. Just take it as you will, hopefully I’m just the result of one monumentally unique bad burger, but I really hope that the guys here can actually take what I said to heart and make some proper changes and improvements. Seriously, if anyone from the truck is reading this… I think we need to talk, in person. That’s the first time I’ve ever felt the compulsion to say that to any local truck, I don’t ever try to assume they should seriously take major advice from me, but in this situation… well, clearly, there are things that need to be said.

… okay, if they can fix the burgers, but were to then keep the same specials that they’ve had so far, there’s a particular one with Plum Jam + Gorgonzola Cheese that seems fun, and should be completed quite nicely with bacon. So go for that. That’s my suggestion to customers so far.

Rockin’ at Motley Crew’s Heavy Metal Grill in Lakeville

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Four months after the infamous and devastating explosion incident that destroyed one of our Minnesota Breweries’ most beloved food trucks, Motley Crew’s Heavy Metal Grill is back yet again, this time with their much-awaited standalone bar of the same name. Bursting out of the gate guitars blazing, the 40 days I myself have had to wait to travel down to their new location has been filled with packed nights, much local love, and a few ‘special visits’ from certain musical icons. As always I feel so rather crappy for not being able to go down sooner, this was the one truck-steraunt (patent pending?) that I actually wanted to make sure I was down for on opening day.

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But alas, the implantation of this brick-and-mortar (by the way, still hate the phrase, and yes I know that I have no proper reason for this) was straight down in Lakeville, 30 minutes south of Minneapolis and 50 from my own residence. So it sucks for me, but is a truly great thing for Lakeville; sadly, many a restaurant or other fun edible stop have been leaving the city over the past few years, limiting local options to only one or two places to dine out. Not only does Heavy Metal offer a different and totally awesome bar to change things up with every once in a while, which most of them have certainly shown appreciation for in these first months of business, but it’s only the first wave in a battalion of new businesses aiming to bring further fun and life back into the area. As anyone who’s been following the build of Motley’s restaurant is aware, a month or two from now will see the opening of a brewery-taproom in the same building, creating the perfect visiting experience. Not only that, but yet ANOTHER Brewery, this one with its own restaurant and apparently some kick-ass design ideas, will be opening in the space right BEHIND Motley’s, a trifecta of late night beer and bar food heaven.

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Though mostly bare on my visit, the walls of this hard rocker’s upscale-ish dive are already getting loaded with sweet guitars, flaming posters, and most notably Truck scraps. Yes, though the truck may be gone, its bits and pieces live on in glory within its successor, like a propane-fueled phoenix rising from the ashes… or scraps of twisted metal, whatever. If you look at the back of the menu itself, you’ll see a picture of the old truck parked outside their future space, already with their name on it… like a proud momma looking over her growing child. Sadly that was THE last picture ever taken of the old girl before the accident, displayed in yet another honorary position as part of this establishment.

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Currently we get to see this with some of the surviving classic attire so nostalgicly seen on the truck’s side, various stickers, license plate, and they hung the whole of the final menu in honor over in one of the corners. Then there’s the bar Hand Sink; who ever thought anyone would talk about a goddamn SINK in any business-related article? But one of the few surviving items from the vehicle, its hand sink festooned with stickers and all, has been given permanent place out front, still doing work and keeping its soul alive as part of the long working bloodline that is a restaurant’s kitchen and bar stations.

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And that’s just to start; if you get the chance to head down there soon, talk to Marty about decorations, that man has some PLANS for filling spaces. The original hood, or something, of the truck is going to be hung up in front between the air vents, one of the destroyed and sorta-twisted sides will garnish a wall, and an old logo that was GOING to be wrapped on the truck (but was way too big) is going on another wall.

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Keeping true with their old-school rocker lifestyle (the only kind worth living am I right?), they’ve also got a whole mess of other paraphernalia lined up and getting ready to go on display. Pictures, posters, guitars, Frisbees (some sort of big white disk, I claim all apology in completely forgetting what that was exactly), and various other things, signed by icons or just plain badass in their own separate ways. All awaiting their debut on the ‘bleak’ (inside joke, sorta, haha) and still quite-empty canvas; though I’m sure they’ve already gotten a few more things up by the time I finally get around to writing and posting this crap.

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But décor isn’t the only thing in development; as one should hope and expect, the menu keeps hold of every sandwich and beloved food item that the truck was known for serving for, two sections of which are filled with different steak/philly and chicken sandwiches. Of course one can still get a bag of the classic sweet and spicy pretzels from Sammy’s we so fell in love with from the truck, if there are any left that is!

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It’s not a truck-steraunt without new items though, to which they have quite a few… and they’re still adding more! The big focus so far is on their Burger list, filled with thick monsters topped by totally unhealthy things and given names such as ‘Kickstart my Heart,’ ‘Feed my Frankenstein,’ and ‘War Pig.’ A section of Chicken Wings compliments the proper atmosphere of the place, an ideal basket to eat with a big glass of draft from some of our local breweries (a small-ish selection for now, but growing, or at least in frequent rotation. Oh, and something cool, got the chance to go in the back with Marty, they actually have the kegs stored right behind the tap for easy handling; you’d think that’s obvious, but I’ve worked in kitchens, doesn’t always happen), dressed in classic sauces. Oh, and they have Seafood; Buffalo-style Fried Shrimp, which they plan on turning into a Po’Boy and/or other sandwich in the future, and Crab Legs. I shit you not, you can get a basket of simply steamed crab legs here. It at first seems so opposed to Marty’s opposition of places that just make their menu options as varied as possible, yet the singular point of ridiculousness with that ONE item makes it feel almost completely at home here.

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And that’s what’s here NOW. Inside scoop tells me (look at me trying to sound special, when I bet you anyone who even broaches the subject with Marty at the bar will get him telling you every little bit of the same information as I got from a computer screen) that we’re in store for some other special and fun ideas, such as a Juicy Lucy called the Iron Maiden, now-classic Peanut Butter-Bacon named Skid Row, and just a SIMPLE Cheeseburger (which they don’t have yet, for good reason in my opinion) named after Marty’s favorite phrase and one of his favorite bands, K.I.S.S.: Keep it Simple Stupid. Are you noticing a pattern with the names yet?

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Then of course there’s a burger topped WITH Philly Meat and cheese, a Philly served with Au Jus to make into a dive-bar Dip, Fried Cod (Sandwich version or non, former called Barracuda), Rib Tips, burgers made OUT OF Bratwurst, and a dessert of Cherry-Cream Cheese stuffed Tortillas fried and rolled in Cinnamon-Sugar known as Sixx Stixx (there’s quite the origin to this name, definitely try to get Marty to tell you about it if it’s not busy). One definitely can’t say any of this is high-class fare, or even gastropub, but we never really went to them for that kind of food in the first place.

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I actually went there with a buddy, so we got to try a couple things. Besides the always amazing pretzels, and a little sample of some ‘yogurt’-coated almonds made by the same guy that does the candied ones I oh so loved when they were in the truck, we each tried a burger and got those Buffalo Shrimp. Which are awesome by the way; deep-fried then slathered in sauce, what once was crispy is now almost soggy from absorbing that classic orange liquid, but I actually sort of LIKE that texture. Speaking of which, the shrimp were delightfully plump and bouncy, and there’s little beating the flavor of buffalo sauce, meat of some sort, and blue cheese dressing, which they also make from scratch in-house as any good restaurant should.

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That’s what you gotta get through w/ ‘Kickstart my Heart’

The burgers are monsters, that’s definitely the main point you go for with them; I’ll admit they’re not particularly juicy or of that perfect grind and meat that turns some burgers into massive balls of tender, squelching deliciousness, but they’re still cooked well and very enjoyable, especially considering the excess aspect. Just seeing them made us start talking about the ‘technique’ so often seen from Fieri on DDD, and then of course Marty comes over and asks us we got ‘the Hunch’ down! Perfect timing! My friend got Kickstart My Heart, a Double burger with 3 cheeses, 4 pieces of bacon, and a Fried Egg, and of course he then made it healthy with that ‘salad’ on top. I think we were able to get a good bite out of the bastard. Oh, and by the way, if you think your heart still has it easy for some reason, can order this one ‘Triple Bypass’ with yet ANOTHER patty, which has to be at least 8oz from the looks of it.

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‘Meatallica’

I felt I had to try the Meatallica myself: Burger, Bacon, Ham, a split and grilled Hot Dog (and not the skinny kind either), topped with Cheddar and… well that’s it. Lettuce and Tomato? Why the hell would I order that, this is the place that you shove those pretentions to the side! We don’t come to a place like this if we’re concerned about balancing our diets or looking at ‘perfect contrasting flavors’ for dinner that night. You go here to just shove a load of meat, cheese, and fried stuff down your mouth and enjoy it, washing down with beer. You can do that you know? You can take time every now and then to revel in something that’s bad for you… and this is coming from a guy who cares about food quality and crap. And I enjoyed my mountain of meat topped with cheap melted cheese and served with fries.

Speaking of which, I feel obligated to mention they DO have a house seasoning which they use on their fries, burgers, and probably some other things. It’s actually mixed in back, so not just season salt, and has an ingredient that provides a subtle little smoky aspect at times. I myself got the Cajun fries not realizing this, which I did enjoy, but one should certainly find interest that the ‘regular’ fries aren’t going to taste completely generic.

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Let’s see, final notes… there’s a big patio outside, looks great to take advantage of while the weather’s still nice. There’s a chair in each of the single-use bathrooms, no one knows why so don’t ask. The big sign outside lights up at night to look pretty cool. Glasses are monogrammed, and they always look into trying to get cool t-shirts made, so I’m sure there’s a few souvenirs one can buy if asked about it. And the whole team is awesome. Most of them are all from Lakeville and randomly got into the team through the kind of individual stories and happenstances that only a guy like Marty seems to keep walking into… like his baby duck.

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So, after having to wait over a month to finally visit and feeling rather crappy about taking so long… I now wish I had waited even longer! Now I have to find another good time and excuse to get back down to Lakeville once these decorations and new menu items get thoroughly engrained. Right now I’m thinking of a whole ‘Lakeville Day’ with friends and/or family, spend some time at the breweries once they’re in, start the day with lunch at a nearby Vietnamese place Marty says has quite the badass bowl of Pho, before finishing the day on another gut-busting tour of Motley’s expanded menu. If lucky, can do it at Pan-O-Prog or some other yearly festival.

The Truck may be gone, but the rockin’ spirit and attitude lives on! Though there is potential for mobile resurgence in 5 years or so, but for now we can satisfy our ‘cheesy-sandwich-deep-fried-goody’ happy needs down in Lakeville.

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Gotta get that commemorative picture in front of the Heavy Metal Grill rock idol centerpiece!

By the way, I’ll be making sure to upload a whole bunch of new photos once those upcoming truck parts and signed paraphernalia get jammed into the wall and ceiling. And what I can’t fit between paragraphs I’ll just jam in below here for simple viewing pleasures.

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.

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.

Top 20 Food Trucks, 2014

2014-05-10 12.55.00

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

So, here they are!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#3rd, 48pts: Vellee Deli

#2nd, 49pts: NateDogs

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

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

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

BF Sausage Cart

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https://twitter.com/BachelorFarmer

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/08/the_bachelor_farmer_opens_sausage_cart_a_house-made_twist_on_the_hot_dog_stand.php

Main Location: 200 N First St, outside of Bachelor Farmer

Despite the fact that Marvel Bar is indeed my absolute favorite place to grab a cocktail in the cities, I have in fact been there on multiple occasions (which I can rarely say for other alcohol establishments besides a bare few), my visits to their restaurant connection and origin Bachelor Farmer has been an absolute zero. Which is a shame, considering their dedication to organic, local produce turned into fully hand-made items, not to mention their very Germanic/Austrian inspirations (which I always love).

Well, now we can all enjoy a taste of BF’s handiwork, since they announced the early August opening of their new Sausage Cart. Parked right around the corner from their main restaurant is the traditional style hot-dog cart, shelling out a very non-traditional encased meat product.

Sausage, and I do mean that in a very singular sense; there’s only one thing you get when you go, and that’s their hand ground, spiced from scratch pork link stuffed in a Wullot Bakery Bun (the only thing they don’t make themselves; I think it’s Hawaiian style). From what I’ve seen, though, it seems that the specific sausage style doesn’t remain the same day-to-day; the meat source and maybe the spices do, but I’ve seen pictures of a typical weiner-shaped dog, longer and skinny footlongs, and thicker wurst styles.

You can top whichever meat tube of the day you get with a bevy of purely scratch made toppings: Mustard, Ketchup, Sauerkraut mix, or Spiced Peppers (and I’m sure they’ll have other things in the future). This automatically comes with a bag of their own slice-and-fried Potato Chips, with the option for a giant Dill Pickle. All of which can be washed down, if desired, with some Virgil’s Rootbeer. That’s basically it, but who cares about a lack of menu options when one has a single idea done right?

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So far they plan to remain quite stationary with this little side vendor, participating only in events that happen right outside or with the restaurant itself. Whether or not far future tendencies may have them becoming more mobile in location is still up in the air (as of the time I am writing this).

Food: 9.5

No reason to say what I did or didn’t get, considering the singular option.

That said, everything was pretty darn good. Potato Chips were deliciously crispy with those addictive potato flavors and textures, as a good fried item should have. The Pickle’s flavor was still kept in the same style as the typical large, kosher pickle one usually gets on their stereotypical sandwich plate, but kept refined, fresh and tasty, with a little hint of another flavor that I can’t quite name. Great for the traditional pickle lovers out there.

Sausage is… well, it’s what a sausage should be; the one I had today ended up as a thicker wurst shape as opposed to the classic dog. Juicy, meaty, nicely spicy and complexly flavored (for a sausage), and with that great snapping texture that all dog-lusters crave. As for the garnishes, both sauces are sweet and spicy, crunchy vegetables, a great fermented kraut and pickled peppers, getting any or all together coming to a favorable flavor addition that stands out but no way impedes the flavor of the sausage. They both stand strong and taste good together. Oh, and the bun is super soft (but keeps its structure), with a tasty little sweet and egginess, one of the few non-toasted buns I find perfect in its application.

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Holdability: 8.5

An order automatically comes in a basket with a side of fries, automatically making it two-handed, but still easy to consume while walking. I love that they serve the potato chips in their own cute, dinky little bag, brings an old fun to it plus it allows for its own separate stow-away carrying if needed. Getting a pickle increases the basket’s size and can create for more handling considerations, especially considering how much pickle juice leaks out while eating. That’s not even considering whether or not one chooses to get a root beer.

Price: 8

As-is, $6 gets you a good-sized sausage (loaded if desired) and a handful of delicious hand-made potato chips, with an extra $2 each for a pickle or soda, which can result in a decent combo meal.

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Speed: 9.5

As fast as putting a hot dog in a bun and loading with toppings… oh wait…

The TOE: 10

There’s something about getting a high quality, completely hand-made version of a simple nostalgic food item, like hot dogs, let alone apply that to all the fixings. It’s one of the reasons Natedogs is so successful and loved, and basing it out of one of Minneapolis’ new cornerstone restaurant movers of recent years brings another aspect of ‘connection’ to the experience. Knowing one is able to grab an affordable option made with the same love and attention is a great way to get the community off. Plus, I must say that being the first Minneapolis street vendor that’s located exclusively in a location that’s NOT on Marquette/Nicolette or the adjoining streets is pretty neat, and hopefully a start for our Trucks to begin spreading their area of influence out like they so sorely need again.

Oh, and dedicating your menu to only one real option, when doing it WELL; bonus points galore (it can be a curse otherwise).

Tally: 45.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Ummmm, get it? It’s a great lunch stop if one finds yourself close enough to walk to the North Loop area of downtown (or, you know, drive down from another city just to eat and do a blog post on it) for a stand that’ll always be in the same spot. Obviously this is a place that will not qualify as a small stop on food truck event days.

As for suggestions on order, I would probably say just skip the Pickle, unless you REALLY want a pickle (it’s a good one), and leave your focus purely on the Sausage and Chips. If thirsty, it sounds as if the Root Beer is of a unique and tasty enough selection to warrant an order.

Undead Frank’s Zombie Bites

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https://www.facebook.com/undeadfrankszombiebites

https://twitter.com/UndeadFranks

Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

            You know, it’s been bad enough as-is every time I’ve had to tell someone that I have yet to actually go to Psycho Suzi’s. The shame and embarrassment of not being able to experience another one of the practically staple Minneapolis businesses to visit. Yes yes I know, it’s right in Nordeast, what’s wrong with me, they’re funky and already have another bar under their name, etc. I guess lack of money keeps one from the best night activities.

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            And now I feel even worse. Cuz if I HAD started going to Suzie’s or their brother bar Donny Dirk’s, I probably wouldn’t have had to wait until April to find out about the Food Truck they started up. Donny Dirk’s is, after all, Undead Frank’s Zombie Bites’favorite nightly stop, usually hanging outside every Thursday-Saturday. Since the bar doesn’t seem to serve food, it’s quite the perfect arrangement (maybe Marvel should get their own food truck… now wait, they have snacks now. Darn); it’s definitely a fun experience to get one of their undead crafted cocktails with the forbidden edibles. Their themes do match after all.

            Along with a few interesting street food items (may I present 3 different kinds of “Meltie?” Chicken, Beef, and ‘Fundido,’ aka just cheese and veggies), Undead Frank’s mainly serves up various Bar Snack typebaskets. Mostly filled with their own truck-unique items; such as the Zombie Bites, “Undead” Fries and (handmade) Chips served with Cheese, Jalapeno Coleslaw, and a hot dog aptly named Frank’s Furter; they also bring back a much missed Psycho Suzi’s classic in their Minne-Mex Rolls. These babies disappeared from the restaurant menu some time ago to the chagrin of many regulars, so the Truck decided to bring them back. Round it off with a Cactus Pear Lemonadeand we have ourselves a fun addition to the quirky little Undead restaurant family.

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            Accompanying the food, Frank’s truck is completely bedecked in a sickly zombie green, the blood of its recent ingredi… I mean, survivors, splattered here and there. Doctor Chefs are studded out in long grey labcoats, hopefully a sign they’re working on a cure between taking orders… either that or fine tuning a new chainsaw.

            My first foray with Frank’s took my straight to Donny Dirk’s about only 3 days after I found out about the truck. I say “first” because, sadly, the menu at the time did not include that one, single item which I truly needed to have; ‘dem Zombie Bites. Not that it was a total loss, due to this I was able to try a few items, enjoy them with a friend and a cocktail (the Executioner: an apple-y, spicy whisky and egg emulsion, very delicious with the food), and come back again to get even more at the Art-a-Whirl (got some fun Tiki pics while there, as you can see).

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            Starting out solely around the various restaurants and certain events, once Frank gets their own portable generator (which I suspect to have happened by the time this is posted), they plan on widening their reach throughout Minneapolis. So don’t be surprised to see them at more breweries, games, events, or just random places on the street. You know how those zombies are, they get around and show up everywhere…

Food: 8.5

             Quite a few things I’ve sampled here, let’s see if I can make this quick (for once).

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             A great street food item is the Meltie; basically a burrito placed in a panini-like-press, a tight wrapping and crispy exterior enfold a tasty, “melty” filling. The filling was good, tasty, but there wasn’t anything too exciting about it; I was really looking forward to the “beer cooked chicken,” but none of that flavor actually came through. Still juicy and well cooked, it’s a well-made standard tortilla-based munchy.

            I can see why people were upset at Suzi’s demise of the Mex-Rolls; crispy-crunchy but sorta soft fried dough, a lightly spicy, gooey cheese and black bean filling. It certainly fit with the odd bar food theme. And they look like fingers.

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            Buying just a side of coleslaw just feels odd to me, especially from a food truck (though it does at least fit my annoyed thoughts of people automatically adding sides to a mobile food and making it require a basket), but I can certainly say the Jalapeno Slawis about worth it. Its presence solves a conundrum I’ve been having for a while; what exactly makes a good quality creamy/mayo-based slaw? You can salt and drain the cabbage to absorb more, but then they get soft… or do you leave it fresh, but sometimes they affect the cream. Of which, what’s the consistency like? However it is, Frank has nailed it; crunchy cabbage, though there’s a liquid that settles into the bottom it’s not disgusting, the flavors are delicious with a good jalapeno-ness, and there’s still a nice creamy substance sticking to the outside. Maybe not the best description, but it tastes damn good; probably the best non-asian-style Coleslaw I’ve had (sorry for not keeping this one short).

             Finally, my second visit allowed me to grab those Zombie Bites. I had wondered what exactly they were like… my thoughts filled with the description of a deep-fried bundle of mozzarella, tomato sauce and pepperoni… figured it’d be like a mozzarella stick but in ball form, and with other stuff. Then I got it…

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             Do you see!? Do you see it!? It’s a Pizza Roll!!They make their own pizza rolls! And it’s got the same thin, stretched-dough-crispy crust that’s absorbed the cheese and pepperoni fat, and the almost-homogenous red filling. But it’s bigger, not as messy, sorta like an empanada version of it. I just loved it, total Nostalgia kick that I still enjoy; it’s definitely official, Undead Frank’s Zombie Bites have reached Toe Ringmaterial.

Holdability: 9

              Most items revolve around basket-based snack fair, all of which are pretty non-messy and easy to eat with the hands. The Jalapeno Slaw is quite the oddity, being served in both a cup and basket; though I guess if one’s getting it for a side with other food anyways they already eliminate the ability to hold something in one hand anyways. I am a bit saddened that the Melties are automatically cut in half; otherwise they could have made ideal one-hand-only street item. Though they are still easy to pick up from the basket and go… could probably still do it with one hand, they’re pretty thin, sorta smush them side-by-side.

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Price: 9

               $7-$8for different Melties and Main Items (like the Hot Dog), with $4-$5 for Side and Snack-based things. Overall it’s a pretty good range, multiple items which hit the mark, though it feels like a stretch for others. $5-6(it changes apparently) for “Undead Fries” or Chips, which are basically a basket with their cheese sauce, seems a bit much for a Food Truck offering, and the Hot Dog didn’t look big enough to justify $7 despite the toppings. Everything else seems about right though.

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Speed: 7.5

               About average waits for items.

The TOE: 10

               It is a ZOMBIE FOOD TRUCK! The food may not make you think of it so much (unless you look at it a certain way, though one could apply that to a lot of things), but the experience of going there is nonetheless absolute. Especially when enjoying them at Donny Dirk’s. Just what one could expect by the relative business of both Donny’s and Psycho Suzie’s; if there’s one thing they’re good at, it’s creating an “Environment.” Even got the window chefs dressed up in lab coats… simple, dank gray lab coats, but lab coats nonetheless (I wanted white with blood spatters! Whyyyyy!???). Oh, and don’t forget the Toe Ring.

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              There are likely some small aspects, of the overall package, I could knock them for, but I feel everything else just launches them far enough over these indescrepencies that I don’t care. Hell, if I had higher tiers of scoring for this then Frank’s would be one of the guys up there.

                       Tally: 44/50

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Final Thoughts

            I really think the best experience here, much like Motley Crews and the breweries, is to head down to Donnie Dirk’s, grab a basket of your favorite thing to snack on at the bar, and enjoy with one of their fun cocktails. Zombie Bitesare obviously at the top of my list, many other are obsessed with the Mex-Rollsso I think they’re as much a viable suggestion here.

            That doesn’t mean they aren’t a great option on the street. Though I haven’t had it yet, the Cactus Pear Lemonadeis near the top of my list for Food Truck Drink Options (it’s actually unique… hopefully it won’t go the way of the overused Hibiscus trend). Plus the Meltiesare strong, stable street food carry items with a unique package (compared to other options we have so far). They’re all good, but I feel like the Beefwould be my favorite.

Asian Invasian

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http://asianinvasiontruck.com/

https://twitter.com/AsianInvasionTr

Main Location:St. Paul, Etc

            I’ve somewhat discussed the idea of trucks coming into business during the fall season, right after the busy summer has ended and gliding into the hard, hard winter months. How some of them make the decision is a mystery to me; how they actually survive to the warm weather is spectacular (we do make ‘em hardy in Minnesota don’t we?). So it’s interesting to see if and when anything happens during this season, to both the old and new guys, and any evolution that may happen as the snow falls and melts as it does.

            Coming into the fall of 2013, Asian Invasianhas easily survived the harsh winter with high popularity. Before year’s end, their bulgogi taco had already earned a spot in Citypage’s Top 100 Foods of 2013. Whether this is a result of, or one of the main factors in, their late-season survival I am not sure, but it certainly is something to say isn’t it?

            As the name suggests, Invasian deals in all items Asian-themed, mainly the more “well known” (or cliché) dishes from the big mainland countries. Dining options vary from rice bowls of Chinese Sesameor Lemongrass Chicken, Indian Pork Curry, and Chicken Fried Rice to Korean Bulgogi(short ribs) wrapped in Tacos. Vietnamese Pulled Pork Bahn Mialso makes its appearance, alongside with those iconic fried Egg Rolls and Wantons. My particular travel also saw a couple Hot Dog based “specials;” whether they often offer asian-flavored wieners is as yet unsure, but it’s a consideration.

            In reality I have yet to finish my travels to this particular mobile operation, as the main object of my desire had been unknowingly snatched away from me after ordering. That said I figure I have enough of an idea of them so far, and I will surely update if needed once I wrap my fingers around that beefy goodness.

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Food: 8.5

                My pursuit to get the Bulgogi Tacos was put to a quick halt as I later found out (a while after the order got accepted) that they had run out, so I grabbed the Bahn Miinstead. Similarly, they had run out of Pork Katsu Curry, but had a Chickenversion to try instead.

                Both items had noted ups and downs in my view. The curry itself was nicely flavored, and the meat and veggies cooked well, not quite amazing but better than one made with generic curry powder. Though then again I’ve always found that this particular style of yellow-spiced-curry is hard to identify high quality versions… sort of like root beer. Either way, I liked it. What I didn’t like was the giant mound of rice beneath it… or perhaps just the notable lack of curry that went on top of it. I understand potential cultural relevancies behind it, the habit of having a lot of rice to just chew on plain next to the meal, but we’re not in India or Japan. I want to be able to actually mix the sauce into all the rice without its flavors practically disappearing under the starch mass. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only local who wants to taste the already subdued flavors.

                There’s not much I can say about the Bahn Mi. They used a different bread than they should have, but they got a flat crunch on the outside which was nice (no inside crunch, but I don’t mind it sopping up stuff so long as there’s texture somewhere). The pork itself, though cooked well at least, was somewhat boring… it just reminded me of another pulled pork sandwich but without any sauce. I really wish they had a sauce. Or a different kind of pork, like something grilled and glazed or a pate, like is pretty proper. I guess the pickles were nicely acidic and tart, but that’s about it… still wondering if the jalapenos were cut a bit too big in mine. It’s part of the experience but I feel like I’ve had them thinner in other bahn mi’s.

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                I will say though… they’re really good at frying things. Don’t think this is me being passive-aggressive and snotty, I’m serious. The Sweet Potato Frieswhich automatically came with the sandwich had that perfectly thin layer of crispness on the outside with a tenderly soft inside; not the easiest thing to do (I doubt it’d last long, but no sweet potato fry ever does). And the chicken in the curry (also used in their Sesame), which was also deep fried, had that really nice tempura-ish crust, which stood up very well through the sauce, without overcooking the bird. Could tell it was an actual scratch-made batter too, not the generic thick sweet-and-sour batter used in almost every Chinese buffet or to-go restaurant. Either way, I was excited to eat it; and something about the texture reminded me of pork cracklings.

                That said, one can expect that the wontonsand egg rollsare to be cooked well; I’m also giving them the benefit of the doubt with the Bulgogi and the Pork Katsu (sounds like they’re deep-fried meatballs) that I was not able to sample at this time. So I’m giving them a little higher score than I normally would have. Hopefully I’ll be able to try the Tacos soon to properly update the blog with.

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Holdability:7.5

               So far, every item seen has been giving in some form of “bowl” (to-go aluminum version) or basket of plastic or regular composure. Everything requires two handedness, many require a fork, fried “apps” have a dipping sauce one needs to take into consideration (non-covered), and even potentially high-mobile sandwich is grounded by a side of fries. The Tacos and Hot Dog Specials are probably the only truly mobile options, with the latter possibly only needing one-handedness depending on how much topping it’s given (though I’m sure it’s served in a basket, one can just readjust on their own).

Price:7.5

                Basically the same pricing structure as the recently-visited Butcher Salt, with all main items at $8 and smaller onesat $5, but I feel the quality for cost is very divergent among them. As for the cheaper things, the Hot Dog Specials (at $5) may be a good deal, though that also depends on the dog used and how much they’re garnished. On Fried, I’m a touch uneasy; the Pork Wonton/Fried Dumpling yield a good option, but one only gets two okay-sized Egg Rolls (they look tasty, but not much there; at least with Vellee they gave 5 finger sized ones, it seems more bountiful), and Cream Cheese Wontons are always just that.

                As I mentioned previously, with the bulk of the rice dishes being quite obviously the, well, rice, it’s difficult to contemplate the price justification. Though the Sesame seemed quite loaded in comparison, and the Pork Katsu meatballs do seem like they could lift the dish nicely; if only they hadn’t run out. The Bahn Mi is, as one can see, quite small compared to other Bahn Mi’s, and should probably be served for a couple dollars less, though they use the automatic inclusion of Sweet Potato fries to justify. Bulgogi is quite likely to be the one item that stands at the peak of price quality though.

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                Of course this little session of me whining over whether prices are worth it should be taken in a sense of minute quantities, one dish vs the next, and not in too major a fashion (maybe next to other trucks though). Obviously these prices are still much better than lots of restaurants.

Speed:8.5

             It’s pretty hard to judge this properly, as though my Curry came out rather quickly (a couple minutes, and there were other tickets in the window), I actually had to wait at least 5 or more minutes before the guy leaned out the window to inform me that they were out of my Bulgogi Taco order. After that, though, I don’t believe I had to wait too long for the Bahn Mi. Others around me weren’t waiting more than a couple minutes between orders, ish. Certain items come out faster than others. Overall not too bad seemingly.

The TOE:8.5

                There’s a great “theme” to this place. It’s a great idea, has a fun decoration and logo and feel to it, and there’s been something about it during the chase that really made me quite excited at the prospect of finally getting to it. However, I will say that in hindsight, the fact that many of their items are based on the most cliché Asian items sort of takes a decent chunk of the experience away for me. Now they’re good versions of each, I will definitely give them that (it’s one of my big highlights), so props in not sticking to the crappy take-out recipes or whatever they all get for that. But it’d be nice to have seen either some more in depth, non-everyday regional Asian dishes, or Twist their applications some more (like putting the bulgogi in tacos and the curry-topped hot dogs). Overall, Strong showing in “ambiance,” pretty good in Technique (with some noted exceptions), lacking in creativity/interest.

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Service:-2

                Alright, so… they ran out of things a lot. Which sounds douchey to use for a deduction, and normally I wouldn’t; shit happens, sometimes things run out, even bacon (-gasp-). But these guys ran out of quite a few things on their menu, pretty vital and simple things too: Chicken Fried Rice, Pork for Curry, possibly a wonton, and worst of all the Bulgogi Taco, their mainstay item. Thing is, by the time I got there they hadn’t been on the street that long, good chance of only an hour’s worth of service. I doubt they had that much traffic, there was one moment of a little crowd when I got there but that’s it, since it was pretty gray and chilly out. There’s not much reason I can find for the lack of, besides highly insignificant prep.

                Though, in itself that’s not too bad at all, I’m not really upset or feel too lacking for that in itself; though it does make a point that they probably shouldn’t have that many items on the menu, if they prep so little of some that they run out easy. What gets it for me is the fact that I wasn’t informed of the bulgogi loss until 5-10 minutes after ordering and waiting for my food. Not to mention the fact that not once did they offer to comp the meal, add an order of free wontons, or anything of that matter, which most establishments do (or should do) after such annoying circumstances come up. Either way it’s something to think about.

                       Tally:38.5/50

                       

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Final Thoughts

            I find there are a couple needs this could place could satisfy, one just needs to choose carefully for each. For the basic Street Food delighter on-the-go, Bulgogi Tacosare the way to go, than and possibly a Curry Hot Dog(or other fun hot dog specials). These can also be used to satisfy “snack stops” for Truck samplings or when one just needs the small stuff; I would also lead towards the Fried Pork Wontons/Dumplings(the Cream Cheese ones are good I’m sure, but they can only get so exciting in my opinion).

            As for those in the mood for a sit-down, something to take back to the office, or just needing a replacement for skyway Chinese food, the Sesame Chickenand Pork Katsu Curry are your destination. Maybe see if you can get more sauce though…