Food Truck Wars Fridley (Wk 3)

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            3rd week of the Twin Cities’ Live Food Truck War is here, and they just happened to stop right in my hometown of Fridley! So of COURSE I had to go now (apologies for missing last week’s update; been busy as of late), with Dad accompanying so we could bring food back for Mom.

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            Sadly, it seems this particular session of “Wars” didn’t quite reach the zenith as the others: of the 5 Trucks scheduled, only 3 were able to make it (Tiki Tim’s, Hot Indian, and Simply Steve’s), with Potter’s and Melch’s having to cancel at the last minute. On the same note of “skewing my expectations,” I myself am a touch anxious at this trend of using many of the same trucks each week. With the idea of some sort of competition (where there’s a winner each week), did anyone else think that it might have been more fun to have completely different trucks each session (except maybe winners, see if they can get “de-throned”)? Though at least they still switch out a few; I heard something about some “Fish n Chips” showdown with Anchor next week.

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            Having arrived soon after 4, we thankfully hand enough time to grab Free Samples from 2 of the Trucks. First stop was the Indurrito truck, where they delivered ½ “Tacos” of their Chicken Tika alongside some of those fantastically crunchy fries. With shells made from Roti (which Amol thankfully corrected me are Indian Flatbreads and not Mango-Yogurt! Looks like I got them confused with Raita… sorry guys, and thanks!! Swear I saw it on the drink area one time though…), their Taco-versions have twisted up a fun notch in line with their original cuisine. Looks like they adjusted their Aioli as well; less garlic-focused and more “Indian spice and peppers,” another tasty pairing with their Fries.

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            With this well-made plate, it’s not surprising to see they earned the Golden Plate this week (I voted for them too! Wooh!).

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            Unlike Tiki, it seems Steve didn’t put up too much of a fight. Their menu still somewhat scattered (though not as much as my last view of it, mainly burgers and tacos this time; they might be pulling things in a bit more again, I’ll have to pay attention to their selection in the coming weeks, see if they get back to where they were before), Sample offering consisted of a somewhat squished, basic-looking quarter of a Burger (not sure, but I think it might have been the Quinoa… since they sort of “highlighted” that item in the “Live” recording earlier). And oh my god, did you SEE what their Grilled Asparagus looked like in the Live video on the event? I’m sorry, but that just… does not look great… I’m sure it tastes fine and all, but it does not conjure any images of what quality Asparagus can be.

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            Finishing the day with Tiki, who decided to split their Fish Tacos in half for a sample, which tasted great as usual (we were in the 2nd to last group of samples, whew!). Since I knew my mom enjoyed various seafood cakes (and hated Indian food), this was our official stop for Dinner. Though we were still a bit back-n-forth, so we ended up bringing back a Combo Plate and the Kahlua Pork (hey, what she didn’t eat we would).

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            First I have to say how happy I am to see where these guys have come. Compared to my first Combo Plate, which in itself was delicious, this batch of Fish and Tiki Cake was even better, clearly showing their gradual tweaking and improving towards perfection. Look at how perfectly pattied that Cake is; I’m still so disappointed that they haven’t turned it into a Slider, cuz it’s just SO good. And the ratio of (perfectly) Fried Fish to the Cabbage is exactly what it should be, as opposed to the Veggie-dominated Taco I experienced early this year (I shall DEFINITELY make an update in the review). Oh, also, I never noticed it earlier, but my mom pointed it out and it makes interesting sense. Unlike others, the tortillas here see little to no actual cooking; whether it be steamed or grilled. Despite that, not only do they hold up well, the actual texture is interestingly complimenting to the fish and rich Cream-dressing.

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            The Kahlua Pork sandwich was quite the interesting experience; I had completely forgotten about it on their menu. Upon getting it, thoughts of my highly-recent proclamation around Starlight’s Pulled Pork came to mind, and I wondered if a quick upheaval in the Pork power balance was to take place.

            Sadly, it wasn’t.

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            I give credit to the separate quality of the Pineapple-Red Cabbage Slaw and the actual Pork, which are both nice in their own ways. However, as with most pulled pork, the giant mass of meat, even with some natural juices, ends up dry (at least in sensation), and REALLY needs a nice, wet sauce of some sort. Maybe a grilled pineapple bbq or something… I know traditionally Hawaiian Kahlua pork is served dry, but truly a sandwich like this requires the moisture.

            Second requirement for improvement revolves around the actual bread. They DO seem to actually griddle it, I could feel the nice crust around the rim, but the rim is where any crispiness stays. But the real disappointment came in the bread itself, the texture really throwing the thing off a bit; it was sort of that soft, slightly chewy, almost doughy feeling one gets from those cheap baguettes at the store (before baking again in the oven). Luckily, this issue is easily fixed; hopefully, if they choose to do so, they can either grab a slightly-higher quality sandwich bread, or just bake all their Ciabattas a second time for a bit, crisp up the outside a touch while letting the inside follow through to its proper texture. It’d be nice to think just griddling it more would work, but with this bread I’m sure it wouldn’t (unless they were able to Panini it… oooooh, Kahlua Panini!!).

            Well, I guess that’s that. Despite the mysterious loss of 2 trucks, the small event turned out pretty well, and was fun for those who were able to grab a couple samples (such an interesting coincidence how empty the place got right after the 4:30 cut-off…). We’ve got one more week to go, people, let’s make it count!

            Ooooh, one last thing! I love Tiki’s new LONG Blackboard; it’s so fun!

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Food Truck Wars!!

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… okay sorry, it’s not the actual show. But starting tonight, the 2nd Annual local “Food Truck Wars” with Twin Cities Live and 107.1 begins! Every Tuesday in June, from 4-7 in White Bear Lake Minnetonka, they will be tasting offerings from 6 various Trucks and deciding a winner! The starting lineup will be A Cupcake Social, Hot Indian Food, Melch’s Meat Truck, Tiki Tim’s, Cafe Racer, and Minneapple Pie.

With this selection contrasting offerings, it’s sure to be an exciting “showdown” to go and take part in. Now if only I didn’t live so damn far away from White Bear…

https://www.facebook.com/events/168931506609705/?ref=22

Brava on Wheels

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No Websites so far

Main Location: Minneapolis

                With a name indicative of known restaurant ties, Brava on Wheels has stated to only be a possible offshoot of She Royal. That’s about as much as we currently know about this big Black and Gold beauty, as the seeming delay in twitter, facebook, or any other website has left an information on them a mystery. Guess all we have now is their food and a name and design reminiscent of a Glee offshoot.

            Dishes and flavors seem to be Thai based, at least for now. These take the form of a couple sandwiches, rice bowls, a wrap and salad, each basically topped with some protein (Chicken most of the Time, but also offering one Fish and Lamb dish) and a Red Curry Sauce (they try making the distinction of a different “Brava” sauce in the sandwiches, but really it’s the same).

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Food: 6.5

               As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve required dual visits to really get a sense of these guys, grabbing myself the Lamb Sandwich and Chicken Curry Bowl in subsequent attempts. What I found was two particularly different experiences in which to report on.

              The bun on the lamb wasn’t toasted, but it wasn’t unpleasant, in fact I really liked the ciabatta they used; soft and easy to bite through. I wish I could say this was the norm, but for some weird reason I kept seeing them handing out sandwiches with what looked like pretzel buns on my second visit. I know it wasn’t for something specific… both sandwiches on the menu said ciabatta, which is what I saw both fillings in too. It could be some unwritten possibility for people who had… some sort of eating requirement? Either that or they decided to just use something else for every other sandwich.

               Speaking of second-visit sammich differences, I’m glad to say they no longer served that bland, crappy coleslaw (sadly homemade); though the change to cheap, mass-produced ripple chips wasn’t too much of an improvement.

              The Lamb itself was pretty tasty along with the mild brava sauce, the cheese was done decently, and the fried onions were nice. I very much enjoyed the whole experience of it (sans coleslaw). Ironically, though, while the sauce did a decent job acting as a base there, its use in the actual Curry dish was highly disappointing; though it wasn’t the only thing.

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               Can’t argue that they give you a lot, it certainly is impressive. It’s just too bad that girth mainly comes from the rice and vegetables. It looks like a decent amount of sauce at first, though one quickly discovers it’s not nearly enough for all the rice beneath it (like Cajun’s beans and rice).The squash and vegetable are decent on their own, with a nicely firm texture, but not too much flavor overall. And finally, the grilled chicken was dry and overcooked, even with the sauce around it.

               Though I can’t say this myself, I also hear that the spiciness level of the “extra hot” option isn’t too impressive either. Oh, and am I the only one who’s starting to get a bit bored with all the places making Hibiscus Punch or Lemonade or whatever? I know it’s good, but at this point… oh well, at least these guys have Glass Coke and Fanta!

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Holdability: 8

                 Depends on the item, but overall it’s mainly just a two-handed requirement. The rice bowl is of course a bowl, but an easy one to walk and eat out of. I definitely want to make note of the Lamb Sandwich; at first glance, one can’t help but think sitting down is required… but it doesn’t. Amazingly, I found I could eat this with one hand (basket in the other) while walking with only minimal pieces of meat falling out, my teeth cutting through the bread and meat easily. You know if they just wrapped this in foil and served as-is it’s be a pretty good Street item.

                Something odd, the Chicken Curry Wrap is a naturally great Walk-around alternative to a rice bowl, usually using chickpeas to replace the starch. But for some reason though on every order, after wrapping it tight in foil, they then proceed to move to a paper bag… sort of defeating the whole purpose.

Price: 8

               Well, not much to say, price is same as the score at $8 for every item. Though quality can’t always be said, they definitely give you a lot for the price.

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Speed: 7

               Seems to be dependent on rhythm and what time one gets in. Sometimes it can be average or a bit faster, other times it can be pretty darn slow, either when waiting behind multiple tickets or alone (read about someone who had 10 minutes for a single order of Curry).

The TOE: 5

              This really sucks, the name and design becken you in nicely, ya start getting the feeling this is potentially something fun, and then… yeah. At the very least, the menu DOES have a common point between items, that thai curry thing, but then one reads all the menu items and just gets… well, not bored. But it all just has this feeling of the generic, the unexciting, I can’t think of anything that jumps out and just says “HEY! Get me! This is why you should be coming here every week!” I know one item is good, but there’s none of that “special” feeling, that little “extra” something that all the good places have. Maybe they just need time, need to get a few more curries and work on improving the food outside of something one would find in a regular Thai-based café.

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                          Tally: 34.5/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            Mainly good for when one wants a decent amount of lunch for $8. As for what to get, if they actually do decide to visit (I mainly say wait it out and hope they improve in a couple months), the Lamb Sandwich has proven a notable high point in the list. Though I wouldn’t suggest any of the chicken dishes, if one is looking to get that Thai/Curry experience from a Food Truck, the Chicken Curry Wrap looks to be a fun little version (very much like what Indian is doing). And hey, the chicken might not always be overcooked.

            When not requiring portability… I find myself still curious about the Tilapia Curry Bowl. It could be interesting, but considering certain other missteps, I’ve very dubious on whether or not it’s worth it. Though I guess that’s my overall thoughts of this place anyway.

Hot Indian Foods

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https://twitter.com/hotindianfoods

https://www.facebook.com/hotindianfoods

Main Location: Minneapolis + St. Paul

                 With a business idea for a Contemporary Food Brand, owner Amol Dixit soon realized that his wrapped product would work amazingly in Truck form. Using the Truck to build the brand while trying out various products; a mobile test lab, if you will.

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            Basing off of his heritage and recent interests, Hot Indian Foods serve, what else, Indian cuisine. The particular name of the game is “Indurritos,” Burritos filled with various curries, Tikka Masala, stews, and other Indian-spiced mixes. I find it can be difficult to choose between the various fillings, but despair not! The Hi Flight offers customers the opportunity to try 3 different flavors over rice or as a selection of small “tacos”.

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            On the same line of thought, one can also purchase a combo meal (so called the “Thin Moustache”), pairing the unique burrito with “Indi Frites” and one of their special, glass bottled Indian Sodas (though I saw they also had cans too… not sure if they switched or if it just depends on the day). It also seems, continuing along their concept of “testing,” breakfast Indurritos of Lamb and Egg are already finding their way on the menu.

            With these kinds of options, I don’t think I mind being a test subject.

 

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Food: 9

               Grabbing a Hi Flight and Combo, I took the chance to try the Chicken Masala, Lamb, and Vegan Channa, each topped with a flavorful slaw of cabbage, mango, and cilantro (among other things). Though originally made from Tortilla, they now take to wrapping both Tacos and Burrito in Roti, or Indian Flatbread, for that next-level cultural experience and Truck Twist (again, I’m so sorry for confusing this with Raita!!). Each filling had that nice balance and richness one expects to find in Street Taco fillings, the soft stewed meat paired nicely along the crispy veggie-fruit topping. I almost wish I remembered to ask for some “heat” on one of the tacos just to see how it tastes (Indian food always does the good kind of spicy).

                 I’m gonna say it, I LOVE their fries! Using both regular and sweet potatoes, which are properly double-fried, the tubers seem to be dredged in flour (probably seasoned) before the fry, guaranteeing a big crunchy outside while the inside stays delightfully soft. This is a particularly great technique for the hard-to-fry sweet potatoes, and even more so when one cooks two kinds at the same time, ensuring consistency throughout the batch. Finally tossed with a sprinkling of Indian spices, these are paired with a deliciously sharp and powerful Garlic Mayo, matching nicely with their spices.

                 Though it’s not actually made by them, I feel I HAVE to bring up the sodas: a Lemon-Lime called “Limca,” which seems pretty popular already, and a Cola known as “Thumbs Up.” Being the Cola lover that I am, I had to get the latter, and I suggest you do too! A very nice, simple cola flavor boosted with the familiar rose water and other floral flavors found in the cuisine. I find it was balanced very nicely, offering up quite the pleasing experience.

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                Overall, a great job on the food. The one point I find disappointment in, however, lies in the 3 mixes; though individually they all tasted great, there was little to no flavor distinction between the options. It seems a very similar, if not the same, spice and stew mix is used among the three fillings. One can of course still tell Chicken is chicken, Lamb lamb, etc, but it would be nice if each option had its own individual identity and flavors to further distinguish. Keep the Masala on the Chicken, maybe do a fresh Herb-Garlic mix on the Lamb, and maybe a different stew on the Vegan; there are so many flavors and vegetables I’ve seen done, maybe they can play with them more.

Holdability: 9

                Rice bowl options (don’t HAVE to have it in a burrito… said nobody) and fry combos aside, the Burritos are an ingenious way to get these classic flavors into our stomach with only one hand. The Hi Flight option, though, with its 3 tacos, requires a bit more consumer attention while mobile (especially when getting the combo. I basically had to stand still with the soda on the ground).

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Price: 7.5

               Burritos stay at $9 or $10, a little high of an average for food trucks, but the Hi Flight offers a great deal to try multiple things at only $10. Follow that with a $13 Combo, one can spend only 3 extra dollars for good fries and quality soda, which is pretty darn good for a generously sized lunch such as that.

Speed: 8.5

               Though being stuck behind a plethora of other orders, I didn’t find my wait to be too ridiculous, and I would expect a shorter-than-average wait from this simple-to-build item (though still not instantaneous, especially for fries).

The TOE: 10

               Definitely fits into the unique “Food Truck” category, Hot Indian offers a simple but different, highly portable way to enjoy traditional flavors. I am SO digging the new Roti addition with their Tacos, once again a Truck making something I’m somewhat debating for Toe Ring material. There’s not much else I think I can say, this bright orange wagon brings everything we expect the Street Food experience should.

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                         Tally: 44/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            A fun one for those seeking to-gos, looking to sample, or needing a specialty beverage for whatever. The Hi Flight is great to try multiple flavors, but in the Street Food practicality sense it’s much better to just get a single Indurrito. Besides, one can get tacos in so many other places.

            From the current list of fillings, my suggestions would lead toward the Chicken Tikka Masala, always a tasty classic, and the Spinach Paneer. As for the latter, it doesn’t even have to be for vegetarian needs; Indian cuisine tends to have natural strength in the vegetarian department, so veggie dishes are almost always a sure bet when it comes to enjoyment. And this one I feel may be more unique and enjoyable than the Vegan Challah.

            Definitely one of the new top stops when looking for Fries. And of course, if needing a drink on the street, stop by to try a Thumbs Up.

Chef Shack

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http://www.chefshack.org/index.html

https://twitter.com/chefshack1

Main Location: Minneapolis

            To many of us who dutifully followed the Food Truck scene soon after that particular law passed, Chef Shack holds a very special place in our hearts (and stomachs). One of the true “founding members” of the first Minneapolis Food Truck group, in business long before the law even passed, Chef Shack is truly the God-Mother of our entire Truck Culture.

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            Using ingredients from Co-ops and Family Farms, Chef Shack sticks to the organic mantra, cranking out their own versions of classic street food. Grass-fed Bison Burgers with housemade ketchup, Beef Tongue Tacos (if you haven’t had beef tongue, stop saying “eewwwww” and grab a taco; seriously, it’s basically just like roast beef, but better), Tempura Soft Shell Crab Sandwiches, Trailer-made Ice Creams, and what they’re most known for: Indian-Spiced Mini Donuts.

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            They also carry quite a few menu versions for those with a more vegetarian taste. Black Bean Burgers and Sweet Potato Tacos are a common sight; I’ve had the latter, and let me say it is just as good as any other taco out there. Handmade desserts are an ever-changing experience, usually involving a classic pie or cake shoved into some ice cream cone or bowl for easy walkability (sounds like something Fozzy Bear would use to rate his jokes).

            A Note of warning, or at least anticipation: they currently have at least two trucks, and neither of them focus on the same foods. Both surrounded by flashing Fair Stand-Style light bulbs, the Red Truck employs all the main food items. It is the White Truck that sells the mini-donuts, along with a smaller menu of other items. Luckily the latter is easy to determine; it has “Mini Donuts” inlaid above the windshield.

Food: 9.5

            I have never walked away from this Food Truck unsatisfied. All proteins are cooked and prepared very well, served alongside flavorful toppings and sauces. Vegetarian items are just as quality driven, not losing any spots to the proteins.

            The real highlight, though, are those Mini Donuts. Completely reminiscent of those old State Fair stands, they are soft, hot and fluffy, with that real clean-oil taste of the friar all good donuts have. I think there might be a touch of wheat in the flour mix as well… or at least a slightly-coarse, darker grain.

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           The Indian Spices in the sugar coating are very gentle and subtle, only appearing when you search and pay attention to them. Though, I sort of keep feeling that they’re a little TOO subtle; I want to taste more of them. It’s a good flavor, and since they focus on it, we should really be able to taste it, so long as it doesn’t overrun our senses.

Holdability: 9

            Depends on the item, but one can tell that all menu options are made with the focus of eating with your hands while walking. A little sad that this isn’t the case for every truck.

Price: 9

             Noticeable range, but it has never gotten that high. Mini Donuts, desserts, and other special items are priced very low, so it’s quite tempting and easy to grab multiple things.

Speed: 9

             Faster items such as Donuts and Tacos mixed in with those needing to-order cooking; the speed overall remains clean.

The TOE: 10

             Chef Shack is almost literally the kind of Food Truck that other Trucks look to model themselves after; well, at the very least, it should be. The light bulb designs are nostalgic of Fairs as a child, the food is local, menu small, and the owners are clearly putting themselves into everything being made. Not to mention those Mini Donuts are the first, and possibly most perfect, Toe Ring to hit Minneapolis’ Food Truck options.

            The aura of being at a True Food Truck is a hard thing not to feel whenever you visit, and they deliver it well.

                       Tally: 46.5/50

Final Thoughts

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            Look for the White Truck, because Mini Donuts are a must-have for every single visit; they just make you happy. If you cannot find them, then try to see if they have any interesting desserts for the day. I haven’t had one yet, but they’ve caught my eye a few times as something I want.

            You need to try the Beef Tongue Tacos; again, stop it with the Eww, it’s not that bad. In fact, it is absolutely delicious, they make a good taco with them. Don’t forget to top it with whatever hand-made pickles they have for the day (they do a lot more seasonal variety with them than other Food Trucks from what I’ve seen). Besides those, I would probably put main highlights around the Bison Burger and Soft-Shelled Crab.

            For Vegetarians, this is one of the best options for Trucks, next to Foxy Falafel of course.