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.

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Parkway Pizza Trolley (Quasi-Review)

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http://parkwaypizzamn.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sal’s Place on the Road

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

For those like me with the consternation to try and visit every food truck in the main cities area, or at least hit as many as possible when given the chance, one usually ends up going through phases. Often we hit a mix of interesting and non, sometimes we’re lucky enough to get multiple amazing trucks in a row, others can just feel like dragging through some others on the side just to cross them off the list. But despite that grouping of bbq-themed guys earlier in the year, the year of 2015 has been turning up mostly fun and interesting trucks so far.

In particularly, I’ve been aware and receiving notifications for a certain truck for a while now, having only to wait on the right week to hit it. Of course delays happen, my budget not allowing me to drive down for truck lunches as often as I’d like, and having a few occasions where a truck not-so-often seen takes precedence over one which I knew I’d be able to get sooner or later.

Apparently I needed TWO visits, with quite the menu listing of different items. But, I’ve finally gotten a solid experience out of Sal’s Place on the Road, and can now do my long-awaited review on them! They taunted me with Facebook updates on their Italian menu items and desserts, and after seeing the complete menu on my first visit, the vehicle sky-rocketed to my absolutely most anticipated food truck of the year so far (we’ll see if they live up to it later). Wish I could have stopped to get a little interview and learn some more about the family behind the truck while I was there, like I’ve been trying to do lately, but things come up, you know how it goes (mainly the fact I was with the cousin, the street was busy that day, and their generator was loud as hell). From what I do know, and can tell, Sal’s does seem to be a family-run operation, and has been on the streets a few seasons already.

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The Menu itself definitely revolves around Traditional Italian-American Diner-style food, mostly geared towards street fare desirables. This includes a collection of Sliders (like Meatball, Pork, Chicken, and Caprese), a Sausage and Pepper Hoagie (cooked in tomato sauce of course), and Arancini, balls of risotto stuffed with cheese and other goodies before being deep-fried. Though no Italian menu is complete without Pasta, to which they change things up, making different ‘seasonal’ flavors and styles as the whim hits them, sometimes going Ziti while others doing Shells, perhaps even noodles of some sort. The one consistency is that it’s ALWAYS done with handmade egg-based pasta dough, likely rolled in Sal’s giant mitts every week.

They also have dessert! Which includes Zeppoli (small Italian doughnuts covered liberally in powdered sugar) and a Deep-Fried Ravioli, also made from their own pasta of course, stuffed with a hazelnut-chocolate filling. And yes, I got both, so you shall see my opinions below! And no I’m not wasting any more time on that.

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Food: 6

                My first visit actually had me starting with dessert! So, despite every parent’s worst meal-planning nightmare, I feel it only fair to discuss their sweets first, especially as they seem to be the main highlight overall (at least in my opinion). I myself was much surprised that the Chocolate Ravioli were deep-fried, it didn’t say, but it gave a nice crunchy outside. At first though, I wasn’t impressed… the filling didn’t stand out too much; but then, after my third, I realized my first couple pieces were actually rather thin. The REAL raviolis, with a good full tablespoon of hazelnut-chocolate inside… ahh, it’s like taking a bite of… well actually I can’t think of a comparison, but it feels a bit nostalgic. Like the best chocolate sauces and toppings, hot and runny, hitting every point of your chocolate cravings perfectly. It highlighted nicely with the firm crunch of the pasta, but as a whole I really did wish for one more element… after going past to start setting up this unique and interesting dessert, the dish needs SOMETHING else to make a complete and amazing plate, powdered sugar doesn’t do crap for it. Maybe just a drizzle of raspberry sauce or something (cuz it’d look like tomato sauce, right!?), or marshmallow (alfredo anyone?)…
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But I hold no complaints with the Zeppoli. They’re perfect. They may look a bit overdone on the outside, but it’s perfectly crisp, not greasy, with a tender interior that I can only describe as in the realms of the best, idealistic brioche and/or poundcake, probably leading more towards the latter. You bite in, enjoy the texture, the little eggy richness from the dough, the heaven of powdered sugar that takes one to the streets of Louisiana, and then realize there’s an extra little flavor there; a touch of citrus, lemon or orange. Simple and classic, something I normally would actually find boring, but for once thoroughly enjoyed the addition as it rounds out a well-crafted dough to make a uncomplicated doughnut sublime. Wouldn’t change a thing. Now onto savory stuff.

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Arancini comes in with an evenly crisp outer shell and soft, tender rice inside, the risotto mixed with cured meats and cheese, resulting in an end product that wasn’t particularly distinctive and outstanding in flavor, but still enjoyable. Especially when you got a bit of cheese goo that stretches when bit into! Rather num, particularly when dipped into the Tomato Sauce, a simple slightly heavier style but I found no apparent flaws (or at least things I disliked about it, to be more accurate to what we’re really all just writing about in review posts).

It also comes with a Breadstick on the side… which they ‘reheat’ by dropping into the deep fryer. Yeah. That happens. Then covered in clumps of… parmesan? Garlic Powder? A combination? I don’t know. What I DO know is that this breadstick is… unholy in the best of ways. It’s crispy on the outside, but fatty, a touch crunchy yet really soft inside, and gives a flavor that’s hard to describe outside of a feeling reminiscent of certain slightly-over-greasy doughnuts, but savory and actually crave-able. Which makes it even worse when I tried the Garlic Dunker basket (not my choice, my cousin got it because he doesn’t know how to really live food-wise) and none of them tasted as good. They were chewier and didn’t have that same outer layer of unhealthy excellence… and I know why. If you look at the picture, you can clearly see they’re using three SMALLER breadsticks for this, which causes a different effect after the frying (which I’m guessing doesn’t even last as long since they don’t ‘need’ the extra time like bigger ones do, another cause of the effect). I wish they’d just do two of the bigger ones instead (or, I mean, come on, just do all three, breadsticks are cheap as f*$# anyway), I might gladly order them myself.

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What I won’t gladly order again are any of the Sliders. Ultimately, we ended up getting three; the Abruzzo Pork, Chicken, and Meatballs. Now, whereas the fillings of each were all decent; juicy herb and wine-braised pulled pork (though I was rather sad that’s all it was, was hoping they’d either have a flavorful sauce or at least some extra toppings on it, otherwise it tasted like plain pulled pork, though really juicy), grilled chicken with a nice pesto and griddled red pepper (love cooked soft red peppers), and a meatball that was soft, well-seasoned, and with a tasty sauce; the simple decision in buns made the experience absolutely disappointing. First off, the ‘ciabatta’ style slider buns were way too thick for the fillings inside; ended up eating all of the meat before finishing the bread, leaving a big chunk of dry dough to force down the gullet. Secondly, there was NO TOASTING of them at ALL! And THIS was the kind of pre-cooked roll that needed a second run-through (like those take-home baguettes at the grocery store that you need to put in an oven to actually get crispy and soft), which is why they were all completely dry, doughy, and absorbed every drop of sauce. They dearly needed to be coated in oil or butter and put on the griddle for a bit at least, get some texture, form a layer, actually make it edible. And they had ample time to do this with the chicken too. They seriously need either get smaller buns or stuff them with more filling AND have them spend a bit of time on the griddle or in the oven before service.

Let me say if it wasn’t for the quality of the non-sandwiched food, and what I imagine how good the pasta probably is, this would be a much different score.

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Holdability: 8

                 One of the things I was most excited about when I first saw the menu was that my main worry of what was a very Italian-American style of business, typically filled with bowls of dishes filled of pasta and meat and sauce, very much expected to serve most of their usual fair in big to-go containers alongside plastic forks, actually took proper steps to twist and focus their food into a more portable means. As I’ve mentioned already, many main items are in sliders or a long sandwich, or are offered deep-fried as typical finger foods. Obviously the one pasta dish (and any sorta seasonal ones they say they do) still need forks, but everything else should be able to consume with hands easily, though the stuffing of the baskets with a buttload of chips feels like it curtails the portability feeling a bit (not to mention highly cheap and an unnecessary addition). Should I count all the powdered sugar on the Zeppoli and Fried Ravioli, not to mention its gooey chocolate insides, against them? Probably. Will I? Hell no; I mean that’s like complaining about mini-donut cinnamon sugar on your fingers (YOU MONSTER!!!).
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Price: 9.5

                  $4 for each dessert; $7 for any slider including a sampler of two (can get a sampler of 3 different ones for $9) and the Pasta; $6 for Arancini and Garlic Dunkers; and $8 for the sub. Really great range and deals overall, in addition to those massive additions of chips and that bigger fried breadstick on some, but the quality and actual size of those sliders (and unsatisfying bread) makes the lower price of THOSE understandable.
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Speed: 8

Overall, most of the ordered items didn’t take too long to get out; desserts and arancini just needed quick fry, meatball and pork sandwiches cut and scooped into some at-the-moment sliced ciabatta, and breadsticks deep fried. It was only that which needed cooking, like the chicken slider, that took a while… though it did seem quite a while. A bit disappointing considering how much time and opportunity they had to also put the buns on there (no, I am NOT going to stop bitching about those). Can imagine pastas, which are always cooked to order, will be a while. No idea on the sausage sandwich, though I expect it to be similar to the meatball situation. Overall it differs highly, so pick wisely.

The TOE: 7

                  When I first finally got to visit them, saw their menu, and tried the desserts, I was really excited. You know that feeling you have when you go to, or at least think of, one of those old, corner family-run Italian diners/restaurants? Walk in, look at the menu, and you can practically feel some old matriarch or patriarch in the back, just kneading masses of pasta dough by hand, stirring big pots of meat and sauce, following the same recipes and movements that generations of family members did before them. Reading the menu, getting served by the obviously wizened owner behind the window, I FELT that, even before eating the food.

And then I went back and had those sandwiches… and I lost that. Really I shouldn’t technically be having the food quality affect this score too much, but it just makes such a dent in the experience. Not to mention, I never thought I’d say this, but the generator was exceptionally loud on the second visit, seemed like a rather older model, which actually affected the experience a bit. That said, make sure to follow my Final Notes, pick the right menu items, and this hopefully shouldn’t affect you. Fingers crossed.

Oh, a last thought, something I’m really not able to say often anymore, but of the few items I DID really like I found what may indeed be the emergence of a Toe Ring. Those deep fried Chocolate Raviolis certainly hit that unique-yet-familiar note, sinfully delicious aspect, not how I expected but almost complete success. Big props for that.

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Tally: 38.5/50

Final Thoughts

Given my experience with the sliders, it’s plain to see that this is not a truck I would suggest for your everyday lunch needs, especially with other options available. However, parked in a food truck fair/rally setting, or on those days when those like me enjoy popping from truck to truck in gathering a ‘meal’ from separate little bites while keeping an easy hand on the wallet, Sal’s Place has a few items that excel.

The Arancini fit the same categorical need as Gogi’s Kimchi Rice Balls, only better, crispier and with that added element of gooey cheese. After getting that as a snack, finish off your day with the Fried Chocolate Ravioli or Zeppoli; it’s very hard for me to choose between the two, but if I really had to I’d probably pick the latter just for perfection’s sake. These guys definitely make a ‘food truck meal/day’ complete.

If still one wants to come by with the absolute intention for a sandwich or otherwise fuller meal from Sal’s, I cannot provide a 100% solid solution. That said, I do still hold some higher expectations for the Sausage and Pepper Sub; like the meatball it IS handmade, bigger, and there’s a chance the bun used might hold up better than those ciabatta sliders; plus, more portable. But if there’s any entrée they should do well with, it’s their Pasta, whatever seasonal thing they have on that day (Ziti, Mostaccioli, et). They make the egg pasta themselves, not to mention their tasty sauces, so it should offer a proper menu highlight. But those are the only two.

Top 20 Food Trucks, 2014

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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!

Vin’s Italian

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http://www.vinsitalian.com/
https://twitter.com/VinsItalian
Main Location: Minneapolis, Breweries

I think this is the first time I’ve ever had a truck ask me to come visit them without any reaching out on my own part beforehand. Must say it’s a little empowering… like I’m a GOD and you’re all just ants, ANTS begging for praise and attention! Bow to me insects and worship me as the one who makes you! AHHAHAhahahahaha!!!

… what? Hold on, sorry, I’m being told by my cat that I’m acting a little insane and power-hungry at the moment… well she’s probably right about one of those things.

Where were we? Oh yes, I was invited to stop by a truck this week via twitter (oh my god it actually became useful for me!). Of course the truck in question has been open for three months, as have the previous two reviews of trucks which I had only JUST found out about. God I wish I lived in Minneapolis again… I’m getting off on another tangent, stop it me!

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Vin’s Italian, as they’re so called, began their roll in the warm summer and are set to plant it out as the chilly autumn blows through. While the cold sinks, their griddle will be toasting up Italian Sandwiches to warm hands and stomach alike with classic Italian-American bread fillings. Top of the list is, of course, the all-important Meatball Sub, soon followed by options for spicy giardanera-studded Italian and, at times, the Sicilian Beef. These are joined by a hot and juicy Italian Sausage roll stuffed with Peppers, almost like eating on the East Coast streets again; and for the vegetable-lovers (and requirers), the Fried Eggplant Pesto sandwich, stuffed in a soft bun filled with hopes and dreams. Not to mention the occasional seasonal-based offering.

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Now don’t be a guy like me who has to wait for an invitation; go get your fix, have a treat and stuff that gullet with a good hot sandwich. I’d make you an offer you couldn’t refuse but, you know… pretty sure I’m really far away from most of you, don’t know where you live and… yeah. They got mints… those are also nice.

Food: 9.5

                As much as it pains my wallet, I just couldn’t decide between two particular sandwiches, and either way I felt like only having one of them wouldn’t give me a complete picture. Thus I ordered both the Meatball and Fried Eggplant Pesto, with the plan that I would eat the whole of the latter and maybe some of the former for lunch and save the rest for later, you know, to conserve and such… in less than half an hour neither of them stood a damn chance.
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Let’s start with the idealistic Italian sandwich that is the Meatball Sub. Stuffed inside a ginormous package of what they call a ‘bun,’ these four good-sized balls of Beef, Pork, and Lamb retain a properly needed moisture to them, along with a soft texture that thankfully avoids any of the density and chewy properties of not-so-good meatballs. My favorite part of them, though, is how nicely the flavor of the herbs and other seasonings they placed in come through, showcasing the identity that you know they were looking for amongst the tender grind. Sauce is both bright and rich, with an amazing coating over its not-so-hidden delivery, and coated in a layer of melted cheese that works, though I do wish they had notably more to it; I want there to be a gooey mess of dairy amongst my red sauce that truly indicates it as a proper Italian sub. As for the bread, my initial thoughts on seeing were of worry, and I’ll admit it’s definitely a good sized guy to wrap those teeth around with the meatball, but the carbs yield quite easily under tooth, and though there’s a little bit of that gluttoness chew to the texture it’s not enough that your jaw gets sore when finished (like a certain catering truck we know of). Very often you will also have portions to consume that don’t contain any corresponding meat, but I still feel that the actual ratio of bread to filling, the latter being very tightly kept in its upper areas, is actually right on, just need to eat that extra bit more bread to get there.

Technical aspects aside, it is heavy, and rich, and tasty, and sinful, and everything right on a slightly chilled autumn day. I couldn’t stop halfway through this guy no matter how much I tried.

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The Eggplant is also affected by the cheese issue in my opinion, mainly the fact that I just want more of it, have it become a real texture and element of the sandwich all its own! Speaking of which, sad to say the breading around the actual eggplant was almost all soft by the time I got to eating it; to be fair on their part, I think that much of that may be due to the fact that I had to wait about 5 minutes carrying it around in its heated sac before I could sit down and consume it, but I still get the feeling that it wasn’t all perfectly fried crisp the moment I got it anyways. Either way, one should make a note that, if ordering, they should eat this thing immediately while at least some of that textural play can come into the picture.

Those aspects aside, I absolutely loved this sandwich. I love that they use a different bread that’s right for it, I love the fresh lemony notes that come off the herby pesto, I love the little tang of the pickled peppers and I love how all that plays with the rich, almost meaty soft eggplant. This has definitely reached the realm of how to make eggplants tasty, and what’s really cool is how well a vegetable-based dish like this can FILL you. I really wanted more. And I can bet that other sandwiches have reached similar levels of success as these two.

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Holdability: 6

               Much like the old quandary of chewing gum while moving one’s feet at the same time, suffice it to say that these aren’t necessarily sandwiches one wants to eat while walking. Being wrapped in paper, foil, and then slipped in their own well-shaped to-go sleeve, sitting down after transport is best for these behemoths of Italian meat and sauce, especially if one does the chip combo in a bag (which I saw a few people doing). Of course my experience is colored via the fact of getting two sandwiches, cuz one probably CAN eat while mobile, but options like the meatball and Italian are likely to be a bit messy while doing so. Not to mention the adventure of sinking your teeth in big bites. I will say that, minus the falling peppers, the smaller-diameter Eggplant does seem to be a bit more hands-friendly of an option, even being cut in two (which for once doesn’t hinder as one can open the package from a single end); which is good cuz, as I said, one wants to chew down on this guy as soon as possible.

Price: 7.5

                  $8.50 for both of the ground-meat options (Meatball and Sausage+Peppers), a boost to $9.50 for the roast beef-based Italian (and I’m guessing the Sicilian too), and $7.50 for the Eggplant and other seasonal Veggie sammiches.
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Speed: 8.5

                Hard to tell from a good-sized line of tickets in front, but everything seemed to be handle quite well despite the rush, a strong speed to serve through.

The TOE: 9

                Despite a very simplistic design and graphics work, Vin’s comes out with a strong theme and personality to the menu, transforming it from just another Sandwich Truck to a specific destination for your cravings. It’s a joy to be able to go to a place like this, glance at the menu and just “get it” without having to think about things too deeply.

  Service: +0.5

                I haven’t used this is a while, though there may have been cases I probably should have. But the two on shift today kept really calm with great, amiable personalities through what was likely an unexpected push of customers on a somewhat chilly Tuesday. Very talkative still while putting effort to connect with customers while getting orders out, I think they’ve earned at least a little bit of extra pointage.

Tally: 41/50

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a “sandwich truck” experience, I would say this is probably one of the best in Minneapolis. Though all options are sure to leave you smiling, I’d say the highlights really are the Meatball and Fried Eggplant Pesto; the former for when you can afford finding a place to sit after ordering, and the latter if one is able and needs to chow down immediately. Do make sure you don’t let it sit in the foil for long so as to retain any texture in the fried crust. If you’ve gone back more than once, which would not surprise me (I get a similar urge to return much like with my trips to Vellee and SCRATCH), checking out the Seasonal option/s would be my next big plan of attack.

Tru Pizza

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http://www.trupizzatruck.com/
https://www.facebook.com/trupizza
Main Location: Minneapolis

Coming in with the other anticipated mid-season group of trucks mentioned in a previous review, Tru Pizza has hit the downtown Minneapolis streets to solid acclaim. It seems the business has quickly integrated itself quite well into the lineup, at least for this year, and is poised to become the first supporting column in our mobile pizza needs (true, there is another pizzeria on wheels in Minnesota’s list, but they rarely hit the streets outside of events and rare brewery visits).

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They peaked my own curiosity quite a bit too; seeing it was based out of a completely enclosed truck, as opposed to many mobile pizza places using a trailer with noted attachment on the end for their brick-oven, I very much wanted to know what appliance and system they used for their pie cookery. What an intriguing shock I got, then, when I noticed the front half of their already-small working space was crammed with yet a giant domed pizza oven, typical in style to the traditional brick oven. “How they get it in there?” my first thought read… only to be solved on my realization it is NOT a brick oven, but made of pure steel, so disassembly must be possible; I do believe it is still wood fired though, leaving a great and hot cooking source for the Neapolitan fare.

As for the fair itself, I guess I don’t need to state that Pizza is indeed the specialty; in particular, crust and toppings keep more to the Mediterranean trends favored nowadays, with crusty raised dough. Leaning towards light red and white sauces, delicate use of toppings, and ingredients like Buratta and Fennel Sausage, Tru is reminiscent of some of our favorite quality pizza places that have come into focus the past decade.

As for options, they of course start off with a classic Margherita (for those still unaware, simple pizza of fresh tomato, mozzarella, and basil), regular or a Wet option that uses Buratta (basically mozzarella cheese that is wrapped in a ball around very moist and wet curd, super delicious and delicate). Pre-set pizzas include something called “Killer” that uses pepperoni and crimini mushrooms, as well as a Highway Man that has the same meat, fennel sausage, basil and pepperocini peppers. White Pizza’s (using simply olive oil and basil) focus on ingredients like Prosciutto, Arugula, Kalamata Olives, Feta, Sun-Dried Tomatos, Kale, and fresh Garlic. One of course has customization options.

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There is of course  no good pizza place without an option for bread on the side, Tru taking this to offer a more affordable ‘Flatbread’ option. On my visit it was listed as ‘Lardo,’ a special guy that’s brushed with rendered pork fat with herbs and pecorino. Whether this is to be a constant option or they change it is unsure, but it sounds nummy to me.

Food: 9

                Trying to find a single pizza that would allow me to get a full experience of their style and the quality of various toppings used, I ordered the MRE, coming with a mix of Fennel Sausage, Crimini, Wood-roasted Onions, and Fresh Basil. I also substituted to the Buratta Mozzarella to see how it comes out.

Which, sadly, didn’t shine as much as I wanted what with the other flavors coming into play, especially with little was on the pie; that said, it still offered a very fresh, clean, great cheese on the tomato sauce, still way better than factory shredded crap, I just doubt one could differentiate it from the fresh Mozzarella that much. As for the other main components, the sauce was bright and fresh, good tomato flavor without that heaviness derived from thick paste and overly stewing. Dough was nicely thin, great charring from the oven, with a good chew texture for most of it, though I felt the slightly thicker ends a bit chewier than my taste. But to be fair Punch Pizza’s is a bit tougher still, so overall they seem to have a good and acceptable recipe.

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I love the fennel sausage, the charred and soft onions, and some nicely roasted mushrooms. The ingredients have a good level of quality and creation, and come together with the other base factors to create one of the typically ideal wood oven cooked pizzas. The one thing that stands out for me, and this somewhat ties into price, is the amount of these toppings seem a bit scant, even for the style. I wish there was a bit more on there.

Holdability: 5

               Well, it is pizza, though it’s at a small enough size with light toppings that it could allow for easy consuming without having to find stable seating. However, the dough wasn’t cut through all that cleanly, requiring effort to separate the hot pieces without a mess taking place; basically, it became a much harder experience to eat while walking.
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Price: 8

                The three most affordable pizzas are $7, $8,and $9, with the rest hanging between $10 and $11; note these are all good sized lunches, but not the ‘sharing is probably best’ behemoths from a certain other pizza truck. There are options for additions and burrata cheese switch-outs at charge, but I rarely see a particular need to do any of them. Of final and particular note, the Lardo Flatbread comes in at a very cost-effective $5, a tempting offer for future visits in my book.

Speed: 7

A little longer than average, though that’s somewhat expected considering what’s being cooked (though if I remember correctly, certain proper brick oven can cook a pizza pretty damn fast when done right).

The TOE: 8.5

                I’m gonna give them a couple extra points here than I did Little G’s, since they have the same qualities at this point, but I feel a bit more cohesion and identity, plus lack of boring cliché of just having brownie and cookie options on the side; menu and food feels somewhat similar to actual brick-oven pizza restaurants I’ve been to. Not to mention bonus on the use of pork fat in the flatbread (aka breadstick substitute); I am debating whether or not it might actually reach TOE Ring status, but I’d need to try it first (damn my skinny wallet nowadays).

Tally: 37.5/50

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Final Thoughts

If you enjoy and/or desire pizza in the style of Black Sheep and Punch, but don’t feel like going through the whole restaurant thing for lunch in Minneapolis, then Tru Pizza is an ideal stop. Also a strong possibility when looking for a filling yet delicious option at very low prices, the Lardo Flatbread is great for those who don’t mind a carb-loaded meal.

Those options I feel worth going after, at least on your first visit, are highly limited; they only put a bare amount of extra toppings on in my opinion, and then the charge for extra meat starts adding up. As such, I say grab one of the Margherita’s to enjoy the pure and simple fresh, juicy qualities of the basic pizza ingredients. If one HAS to have meat, I might suggest ignoring some of the other options and just add Fennel Sausage to the basic margherita; it’s easily gonna be a better experience than the pepperoni, and costs the same as the Killer. Speaking of which, I would also completely ignore any thoughts of substituting the Buratta; it’ll only really shine well on the Margherita, other toppings easily covering up the subtle qualities that make it amazing.

Something then tells me that the White Sauce based options probably don’t share the highlight, but the Santorini and Health menu items draw my eyes for those who desire a full, vegetarian-friendly lunch without doing the ‘boring’ tomato-mozzarella option (I’m sure there are some who may be sick of it by now). It’ll just cost more.

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PepperJax Philly Express (Quasi-Review)

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http://www.pepperjaxphillyexpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/PepperJaxPhillyExpress

                So apparently there’s been a certain mobile Food Truck out serving in St. Paul and certain other locations near the Twin Cities for almost a year now, and I only just learned about it from a random appearance at a recent Truck Rally. Boy do I detest my lack of information-gathering-skills at times.

                Though oft derision-based as it normally is, sometimes the application of my Quasi-review is purely necessary for the very simple reason that there’s not a lot that needs saying! Prime example, my very latent discovery of PepperJax Philly Express, who make, what else? Philly Cheesesteaks! What other menu options do they offer you ask? Nada! You get a beef philly, a chicken filly, or one without meatfrieson the side (if you want). That about sums it up.

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               Brief history for fun. Apparently the company story revolves around the owner meticulously trying to make the perfect Philly meat (despite the fact he lives and operates in Nebraska), patenting a certain cut of steak, and opening up this “new concept” quick-service casual restaurant sometime after retiring. PepperJax Grill was born, and over a hundred restaurants have popped up in the Midwest, including one very pretty far-roaming Food Truck.

              Thus I grabbed myself a sandwich, doused it with some sauce (you can either do Spicy Ranchor pick from a line of BBQ sauces… the latter which I don’t really understand), chowed down and got to it! See what this now-Minnesotan extension is like.

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              Oh, and they have this cute little chutein front of the wide window that your toasted Philly Roll/Bread slides down! It’s like your own personal delivery waiting for its scrumptious meaty contents before being shipped to your mouth.

               Food:9.5Spicy, beefy, melty cheese, soul food comforting goodness, it’s no wonder Pepperjax has grown so much. I love their bread! It is absolutely perfectly soft, absorbent but firm, with a great texture to it without being chewy. Probably one of the closest things to a true Philly we can get in the Midwest. However, close is still not the actual thing; eating through it, I do somewhat wish there was MORE cheese, and I have yet to feel it’s reached that Pinnacle of grilled meat perfection that calls out to the masses. Close, so very good and satisfying, but not quite there yet.

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                Holdability:7 – I guess one COULD walk and eat with it; I was standing and eating mine without quite as much problem as I thought I’d have. But it’s still a Philly, you look at that picture and tell me you’re not better off setting this giant bad-ass down on a table to dig in. It can get quite messy. And that’s without even considering the “Gunner”option… which I think I should do sometime…

                Price:9$8for the classic, $7.75 for the Chicken,$7for all veggie, with an additional $2 and $2.50 forFries and Double-Meat(Gunner) respectively. Considering how damn big these are, and good it is, I’d say these are pretty well priced. Would like it better if they had some discount snack item option, a $5 or under thing.

                Speed:9 – Each sandwich done one by one, once you actually get the order in, it’s made pretty damn quickly. I’d say it actually went from meat and veggies on the grill top to stuffed inside the bread in only… 1-2 minutes at the most? The only wait came in the person at the register.

I would like to make quick comment that, when finally stepping up to the long counter in front of the window in line, there seems to be a bit of a consistently awkward wait to see when you can actually order. Gotta wait for one of the cooks behind to guesture towards you, and apparently it’s usually later than I expected (it was actually the guy already halfway down the counter’s turn when I thought it was mine. Made a weird situation.). Fair warning.  

                Toe: 8.5 – Very singular, very good and delicious, going through the line itself is a little adventure in watching the grill top and the bread slide. They’ve created a bit of that feeling of the classic Philly shops, in that you know when you go there that it’s the only thing you’re going to get. There’s a little part of it that pulls back from the completion of the compelling atmosphere though, I find. Perhaps it’s just the seemingly obvious association and attachment of a restaurant chain, maybe the small logo amongst the big black truck pulls its impact back and makes it feel more like a catering van (I mean hey, when I first saw it I expected it was only in Minnesota on a very brief one or two-time event basis). Just saying.

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                Hell, it’s trucks like these that I don’t need my “suggestion” section after the review, you know what to get! Go grab a Philly, be happy. Nom in the deliciousness of all those meat and veggies; no wussing out with the “scratch the onions/mushrooms” order, and if you do it better be because you’re allergic. Philly Cheesesteaks should be eaten in every bit of their glory… with maybe some of that spicy ranch sauce on top, probably not too traditional in the home city but it tastes pretty damn good here. As does the sandwich.

                Note: in respect for the business model and food truck deliciousness, though this is indeed a “Quasi-Review,” if the score ever shifts to put PepperJax into my top 10 listing, they will receive an official “seat” and not just an honorary mention.  

Spring Food Truck Rally 2014, full of New!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ice Blocks and Snow (with an Asian Twist), NOT Brick and Mortar

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http://blogs.mspmag.com/dara/2013/12/vellee-deli-pop-up-at-crema/                  

                  So, Vellee Deli is doing a Pop-up, Dinner and Winter-only Restaurant in Crema Café come January huh? Well now doesn’t that just brighten up our spirits? Just think, a Latin-Korean Truck Winter-Premiering in an Old Italian Ice Cream spot, it’s a hipster’s dream and I swear if they were opening now it’d be the start of a new Holiday Carol…

                   Let me just say I’m not gonna even try and expound and contribulate and philosophize about this happening in the slightest, I think the article above does a good enough job at it to warrant the respect of me not trying to “compete.”  Some base details, again, is that Vellee is opening this in January, lasting until May, in the Uptown Crema Café, known very well for their small-batch, handmade Ice Cream (gelato I hope), and of course Espresso. It’s dinner-only, as mentioned, and suffice it to say I can’t wait until the New Year’s. I’m so going down there the first chance I get, and I suggest you do the same.

                   So excited!

 

SFC: Italian Sandwich, and no Not That One

               Another upheaval of my sister’s bi-weekly vegetable bag onto my counter left me with quite a few things to cook with through my various lunches and dinners… and also an eggplant. A whole, big eggplant, which stood stuck in my fridge for a week as I tried to find a good night to do something with it.

                And of course, with narrowing options in my peripheral, short window time, a few not-so-great experiences with the “fruit” in the past, and thus little skill in “expert handling” of the product, I as always ended up settling on a cliché. Since I didn’t feel like doing a stewed veggie dish (ratatouille), Eggplant Parmesan it was.

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                Buuuuuttt if I’m going to make somethin’, especially something I feel like posting about, it’s of course gonna have to be street-food-accessible. Thus, despite my love for the gooey, thick lasagna-impersonator that it is, I’ll have to take a different approach.

                Which shouldn’t be too hard, as my first “lesson” in eggplant parmesan had nothing to do with the baked, layered, and baked-again tradition. It simply revolved around a breaded, pan-fried “cutlet” of sorts, served with tomato sauce, the melted cheese, and all that goody. Great potential to shove inside a split hoagie with all the traditional accompaniments for a gooey, awesome, and CRUNCHY sandwich with the rich/heaviness used often as meat-substitute.

                So, before we get to all that handling of the eggplant, we first have to make our sauce. Very little actual rules here, can make whatever tomato sauce you want for the occasion; I stuck with something very basic with what I had on hand. Which was good, because I really needed to get rid of some tomatoes…

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                Start as always with some chopped onions, which are sweat (basically sautéed, but done at a medium temperature and NOT cooked until brown; they should look transparent-ish) in saucepan with BUTTER!!! (YAY!) After a while add in some garlic… and damn I added in a buttload, I think I almost put in as much garlic as onion…

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                If tomatoes aren’t already cut, do that quick; never want to cook garlic for too long (unless the temperature is nice and LOW… or you’re roasting it). I used fresh in this instance, due to the situation, but as I’ve mentioned in another post canned is just as good, and in certain times probably better; especially since they don’t have any skins that just come off and mix around in the final sauce if you aren’t straining.

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                And from here simply simmer/cook on a low to medium heat until everything’s soft. There’s no real NEED for any liquid; fresh tomatoes have a decent amount of water in their cells, and the canned already come with all that stuff around them (which is tasty, use it). Though adding some wine or other fluids certainly wouldn’t hurt.

                I myself wanted to at least get some herb flavors in there, so along with the salt and pepper seasoning I grabbed some red pepper flakes, dried oregano and thyme…. don’t look at me like that! I didn’t have any of the fresh stuff in my fridge! And if I’m not gonna use that stuff in a sauce what am I gonna use it in?

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                Though, I’ll admit I wanted a little more flavor and herbal base/complexity than just thoughs, so I tried an extra little something for fun. Thus I grabbed a can of sun-dried tomatoes from the fridge (hopefully you remember my post detailing my love and adoration for the flavor-filled oil-cured sundrieds), chopped a couple of them fine, and added them in with some of that rich, complex oil. I don’t know how much it really changed things, but I know I enjoyed the sauce.

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                Now done (you can debate whether or not you wanna serve it chunky like this, thin it out, blend it, crush with a potato masher, or whatever), we can get moving on the eggplant. First and foremost is setting up the SBP Station (Standard Breading Procedure… very simple, basic, and flexible style of breading for a variety of situations). We have 3 bowls, or pans, or whatever one wants to use: flour in the first, scrambled raw egg (or just yolk) in the second, and the outer coating in the third.

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                The coating is whatever the hell we want; based off of what I had myself, I used equal amounts of panko bread crumbs, regular bread crumbs, and some parmesan (I thought it’d be a fun thing to add). But one could easily just use pure panko, or bread crumbs, or could crush up some Doritos (I’ve tried it, it makes for a tasty crust), crackers, etc; I was actually going to use some leftover homemade croutons, but they disappeared…

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                After you’ve gathered all stations, SEASON YOUR COATINGS! Flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs all need salt and pepper; not much, but some. It’s just part of proper sbp procedures; also, if you want to get some herbs (fresh is best if able) and/or spices into the breading, that’s tasty too.

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                Grab your pan, which should be very wide and have some sort of deep-ish sides just to help prevent a little splatter, and add a solid but thin layer of oil. We’re not deep frying here, but it needs a little bit of thickness so that it feels like part of the eggplant is actually submered; ideally, when filled with all the slices the oil should rise up to about the middle of their thickness (or just a bit under). Heat this to desired temperature; could try using a thermometer to get to, say, 325 or 350F, or just sprinkle in a little bit of the crumb coating every now and then and see how it sizzles.

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                NOW we can start doing something with the actual eggplant; you don’t want to cut this up ahead of time if you don’t have to. This is of course, for those who know, due to the flesh’s habit of browning/oxidizing quickly once cut. I mean, really, it doesn’t matter too much since we’re coating and frying it completely, but I just like the idea of it being as fresh and whole as possible before cooking. I cut mine decently thick, cuz I wanted that firm, meaty sense to it, and of course cuz I didn’t want the breading to be like half of what I was eating. Also, many recipes will peel the skin off so as to not deal with its texture, and so the breading better sticks to the sides, but I like to leave them on; they add a little flavor, not to mention visual appeal.

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                Then we bread: put it in the flour, coat, tamp off any excess and move to egg. Do the same with that and breadcrumbs, getting a full and even coat before moving to the hot oil. I could probably talk about methods of dipping; using one hand with “wet” things and the other with “dry,” or just using only one while the other is free for other stuff, but it’s all relative, and there are still even more ideas on how best to do it. Just do what’s comfortable and what works best in the situation (say, if coating en mass and frying LATER, the one hand wet and one dry; using a single hand in both will develop this thick, gooey crust that’s a bitch to get off, believe me).

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                Carefully place in the oil (dropping the edge “away” from you, reduce risk of back-splatter), let sizzle until golden-brown, turn and repeat, moving onto a paper-lined plate once done. Ideally, if slices are thick-ish, this should take maybe a minute or so to give time for the inside to soften. If doing thinner, would want the oil even hotter since it doesn’t need it and so less oil is absorbed.

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                And now we’re done. If I was serving this as a proper eggplant parm, I’d set it on a base of sauce, top with some mozzarella (maybe melt it under a torch or broiler first) and/or ricotta, shred some basil and squeeze a bit of lemon juice. Could do the same thing just inside of a long baguette or hoagie bun for an awesome sandwich!

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                In the moment, I felt like something a little different and simpler; the cut, fried eggplant, my chunky tomato sauce, and some of my homemade sauerkraut (yes that’s a hot dog bun, please ignore it, I didn’t have anything for a hoagie!!!).The eggplant was crispy and crunchy with a soft, moist and thick insides, the tomatoes flavorful and red in look and flavor, and the kraut brought a fun brightness and different kind of crunch to the experience. Very late-night crave-worthy. Sorta wish the green tomatoes I’m pickling now were ready though… but that’s something to discuss later.

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                And there we go, another long rambling of my exploits into making a simple sandwich. Hope those reading were able to enjoy it in some sense, I certainly enjoyed making and eating it. And for all those now looking to continue adventures in frying, eggplant weaving, or simply not caring about what I’ve said at all, I leave with Good Lucks and Good Eatings.