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.

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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.

Warming up a Rainy Day

               Once again, the Minnesota weather patterns hit us again, from a warm spring back to a cold day of light snow (in the beginning of April no less), immediately followed by gloomy rain. Being the Minnesotans we are, though, that didn’t stop the crowds of people journeying to NE for the ARTCrank’s Saturday event at the Grain Belt Studio.

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                Don’t ask me exactly what was happening, though; you know me, I was only there for the Food Trucks. All I know is it took place in an empty warehouse with an old metal balcony and stairs, and that the walls were covered with art/posters/etc. I swear, walking around there in my trench coat, scarf, and a Food Truck Taco, I started to having aching suspicions that I might be turning into a Hipster… still don’t know how I should even think about that. Oh, and they had beer and custom glasses; not to mention one of the longest lines for a drink that I’ve seen since last year’s Food Truck Fair.

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                On that topic, as I mentioned in a previous post, we had quite a few of them set in the parking lot outside. Natedogs, Gastro, Potter’s, Fork, and Sassy all showed up; Chef Shack was supposed to, but for some reason they didn’t show (at least not while I was there). Facebook and Twitter feeds say that they were in Bay City Wisconsin last night; maybe a hitch in the travel and weather, which sucks cuz I wanted to try that new “foie burger” they had.

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                Started the night off with one of Nate’s fantastic hot dogs, my first time being able to try his Surly Mustard. I will say one thing, he knows how to make ‘em, that’s the good kind of spicy mustard. Speaking of spicy, got a bit of his relish on too. Not much more I can say, Nate’s proven to all of us the quality of his products since day one.

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                Now we move onto the real reason for my travel: Sassy Spoon. With a reply to my review and offer to attempt them again, it became my duty to find Sassy once more. As for the results… well, let’s say it wasn’t what I was hoping. I give them credit, my original review had them at high prices and limited offerings, and they HAVE lowered the prices slightly (not to mention having more than two items for choosing). However, considering the fact that their reply SPECIFICALLY said that all of their menu items were $9 or under, I found it quite amusing to see THIS menu:

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                Yeah, my thoughts exactly.

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                I went for the tacos, as it was the most reasonably priced and only REAL Street Food-esque item on display. And here I give them some more credit. They used the really good masa tortillas, griddled, and had a very tasty slaw topping for the pork (what I would expect from a health/diet-focused Truck). The pork, though, reminded me of the firm, sorta-dried variety one gets in Asian take-out (not in the worst way, though not in the best either); and part of it was burnt to charcoal.

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                From the looks of it, they’re doing a bit more cooking to order on the Truck, but still have items that require no at-moment labor other than simple assembly. Now, let me tell you my main problem with them (oh yes, I still haven’t gotten to this yet). You notice in the menu there are two interesting new items; the pork and the meatballs. The pork, as one sees, has two options: a taco version and a bowl version, the latter costing a noticeable amount more. Curious, I asked about the bowl, as I figured there HAD to be something else in there besides just pork and coleslaw; hell, even bbq joints do more than that, and that’s their go-to.

                Apparently no. It was just a bowl of sorta-dry pork and some coleslaw. Same held true with the Meatballs. No sauce, no cauliflower mash (very disappointing, because they make it well and it goes good with both), not even a piece of bread. There’s just more of it, and they decide to charge more because of this. The meatballs don’t even have the OPTION of eating in a sandwich or anything; at least the pork I could get a taco if I wanted.

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                The reason for this? They state its carbs, now you have options so you don’t have to worry about those pesky little sugars. And I respect the thought behind that, it’s good to have options for allowing people to cut that out. But that’s all it should be, OPTIONS. This is a Food Truck, they need to be focusing on STREET FOOD, and a random bowl of meat and coleslaw that is not. And when you DO have these options, I don’t want to pay more; you’re cutting something out of there, and truthfully I don’t even want to eat more of a dish that’s just two items. You have these FANTASTIC Masa tortillas that you’re using; don’t label them a nuisance, Flaunt them! THOSE are what you should have been advertising and charging a bit more for, not something that (once again) requires absolutely no (actually less) extra labor to produce. Hell, the most intense Atkins dieters aren’t going to care about two small corn tortillas, I’m pretty sure the general public won’t either as far as health is concerned (they’re probably the healthiest tacos anyway). And could you get something for the Meatballs too? They would be AMAZING in a sandwich, just ask Devil’s Advocate; especially if they’re only served with slaw.

                At the end of the day, despite their attempt to convince me of their difference, all this visit has done is further Cement my previous opinion that Sassy Spoon’s best when buying ahead of time, taking the food home, and re-heating for dinner or large lunch. Changes to my previous review will of course be made in response to both the positive and negative aspects I’ve witnessed, though they will be slight. Overall, I still respect them for their health-focused goal and the quality of the food they make, but Street Food they are not.

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                To cleanse my disappointment, I headed straight for one of my favorites, Potter’s. They had a pretty fun special that day; BBQ Pulled Pork w/ Sweet Potatoes. It’s always cool to see places like them and Midnord play with foods outside the traditional cuisine of their style.

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                As always, it was quite filling. Though, since I’d already sampled a few things, figured I would try and finish the day off with a dessert. So I got the Guinness Cupcake that Fork was offering aaaand… regretted it immediately (My fault, I of all people should have known better, no one else to blame there but me). Was hoping to at least wash it down with some beer at Dangerous Man Brewing (just happened to be right next to where I parked), but I was shocked to find they actually had a LINE outside the door. Not something I could really understand, considering the reviews like This that I’ve heard about the still-new-and-improving establishment.

                However it ended and went through, the event still made a fun amusement and distraction during this gray and rainy day. I wish ARTCrank luck on their endeavors, and hope their next get-togethers are just as successful as this one.

A Day of Mixed Experiences

               You know what it is they say about the “Best Laid Plans?” Well, that particular kind of bad-luck situation seems to cross my path quite often; in fact, almost every time I attempt to plan a day with someone else. Heck, I once scheduled a day to take off of school (special 1-time use card privelage thing) a couple months ahead of time, and it just so happened that day ended up being the 1 day after 10 years that we closed due to Snow.

                This of course was no exception yesterday, when me and Paige from Alcohol by Volume finally met for a day of Brewery and Food Truck mingling. So, after driving all the way down to Indeed, I suddenly found out that, not only do they open at 3 as opposed to the Noon time we had planned, but the Food Truck I was looking forward to was scheduled for Saturday, not Friday (darn their confusing Calendar). Called my meeting buddy to re-think, drove to meet at Fulton… which also wasn’t open. SO we just met at a bar Downtown, since she was already walking on Nicollet.

                So, after booking it all the way from Fulton to Nicollet and 10th (I had already found this awesome 10hr Parking Meter, paid 50c for 4 hours, I’m not letting that baby go) I entered “The Local” and went about searching. For those who haven’t been, it was my first time too, they have a fun old-school bar interior, divided right in half by a long, extensive woodwork. The rest of the pub is interspersed with private cubicles, glass dividers, wood stands, and other such patchwork forms of older-styled décor, designed mainly for creating senses of privacy. It’s a really cool and fun thing to walk through… but it sucks when trying to find somebody. I circled twice, and ended up having to sit and have her find me instead.

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                Took about an hour, but finally got the day kicked off. The rest went smooth and simple. Shared some talk over a beer; being quite tired from the run, I needed a creamy Kilkenny, and to our luck we found they held a Harriet, so she went for that. After expressing the interest, the bartender decided to find a growler of their Saison and poured us each a taster.  Really had that characteristic Harriet Fruity-Hoppy complexity on the nose, though my more experienced colleague pointed out its characteristics technically weren’t along what a true “saison” should be. At the very least we agreed it still tasted good.

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                Feeling the need for a change of venue, specifically one that held food, I offered two main ideas, and we headed off towards Marquette. Since, sadly, we only found one Truck still parked, I decided to take her to option #2: Devil’s Advocate. Shockingly this was the first time she had even heard of it, so I thought it’d be a fun experience, even if Food Trucks weren’t involved.

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                A nice, complex and darker Winter Ale for her, and my first glass of Dragon’s Milk Stout, and we went for a simple order of meatball sliders. Pretzel roll double of Beef w/ Red Sauce and a Single Chicken w/ Mushroom; it was my first time trying the fries too, which I definitely give them much applause for in their perfection of soft inside and crispy outside. It was my first time seeing their dessert menu, too, and I definitely suggest your next visit include one of their seemingly simple yet slightly twisted items. The cheesecake we ordered, for instance, was made with Mascarpone instead of the typical Cream; made a bit smoother and not as heavy.

                Talks had no real common thread, ranging from the complex and storied past of Finnegan’s Brewery to the practices of separate city Brewing Clubs (of which I’m thinking I might look into for joining), between Hidden Bars and Donny Darko, and a particularly noted discussion of various food-related TV Shows.

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                The day ended at Fulton, where at least I was able to show off one of our prided Trucks, Little G’s. Inside, I had my first glass of their newer War and Peace stout. Very powerful, punchy in style, you really got the bitterness of the Malts and Hops; a fun little version of one of my favorite malt-bases. To our delight, we also found out about their recent foray into making their own sodas, and we both just had to share a glass of Juniper-Blueberry. Much like all homemade sodas, it was awesome.

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                We ordered an Italian (Sausage, Onion, Pepper), a simple heavy style to fit their thicker, doughier crust. She certainly approved, though sadly was full from our trip to Devil’s to eat more than one small square. Finishing our drinks, we called it a day and went our separate ways.

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                It was certainly a fun get-together, and I enjoyed the chance of being able to share our respective loves and interests in these two growing culinary scenes. Very much looking forward to the next little experience, hopefully I’ll actually be able to show off more than one Truck next time. Until then, we’ll both keep on tasting and trucking for your reading pleasure!

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                Oh, one final note. Since I had another hour on my meter, and was still a bit affected from the drink, decided to stop into the nearby Saffron for a little waiting snack. Sadly, they didn’t have the Lamb Brains available (could have sworn I saw it on one of their Happy Hours at one point, but apparently I was wrong), so I tried a little dish of house-cured beef called “Bastirma.” Rubbed with Turkish spices, one could really get that gentle complexity in the aroma, and the chew was nice with the clean fat and concentrated meat. Certainly a nice, simple appetizer to end the day with.

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Devil’s Advocate, Downtown

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               Those who are familiar with my posts know that I don’t normally write about restaurants, other than an off-handed mention in one of my ramblings. However, spending the day with my cousin, we decided to stop at Devil’s Advocate for a large lunch/dinner (helped that we also had a groupon for it). Now, I’ve already stopped by before, but I only had a single slider and some Devil’s on Horseback (dates, stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon); haven’t had the chance to really explore the rest of their menu.

                The groupon was for $50, so we ended up getting a LOT of food for the two of us. One of those dishes, however, so reminded me of that feeling, that SPIRIT of a Food Truck item, which I just couldn’t help but want to write about it. It just helps to reinforce my feeling that this Meatball-focused Bar should get a Food Truck, and soon (see my other Truck-pics Here).

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                Before I get to that, though, a look at a few other things we had; ‘cuz they may be meatball-based, but that doesn’t keep them from making everything else above-and-beyond. We of course had some meatball sliders; one Chicken w/ Tomato, and my first try of the Beef w/ Pesto. Both were soft in all the right ways, juicy, filling; the Beef with that nice, rich undertone familiar with Roasts, and Chicken almost tasting like a Pork in how much flavor they got out of it. Sauces paired perfectly of course.

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                (Okay I forgot to take a pic and hate to use the ‘net. Still…)

                I also decided to try one of the “combos,” pre-paired dishes of two balls on one of their sides. The one that immediately drew my eye was the Pork w/ Polenta. I expected them to use the firm, baked polenta, but to my joy they did the uber-creamy, soft, spoonable style, my favorite! And it actually stayed creamy on the plate w/out stiffening (not everyone pulls this off), while being loaded with richness, cream, all that’s good with it. Topped with the spicy Pomodoro sauce, it made for a fiendishly hooking guilty pleasure… and found me licking the bowl at the end.

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                Not much of a trip to the “Devil’s” Advocate without trying the “Devilled” Eggs, now is it? Not to mention they’re only a couple bucks, so it made a fun little bite. Small, quality eggs, cooked perfectly, with a creamy devilled-mixture, which I can only guess is made purely from the yolks, a touch of cayenne, and a highly flavorful integration of the ubiquitous Paprika, turning their Eggs into an (un)holy revelation of deliciousness. Almost wish I had more, but since it was Cousin’s first time I offered him the uneven extra half.

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                We also had nachos. Yeah, I know, my thoughts were the same; sure everything else is good, but nachos of all items? So simple. But my cousin wanted to get nachos… and thank god he put in the order, because they are AWESOME. First off, and here’s the only thing I really NEED to say: they use MASA tortilla chips for it. Even some of the better places only use corn, so this was a great surprise. The rest of the ingredients are simple but combined nicely; ground beef, red onions, cheese, spicy-cheese-sauce, touch salsa, green onions (or chives, not sure), and a couple jalapenos. May not have been a huge platter compared to others, but I thoroughly enjoyed every single bite, as well as going on a ramble with my cousin on the wonders of true Mexican taco experiences and masa tortillas.

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                Now, we get to the dish which made me want to do a Restaurant-post in a Food Truck-blog. As I’ve mentioned, some of the most lauded and memorable items in Street Food are the ones that take a familiar, nostalgic dish, and then give it a noticeable twist. This can be to add something to our nostalgia, offer something special, or to change an item that doesn’t fit their mold/focus (for so many trucks stay on one specific style) into their chosen unique style. This latter is what Devil’s focuses on, turning the ubiquitous Buffalo Chicken Wings into “Mini Buffalo Chicken Balls.”

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                This is such a SIMPLE dish; and so easily done by a kitchen which spends 90% of its time (I’m guessing) making meatballs. But the spirit behind it is huge, and the result mimics. Tiny little meatballs of chicken, which are just as soft as their bigger brothers, are covered in buffalo sauce and served with skewers on the side.  The blue cheese is blended so it’s silky-smooth, turning that nice blue-grey shade, which I wish more places would do. You get the cheese taste in every bite, it sticks so much better to what you’re dipping into it, and you don’t have this little pile of chunky cheese on the bottom after eating all the actual dressing.

                This dish is absolutely perfect for Food Trucks. It tastes just like a buffalo wing, but… it’s just NOT. It’s soft, the meat even more flavorful, and the skewers make it fun to eat (and if they WERE in a truck, could easily spear all the balls on 1-2 skewers for service). I would certainly give it a Toe Ring if ever I ended up rating this concept.

                Overall, it was a fun day, but Dinner was the absolute highlight (sorry Cousin, I love the food more than you… I’m sure you feel the same though). I can’t wait to go back with someone else, try some more items and Beer (oh crap, I forgot to talk about the beer… oh well, that’s Alcohol-by-Volume’s turf anyways. Just know they have good stuff).

                Oh, quick shout-out to my buddy Yohan! (sure I’m spelling it wrong, sorry!) Worked with him when I was at the Red Stag, he just happened to be our Waiter at Devil’s, it was fun!

 

What other restaurants or menu items just make you think of Food Trucks?

Chefs in the Truck

               Taking in a visit to a busy Food Truck Lunchtime, it’s not difficult to see the many people behind the creation of each Trucks. Those based off of restaurants, catering companies, driven by local chefs… our little line-up has formed quite the expression of our growing Culinary scene. Throughout the country, Food Trucks have become a kaleidescope created by the hordes of Chefs and Foodies.

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               With the recent surgence of Andrew Zimmern into this fray with the acclaimed AZ Canteen, attention towards the actual people behind individual trucks has seemed to increased, both current and possible. Writing the review for his Truck, I myself have started to wonder about who may come out with the next Mobile Adventure; or, better yet, who would I WANT to…

              That in mind, I thought it would be fun to go over some of the various Restaurants and Chefs I would love to go into this field of Food service; whether realistic or not.

The Bulldog (NE or Lowertown)

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                Still my favorite Food Bar in the city, Bulldog slings out some of the best kobe burgers around, with each base offering an extensive list of options that are actually UNIQUE, creative, and crave-worthy. Fries and tator tots have been constantly listed throughout Magazine Top 10 lists, and offer some of the best flavors and fatty aioli dippings (NE’s truffle tots still haunt my dreams). Not to mention the various hot dogs (of which Lowertown often serves seasonal Game Meats for now and then).

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               If one were to combine these three focuses, with maybe a club sammich, and a couple of their special beers in bottle, I would not doubt the potential for a fantastic Burger-based menu. Not to mention the fact their dessert menu is entirely cupcake-based. Might have to adjust prices, but so would any Truck in this List.

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Marcus Samuelson

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                Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised, Chef Samuelson creates some of the most International food that one can experience. With such a unique culinary background, one can’t help but wonder what kind of food this person could bring to the Street. And with his experience and skill, you know he’d be able to pull it off.

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The Devil’s Advocate

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               Just had my first lunch here last week, and I am officially hooked. For those unaware, Devil’s Advocate is a Craft Beer and Craft Meatball emporium; 40 highly seasonal beers (as in, when they run out of a keg, they get something else), along a menu focused only on 4 meatballs, sauces, and how many of them you want (and packaging). Besides Saucy Burt’s, we really don’t have any other meatball-focusing Trucks in tow. How fun would it be visit a place where the only questions are “What kind of meatball and how many do you want?”

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Katsuyuky Yamamoto and Alex Chase

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               The two Executive Chefs of Masu Sushi and Robata, both men show an extreme level of passion for each of their areas in the Japanese culinary tradition. With Yamamoto heading the beautiful portraits of Sushi and Chase reigning over the Noodles and Robata Grill, these men have helped to launch Masu into one of the best Japanese restaurants in the State. If there’s anyone who knows about and can execute True Japanese street food, it’s going to be these two. Sushi may be a no-no, but I could see them dishing out quality tempenyaki and bowls of warm, hand-pulled ramen.

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Serious Pie

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               The… best… pizza… I have ever had (so far). Based off of the genius mind of Tom Douglas out in Seattle, Serious Pie is jam-packed every single night with people who want their pizza. The wait for their food is at least an hour.

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               However, this is mainly due to the fact that they only have a couple dozen seats; it’s a very small restaurant, so it takes a while to flip enough tables for one to get in. Pizzas don’t take long to cook, and they are the most quality-focused, delicious things one can consume. Makes me wonder how much faster one could get served for Lunch when simply lined up in front of a Truck Window. (I’ve actually heard it’s much easier to just order To-Go from the restaurant itself)

              Little G’s has shown us that we can attach a wood-fired Brick Oven to the end of a trailer, so the idea of Serious Pie may certainly not be that far-fetched. Here’s hoping Seattle’s Food Truck movement starts pressuring them.

Jose Andres

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              One of the most Contemporary Chefs in the US, Jose Andres is the leading man behind such restaurants as Minibar, Zaytinya, and a few others. Easily one of the main figures in the U.S.-es’ cutting-edge scene of cuisine, Andres is very well known for incorporating what many deam “molecular gastronomy” (-shudders- lot of us culinary people really don’t like that term… would tell you why, but it’d take an hour or two) around his quality-focused food.

            I highly doubt a Food Truck could ever be properly made around the many different things he does, such as Foi Gras cotton candy, but if for some reason a Chef with a style like this was able to do it, Jose Andres would have to be the front-runner. He really just loves having fun with it, and brings that spirit to his food.

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            There are so many others I could mention for Food Trucks; in the “molecular gastronomy” (-shudders-) world in particular, could bring up Travail, Moto, Chef Wylee Dufraine (I know I spelled that wrong, I’m sorry…), and Heston Blumenthal. It is such a fun concept to think about, there being so possible people and places throughout the Country that we love to follow. And with the ever-growing trends and movements of people onto the street, who knows? Maybe we’ll see somebody slinging Meatballs, or flipping Kobe Patties, or shoving an Ethiopian Stew into a flatbread sometime in the years to come. But until now, we can only wonder and wait for the next to idea to grace our ever explorative tastebuds.

              I just hope I don’t have to wait too long.

 

              So what Chefs or Restaurants would YOU like to see open a Food Truck? What kind of specialty cuisine would you like to see that we haven’t yet been able to explore?

 

Saucy Burt’s

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saucyburts.com/

https://twitter.com/SaucyBurts

Main Location: Minneapolis           

            My introduction to Saucy Burt’s was a small article in the Vitamn Restaurant section. It was lucky for me that I just so happened to read that week’s issue too, otherwise I doubt I would have ever noticed and found it to this day. Very small and discreet of a cart, Saucy can be missed quite easily if you aren’t looking.

            Located on Nicolette, usually a couple blocks up from Dandelion’s spot, Saucy serves one item and one item only: the Meatball Sub. Spending months of time on research in recipes and bakeries, Sarah Burt combines the three chosen items into one fantastic, thought-out sandwich. 

Though this solo idea may not last for long; Sarah’s thinking of slowly adding items to the menu plans. Next time you visit, you may find your Veal-Beef-Pork Meatball sharing the list with a Chicken Cacciatore.

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Food: 5.5

                  I was very shocked after ordering my sub. Who would have thought that after all the testing and research the Chef had done, the end result would be… disappointing.

                Do not get me wrong; the meatballs are fantastic and tasty, paired with a rich and creamy tomato sauce. The sauce, however, does that thing where it doesn’t actually STICK to the meatballs; all the tiny tomato pieces just slide onto the bun. Talking about the bun, there is noticeably too much of it en ratio with the 3 small meatballs. It just makes that thick, chewy cold bread-flavor in your mouth while you eat. There’s no toast on it either; just sliced from the package and filled. Even if it has to be done long ahead of time, some texture and crunchiness would improve greatly and take down on the ratio issue. That, and using a smaller torpedo roll, or adding 1-2 meatballs.

                If one is going to sell only one menu item, and a very traditional one at that, every single point needs to excel and keep to traditional standards. That means component ratios need to be perfect, and the sauce needs to COAT and surround the meatballs completely. It is still a very tasty sub, but these little off-kilter mistakes can make the mistakes glaring, at least for people like me at least.

Most of the readers probably won’t care, I understand, but this is how I see things, and I think it should be a shared and known viewpoint.

Holdability: 10

                 As it is, the meatball holds up really well; could easily ditch the basket it’s served in. Though I feel this is contrasting to how meatball subs usually should be…

Price: 8

                 Only $7, a very affordable price, though as it’s the only one it leaves little room for variable options. Plus, with the uneven quality of the sub, it only just reaches that full $7 worth.

Speed: 9.5

                 Very quick, especially considering she knows what everyone is ordering, simply requires the layering of meatball and sauce in roll. Though I don’t quite get why she doesn’t keep the meatballs IN the sauce; makes things go a couple seconds quicker, and can always have some non-sauced on the side just in case.

The TOE: 8

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                A single-person operated, small cart selling only one item holds a fun little appeal all too familiar with traditional street foods. Putting one’s all into making a “perfect” item also holds a lot of risk and admiration. Personally, I actually hope they stick with just one item; you lose some of that special appeal when you expand, whether the single item needs cleaning up or not.

                       Tally: 40/50

Final Thoughts

            I say see if they make changes similar to what I’ve noticed or just don’t go at all. If you do feel the need to scratch it off a list, again it’s not THAT bad of a sub, and only $7 so you aren’t sacrificing much. Plus, if the Cacciatore is added, it would probably be a good option to try.