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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Flavor Wagon

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https://twitter.com/Flavor_Wagon

Main Location: Minneapolis

            Ideally I prefer to wait some time after the opening before I visit and review a truck, say give them over a month or so to get in a rhythm and focus what they’re doing (you know what they say about a place on their opening day). Sometimes, though, circumstance leads me towards a business still fresh after their arrival on the scene.

            Opening in the early weeks of May 2014, my visit to Flavor Wagoncame less than a month later, when they still had yet to set up anything besides a Twitter account. Be that as it may, their menu had luckily gone through a bit of updating, and the food I was able to sample seemed pretty focused and solid for what they were trying to get out.

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            Cuisine is Middle-Easternin style, the top of the Menu portraying (at least for now) an intriguing dish from Egypt called Koshary(see Food section for description). Other items take the regional flavors, with a protein focus on spiced Beef or Chicken, and wrap it up as “Flavor” Burritos, Tacos, or at times Sandwiches. They also offer the oft-typical Tabouleh Salad, Hummus, and Baklava. They used to have a Rice Pudding too, which I was quite excited to try, though after querying the owners found out that it apparently had issues working out in a truck (something about it separating). Which, though I missed it, I’m much happier to see them making a good, level-headed decision not to display an under-par dish.

            I’m curious to see if any of this may change in the coming months.

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Food: 9

            Holy Sinister Starch Bomb Batman!!

            That was my first impression when I was finally handed the Egyptian Koshary, basically just a big pile of Rice, Lentils, and Pasta (traditionally all macaroni, they mix in some spaghetti amongst the masses), “garnished” with Chickpeas and Fried Onions. Soooo starch, starch, and more starch. Then we get a glob of bright red tomato sauce which, on first sight, you think “this can’t possibly accommodate all this pasta and rice… just not enough…”. Then you decide to take a small bite of chickpea with a half-teaspoon scoop of the sauce and actually realize, with a mix of joy and self-loathing, the spicy, pepper-based nature of the red-hot condiment.

            Your fork dives in, now eager to blend all that sauce in with its carbohydrate base, covering everything in a thin layer of reddish-pink; not enough for any other tomato sauce, but just perfect for this Egyptian-style hot sauce. Consumption begins, and satisfaction soon follows. After getting it, I so did NOT think I’d actually like it as much as I did; I mean it’s just rice and pasta and other different starch things. But there was something surprising to it, the flavors weren’t that heavy, the spiciness helped you to keep coming back… it was good. And filling, very very filling! Don’t doubt that. Certainly I don’t need anything else with it; though some other additions in the lines of protein, veggies, and/or crunchy texture could easily launch the completion even higher.

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            The Burrito was similarly a nice surprise. A first bite of lightly flavored Tomato rice gave me doubts, but I soon got down to the good stuff. Ground, Cumin-based Spice Beef, tangy fresh White Cheese, Lentils and Cilantro all create a flavor that’s distinctly Middle Eastern and definitely not as heavy as the typical Burrito. Large chunks of hot, spicy raw onion invade the mass with its crunchy texture and a flavor that, usually, I detest on its own, but actually lovedwith the rest of it. Again, a happy surprise which I fully enjoyed.

            Sadly didn’t have the chance to try their Baklava, but it looks pretty darn good (I’ve seen “meh” baklava before at the Festival of Nations, I can tell Flavor’s is notably better).

Holdability: 7

             Rice/Pasta Bowl, a Salad, Hummus, multiple two-handed hold-and-scoop foods. Even the Burrito, wrapped tight in its foil, finds a thankful relief in having a cardboard basket underneath; it’s still a bit messy apparently, not everything wants to stay in!

Price: 9.5

             $7 for most of the Taco/Burrito entrees, $4and $3 for Sides and Dessert, a very good and decent range of price options. The $6 Koshary comes in at a great deal, giving you a lot of filling food for the cost; though so do other items, but the starch-centric bowl really highlights this.

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Speed: 5.5

            I feel like the wait was longer than it should have considering the simplistic preparation dishes than it should have; though I don’t know, maybe they were cooking some things to-order, but that’s not the impression.

The TOE: 7.5

             The Truck itself doesn’t have much personality to it (the name’s a bit generic and doesn’t have any relation to the theme), but the food easily brings plenty enough to spare. Singular, niche-fitting, with a light enough twist to push it onto the street. There’s a decent gap that needs filling, but it’s a pretty good start.

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                      Tally: 38.5/50          

Final Thoughts

               Probably one of, if not the, best places to completely fill your stomach for a good price; or, you know, if you wanna Carbo-load. For either of these, the Kosharyis the obvious item of highlight, especially considering it’s their signature dish.

               For the more mobile-inclined, or those who don’t want to JUST eat starch for lunch, the tortilla-centered options they provide are the other must-haves. The Burritois my favorite, though the Tacosdon’t look too bad either (expect them to be a bit messier of course); as for Beef or Chicken the choice is up to you.

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               Final suggestions; though it hasn’t reached Toe Ring status, I would definitely get the Baklavaas a lunch or food truck day dessert over the generic brownie/cookie anyday. Though I would NOT get this naturally, if you’re the kind of Truck eater who enjoys getting Chips and Guac on the go, the Hummusoption would be a fun and different change (from what I’ve seen so far, I bet it’s quite well made).

SFC: Playing with your Food

We had some ravioli for dinner a couple nights ago, which lead as it usually does to leftover ravioli. It was the kind that looked like a mini flying saucer, or possible a fried egg turned into pasta; wide, very flat, tempting you to fling it like a frisbee if it weren’t for the messy sauce still on it.
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Since then, I’ve been doing a bit of subconcious brainstorming, seeing if there was a way to turn leftover ravioli into an interesting Street Food item. Obviously, this isn’t something that could be easily approached with the smaller, compact, higher quality ravioli (besides skewering and deep-frying), but a wider, pasta-focused style could lead to something interesting. In particular, the shape almost reminded me of those japanese sticky-steam buns. You know, the ones they put pieces of pork belly and other goodness in for a little sammich.
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So I tried it myself. The filling for this ravioli was shrimp and seafood, so I kept it simple; shredded some celery and put in a few slivers of date (it worked surprisingly well with the other flavors). Now, since our leftovers already had sauce on it, it was a bit sticky… but if you left it dry and separated when putting away (remember, do not let un-dress cooked pasta store together, the starch on the sourface makes them stick together). At the end maybe get a very similar holding texture to those sticky buns along with a little package of flavor. Could even steam them to re-heat.

What do you think? Any other fun ravioli or pasta leftover ideas pop up?