Loud Mouth

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http://loudmouthmn.com/
https://twitter.com/loudmouthmn
Main Location: Minneapolis, St. Paul

I didn’t think it’d take this long for me to properly make it to this particular truck! My first sight of them was at the capital while hitting Filius Blue, but I had already gotten enough from THEM to make it quite difficult to focus on anything else. Though while stopping by I did ask about the place, somehow ended up with a little side salad (it was fresh and tasty, but hasn’t been featured since so I don’t feel like really focusing on it). My second time was during my visit to Sal’s, where my cousin DID get one of their items; but can’t base a review off of just one. So I set to wait until I could get the SECOND of the two sole items that appeared consistently from them, and found yet a third time in downtown Minneapolis, where I was waiting and ready to add into that day’s food truck tasting lineup… and saw they had MORE menu items. Distinct ones too. And I was spending enough money on other things that day anyways!

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But I finally made it down to visit them solely recently! Now it is the time to feature the Loud Mouth food truck! The idea may have started in 2013, but the truck finally realized itself early on this summer; if I remember correctly, actually, my first sighting of them was during their beginning week.

On first glance, there doesn’t seem to be a particular connecting theme amongst menu items, but further inspection and asking questions leads to finding out about where this all COMES from. The Beef comes from the owner’s own family farm, the Pig from a friend’s homegrown operation, and they even have a friend in Alaska working on a Salmon boat that flies in fresh, super-seasonal catches when available. Would imagine the accompanying vegetation is also kept local, fresh, and properly farm-grown as the proteins, though don’t quote me on this.

They bring these on the menu in the form of a Bacon Cheeseburger, Jerked Pulled Pork Sandwich (and I swore I thought I saw them make a ‘Cuban’ one day, but again don’t quote me), and Bowls often topped with some kind of Chicken, currently Thai with Rice and Pulled with Mashed Potatoes. When they have the Salmon on board, it usually comes in two forms; the ‘original,’ definitely noted on my first pass-by, where it’s simply plated with rice, Asparagus/Green Beans, and a Hollandaise I believe. The second form is a Taco with Pineapple, Pickled Onions, Cilantro and more of that sauce. Many of which come with your flavor choice of Dutch Kettle Chips… you know, just cuz.

Now let’s go ahead and see how if the food is as ‘loud’ as their name implies.

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Food: 7.5

                Got quite the collection of little things to try out for this one! Starting off is the Bacon Cheeseburger, topped with house-made Pickles and generic yellow mustard. The beef has that notable ‘charred pub/grillhouse’ style to it, and comes in tender, moist, and a very enjoyable mouth sensation alongside the cascade of cheese, meaty bacon, and subtly ‘pickly’ pickles. Overall I was very glad I chose to get a burger from here. Though talking about the bacon, which I’m guessing is made by them considering their sourcing and how thick it is, the moment the pickle toppings disappear (which can easily happen around halfway through consumption), it does end up making the burger a little too salty when combined with that notable grill char. I’d say this could easily be solved one of a few ways: add some Tomato-based element, like roasted or sauced; have the griddled/caramelized onions SLICED instead of that tiny dice, you barely really experience them like they are now and sliced would cover MORE of the burger easier; or make a sweet-tangy sauce. Any of those could help cut through/neutralize the little extra salty-fatty aspects. But that’s a rather minor concern here at the end of the day.
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A point that their OTHER sandwich, the Pulled Pork, also suffered from. Not on the salty side, but the fat… any regular can see that I do enjoy a gluttonous adventure of fatty goodness, but there ARE times and foods where too much can turn even me off, especially depending on the kind of fat. And sadly I just found this pile of pig to be rather on the unsavoringly heavy with the fat flavor and feel. Which is a shame, because there’s an easy way to fix it… Sauce. Which they top it with… but just not enough. I was rather excited going into this, as I LOVE a good Jamaican Jerk flavor, but I could barely taste it, except for one or two bites with a particularly concentrated amount. And theirs has a nice flavor, sort of more on the refreshing and soft aspect, barely any heat at all. But clearly it’s not strong enough with intensity to hold up. The sandwich either needs MORE sauce, a stronger flavor, or both. After which I would hope they start actually mixing and tossing it WITH the pork to help cut through the fat, both palate wise and physically too. Then again, I could have just gotten an unfortunately fatty scoop and a regular one is much better, but it’s something to consider.

Then we come to the Salmon! The fish itself: tender, cooked well, delicious, classic seared salmon, no complaints. Love that they use masa tortillas with the classic double-layering, always adds a nice note. I THINK I recall wishing there was either more pickled onions or some other accompanying element; yes, because at the end of the day everything in here comes together as all one soft texture. It sorely needs more crunch. Overall though it TASTES good, it’s all nice together… but there’s something about it that doesn’t quite ‘click’ for me. I know I love and vouche for fusion and twisting a lot, but that highly classic/’fancy’ flavors of salmon and hollandaise… it just doesn’t feel quite right being put into a taco as so. I think, for me, it’s simply that its accompaniments don’t fully bring it into a category reminiscent of ‘street tacos;’ they taste good but it doesn’t feel like it’s been properly dragged kicking and screaming into the world of street food flavors. And considering they DID use masa tortillas as opposed to flour, it feels as if they SHOULD have applied those different flavors; like getting chipotle in a pineapple salsa or something.

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But, at the end of the day, I recognize that these particular inhibitions are probably just me. The item itself IS rather unique, a cross between two worlds, and still tastes good. For whatever reason I’m sure I just don’t quite ‘get’ it as well as other customers may. So take that little rant with a grain of salt.

Holdability: 7

                 We’re really all across the board here. Though it comes in a basket, the burger on its own wasn’t really much of a mess, in fact I could have probably handled it somewhat easily, maybe some mustard and burger juice on the hands, with a wrapping and one hand if I didn’t have to deal with the pork! Then of course I imagine those bowls to be rather convenient for a two-handed-required walk-and-consume meal with a fork, and we all can imagine the convenience of tacos; though their particular style, with pineapple and such, did tend to be a little ‘juicier’ and not so ‘tight’ as the more classic Central American street food. Of course I just can’t imagine the salmon plate having ANYTHING to do with eating on-the-go, need to find a place to sit for that one. And finally, the pulled pork WAS a bit of a fatty-overflowing mess, so I was glad I had the basket for that.
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Price: 7

                  $9 each for the Burger and Sandwich, I DO believe the Salmon Tacos were the same but that could have been more like 8; what I do remember is the ‘Salmon Plate’ on its own cost  $12, not necessarily bad but then again I’m not sure how much fish one actually gets. And the newer-to-menu items, the all-in-one Bowls, come at  $10.

Speed: 8

Only took about 5 minutes for that burger; average wait time, though rather decent for how long burgers this CAN take on a truck. Not to mention you get to occupy some of that time munching on your kettle chips of choice.

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The TOE: 7.5

                  Initial impressions during the first times I spotted Loud Mouth sadly weren’t all that overwhelmingly characteristic; I see a big truck that says ‘Loud Mouth,’ a crew that talks about their fun and creative attitude… and a menu that just has a Burger and Salmon. Probably the most generic and clichéd items one imagines a new culinary student would come up with. BUT, I’m very glad I got to wait for a more full experience. The menu expanded, they added a taco version of the salmon, the distinctive Bowl-focused menu items, it’s started to take a more solid and personality-driven shape. Then I actually looked on their website where they talked about the local, seasonal, amazing sources for their beef, pork, and salmon, and was like ‘Awesome! Now this has something that gets a part of me behind it!’ So much so that I WISH they were able to translate that more on the truck; like really listing it on the menu, getting something on the side of the truck, a ‘slogan,’ something… it would have been nice if they chose a name that might have expressed this about themselves JUST a bit more, something that would make us wonder about the story more [a-la Curious Goat did so well]. If possible, I do particularly wish they developed some menu items that felt more like that ‘local, seasonal, organic, etc’ feel to it; maybe incorporated seasonal produce a BIT more, or at least do more with that salmon dish than just Fish+Asparagus/Green Bean+Starch. If done successfully, I think their impressions on the customer base could become even stronger and quite distinctive.

Tally: 37/50

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Final Thoughts

Definitively set in the tier of trucks most ideal for those looking to have something a bit more substantial in their main lunchtime meal item, though not on the really heavy end; though I rarely care for getting fries myself, I would much prefer the option of having THOSE with the sandwiches as opposed to just getting a small bag of empty-calorie chips. I’d actually say the main highlight, to my own surprise, are the Bowls, especially the Thai Chicken which I hear is the bomb. That and the Burger; though it’s not my favorite that I’ve had from a truck, it’s a solid ‘grill-house’ sorta-guilty-pleasure kinda option.

I’m sure the Salmon Tacos will appeal highly to some people; they don’t fully ‘hit’ me but I won’t knock them, just my own personal oddness. Still I don’t see ANY reason to get the OTHER Salmon ‘option’… not until it’s worked on further. Finally, of course I am aware that the ‘extra fattiness’ of the Pulled Pork was probably more of an inopportune mistake on my particular order, and not something which consistently happens, but still I don’t think I’d want to have any pig-related menu items unless they’ve been officially improved with more sauce and/or other toppings.

Funfare Global Street Eats

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https://twitter.com/funfaregse

http://www.funfare-gse.com/

Main Location: St Paul, Etc

It’s a good thing I did some last-minute twittering, I was seriously about to put up a post saying these guys didn’t have a website! It’s tricky to find via google, but I got their twitter id and it led me straight to ’em! Still didn’t tell me too much else about them that I feel like putting down, but that might be the laziness. I do definitely suggest looking into the website to get a good clue to their personality.

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This truck also comes out as yet another build from local Chameleon Concessions, go lizards! After doing so many articles on the side for a certain southern truck builder, it’s always nice to come back and see the fruits of our own Minnesota-based team out on the street in their wonderful mobile glory.

But to get back to the truck itself, my adventure this day leads me to Funfare, or Funfare Global Street Eats, depending on how one prefers calling them that day. As the longer version suggests, along with the very postcardy décor on the side of their big red behemoth, they focus on providing a variety of classic International street foods from various world regions.

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And boy do they really accomplish this. For the past few weeks the menu has hold fast to offering the choices to grab a Cubano (from Cuba throughout Central America), Shrimp Po’Boy (Louisiana), Filipino BBQ Skewers (do I need to say this one?), Pork Steam Buns (Japan), Baja Fish Tacos (Mexico), Chicago Jumbo Dog, Cheese Curds (go Midwest!), Hush Puppies (more Southern Love), and Baklava (Middle East) for dessert. I hear they plan on changing the menu up soon, but I expect at least a few of these will either stay on or see frequent resurgence from time to time, so a good starter.

By the way, they sell Kool-Aid as a drink option… actual vibrant blue Kool-Aid. I’ll just leave it at that and get on with things.

Food: 9

                Suddenly I find myself loading up with FOUR of their menu items, two bigger and two snack-ish. So I’m gonna see if I can actually go through each briefly for once…
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First off, best Hush Puppies that I myself have ever experienced. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, like your favorite corn dog, but not dry in the slightest on the inside, still ‘moist,’ in sort of a touch spongey/doughey sense, hard to quite express. I was very happy to find a version of these fried cornmeal balls I enjoyed, with that notably soft onion-chive-y addition of flavor; a shame there’s NO sauce to dunk them in, some pepper aioli on the side would have catapulted these to perfection.

The best part of the Pork Steamed Buns is the first bite; it’s just that total pork bun flavor, with moist pig, perfect ratio of springy/chewy/tender steam bun texture (it’s so unique and distinctive), a bit of that slaw, and that marinade! For those who’ve had a pork steam bun, there’s that specific sauce flavor that’s unique purely to them, a sweet-tangy Japanese bbq sauce of sorts, and it is up front and center in the best way in combination with that pillowy dough bag. And of course I have to make mention of the interesting little form for these guys, like a Japanese bun taco. Which is cool, but whereas the first bite from the ‘top’ was perfect, the second ends up notably lacking filling, which is understandable and fine, the real issue is that this section of bun, folded over and almost double-layered, ends up notably… not drier, maybe ‘denser’ is the better word? Clearly inferior to the ideal, not uniform like the classic round buns would be.

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So I was going to go for the Po’Boy, just to be different, but then I saw someone else with one… and I’m sure it’s good, great looking veggies and toppings, but come on, that guy just needs more shrimp, it looks sparse. Those BBQ Skewers though… damn that glaze and char, reminded me of the Korean grilled pig in my favorite banh mi.

Then I saw a couple Cubanos come out and was like “Oh yeah, THAT’S what I’m getting.” Full press, flat and crispy top, melted cheese that strings properly when pulled, pickled which are THERE but don’t screw with the sandwich structure, mustard is present, and PIG. Ham and pulled, they got it… inane mention I know, but I’m still reeling from a recent cubano disappointment. This ultimately ate, tight and crispy but not hard crunchy, like I expect a Cubano to, with all the flavors. They nailed it, I was satisfied and happy, though I found there was no single item that really brought it to that AMAZING level, which any sandwich that everyone knows really needs to be in order to get that top class mark. Either a big mass of super gooey-melty cheese, this one was still simple and thin, or just bigger mass of extremely flavorful pulled pork, as again the meat was still rather standard but done well.

20150803_175101And finally, since I was at a bee-focused event, had to get that honey-soaked Baklava. I was hoping that finally, after so long, I would get a baklava from a stand that would be moist and tender and delicious, and they did not disappoint. Seriously, so used to having to choose between small squares of baklava, which are good but tiny, or big triangles which are just dry layers of phillo dough. And this was just a full mass of distinctly moist, sweet honeyed flavor and texture, not soggy at all and with a top layer that is JUST a little crispy-dry, combining with that soft and nutty paste of walnuts/almonds in the typical way. It was just refreshing and happy; if I really looked deeper, and had more experience with good homemade baklava, I’m pretty sure I could make certain points to the soaking syrup and nuts used. But when you really don’t care about thinking about it, this little dessert can just make your day, especially for the day.

 

At the end of the day, the food has a great start and is headed in the right direction to what it should be, but because they’re so close to perfection, and sticky very purely to the traditional compositions, it’s ever clearer to see that they are STILL not quite there yet. If they can make just a couple tweaks here and there, really complete each item, then Funfare is golden.

Holdability: 8.5

               Despite the variety, each of the options are consistent in that everything needs two hands, being eaten from a basket, and is all surprisingly clean consumption. Even the Baklava, though a touch sticky, again isn’t soggy or anything, so it only needs a few delightful finger licks following complete eating. It’s only the BBQ skewers that come with rice, something that requires a fork, but besides those the only issue for walking+eating becomes what ELSE you might get. Though I guess sides and dessert can just be dumped in the same basket as your big guy; not like any sauces are coming over to mix and mingle.

Price: 7.5

                $10 for the big two sammiches, $8 for the Fish Taco and Filipino Skewers, $7 for those mini Steam Buns, $5 Chicago Dog, $3 each for the fried side items, and $2 for Baklava. A notable range of low to mid-high, providing some notable options for one’s situation and preferences. I would say the items tend to skirt the edge of whether they feel totally worth it if not a steal for the price charged, while others I would hope for maybe one extra bun (I mean it’s either an add-on, in which case it bumps the final price up considerably, or it’s supposed to be eaten on its own, in which case you want some more) or more fried shrimp before not worrying about whether I’m just being a cheap, nitpicky b*^@# food reviewer.
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Speed: 8

Distinctly depends on the item. Most are close to ready to go, can only take a few minutes, but the main boys will be an average wait; Cubano takes at least 8 minutes on the grill. That is proper though. I will say I would have liked it if they’d offer me the option to receive some of my other things first, since there were only a couple other orders, instead of having to wait what took 10 minutes for ALL of it.

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The TOE: 8.5

                I wasn’t thinking I’d score them too high for this, my premier thoughts and impressions on when I first spotted them in St Paul (happened to be their opening day! But I had other guys to hit then) was just another random ‘let’s open a food truck’ ideas, they do ‘international’ probably because they couldn’t think of anything else more interesting, like those who just do burgers and meat sandwiches; which can be great, but also uninspiring. But just as we can find a sandwich truck that brings us to our knees, so does Funfare come to grab my own attention. Whether it’s presentation, the distinctive look and taste of each food, or just plain doing it right, I can officially say they are the first truck that, in my opinion, successfully offers a menu that feels like it’s focusing on different world food regions. This as opposed to a certain one or two that really just seem to come from the Middle East and Asia, or  then go back to the US only to feature a burger and philly cheese (it’s always the burger and philly cheese…). Funfare chooses distinct and familiar, but not boring, menu items that do express some of our favorite eats from around the globe. To this, I myself am somewhat eager to see what other food items they explore and switch out with, if they continue on with strong hitters or fizzle out. Guess we’ll only see with time.

Tally: 41.5/50

Final Thoughts

Echoing my ultimate impressions on food, the truck as a whole stands as a very strong, ‘almost perfect’ business in their particular realm of focus, but it’s currently just one or two steps behind the point of ‘ideal.’ But I feel with time and some effort, if applied, they can easily reach the heights of food and personality impressions as some of my absolute favorites, like Home Street Home and SCRATCH.

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So I guess that means we just need to keep visiting and enjoying their various treats now doesn’t it? Now, it certainly is difficult to make suggestions for a future-changing menu, but I do believe I can confidently say the BEST strategy for taking hold of Funfare, at least for right now, is to attack the small-plates for snacking or mini-meal purposes. Whether it’s grabbing the almost-toe-ring-level Baklava for your sweet tooth, some Hush Puppies or Cheese Curds to pop in the mouth as you walk between other truck delights, or those Steam Buns just because they’re pretty darn tasty and good. If you DO want something more substantial, I still gotta try those BBQ skewers; they just look so good, and the additional rice will help fill you up; though I myself would rather just have the skewers for a dollar less to walk around with. That and the Cubano are my strong ‘entrée’ points for now. As for what else comes along, just do your best to have an idea on what they did well with THESE and try to imagine what other items would be crafted the best. To that, I finish with a good luck, good eating, and a hope I can get myself back out there snacking with all of you soon once more!

Panini Pinups

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https://www.facebook.com/paninipinupsmn?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/paninipinups
Main Location: St Paul, Etc

Generally speaking, it feels like most trucks, when they don’t have a specific food theme or culinary style to them, automatically turn to one of two menu focuses, if not both: Tacos and Sandwiches/Burgers. Sometimes this is done well, simply using it as a package for their unique and delicious flavors, while others I swear just feel like an answer to a question. “Okay we’re doing a food truck, what should we put on it?” “Uhh, sandwiches.” “What kind?” “Let’s just do good ones and it’ll be fine; we’ll get a burger on and people will buy that too.” Which sadly sort of works, but I’ve always felt a lack of that distinctive personality note to them, like what’s found on Filius or O’Cheeze.

So turning all your sandwiches into something simple like, say, Paninis definitely comes through as a plus in my book. Which, obviously, is what Panini Pinup has come to do. After having to work under other chefs for years on end, the owner of this new truck decided to set out and be his own boss for once to succeed, offering up a few classic sandwich options from their steel grey contraption, all pressed tight between two hot grates.

Besides offering up their versions of a Chicken Club and Cuban, one can also find a fully vegetarian Mediterranean featuring hummus, feta, and olives. Then there’s the Spam, classically bedecked in American cheese and bedecked with pineapple or tomato as one prefers. Or, for the simpler tastes seeking just something crispy and gooey, a Grilled Cheese.

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They do also sell a couple interesting drinks of note, often as great compliments when they stop at sports and high school events. There’s cold-brewed High Brew Coffee in cans, interesting and tasty-looking, and apparently a locally-made Sports Drink called ASPIRE. I was almost tempted to try one if I didn’t have so many other street edibles that needed buying that day!

Food: 7.5

                The best part of a Panini is the crust, and these definitely have that; thickly developed, compressed, crunchy, with those great sorta-butter toasted flavors we look for; for some reason I had expected a flat pressed griddle for it, but the grooved grill-style really makes these sandwich breads into something nice and happy.

My own ramblings brought me first to the Spam, Hawaiian style with Pineapple, and the Cuban. The former of which seemed to take advantage of that refrigerator grilled meat+cheese sandwich flavors I so enjoy at lunch. The pineapple itself, despite the thick pieces of it, didn’t seem to ruin things as it’s likely to do, the flavor was certainly fine. That said it didn’t excite me either, was just ‘pineapple and spam,’ overall the flavors didn’t have any distinctive notes that really make me crave a re-order. It could have, there’s supposedly a Sriacha-Mayonnaise on there, but one can barely taste it; they need more of that flavor here to distinctly contrast with the pineapple and boost the generic canned meat and cheese flavors. Still enjoyed the flavors, but it could distinctly be better.

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The Cuban was given a similar choice in a garnish; regular mustard or jalapeno, both of which came from a certain yellow bottle. Of course I went jalapeno, you need SOME of that in a proper Cuban. Overall the flavors were good, in fact probably a touch better since you got more of the contrast from the tangy-sweet-spicy mustard, briny pickles, and that uniquely swiss cheese; but as Cubans go it didn’t stand out TOO strong. And part of this is from a particularly interesting choice they seemed to make. So, besides some Ham slices, the only other meat they put in there was… Chicken. White meat chicken, chopped up… where the hell is the pulled pork? There’s a REASON Cubans use some sort of slow-roasted pork along with some OTHER pork product, and that’s because it’s delicious and one can still taste it alongside those other strong flavors. Instead they chose a rather flavorless chicken… which I’m not even sure if they cooked themselves; they might have, but who knows.

Because besides that chicken, IF it didn’t come pre-cooked, it feels the only things they would have actually prepared are a couple of the sauces, cooking bacon for the Club, and then just cutting things up. There seems to be very little self-produced, transformed items being used on this truck; which is a great strategy when trying to reduce the time and cost of prep and production, but at the same time it results in the reason for why neither of these sandwiches had SUCH a strong impression on me and my taste buds as I’ve found at plenty other trucks in the cities.

Oh, and the Cuban didn’t get heated ALL the way through too; when touched, parts of the chicken were still cool. Something to note, though I think it’s only a POTENTIAL consequence for the Cuban and Club sandwiches; the others aren’t as thickly stuffed.

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Holdability: 6

               I was rather disappointed here; though, I should start out and premise by saying that we find something that’s not really messy, and IS easy to eat; two hands are required, it being served in basket and all, but can initially walk around with. That said, the real strength of paninis as street food is that firm, crunchy seal that holds everything together in one tight package, a monumental barrier that coils around its captives like iron chains. And where the bread is prepared and cooked in a way that makes this possible… they built the sandwich wrong, lubing up the chains and making them slip.

To put simply, on both of these sandwiches, the very top layer underneath the bread ended up as thick slices of something wet; pineapple for the Spam, Pickles for the Cuban. This ended up having the top piece of bread move around more, leading to some fillings falling out or other interesting instances. And that’s annoying, because it shouldn’t be happening at all, and shouldn’t have even been an issue. All they’d need to do is put a piece of cheese, a lot of mayo, or some other adhering layer between these and the bread, or just have them sliced much thinner so they end up actually melding and not disturbing the sandwich mechanics; a very important thing you know.

And I do want to get this off my chest, part of me does rather wish they did something like those longer hoagie/sub/Cuban rolls for the bread instead of the wide flat sandwich bread. Part of me just envisions that more for paninis, I feel it’d probably help keep things locked down better, and they can be just wrapped in paper and eaten with one hand; though these could too if they weren’t cut in half. But that’s a personal preference, there’s little wrong with their choice of style, just execution.

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Price: 7.5

                8 dollars across the board except for a plain Grilled Cheese, which comes in at 6. Simple basic prices for this kind of menu.

Speed: 6.5

The wait may perhaps be about average like the other trucks, but I feel it’s taking longer than it should as they not-so-quickly assemble each sandwich to order, dab both sides with melted butter, and have to wait minutes to then be pressed and grilled. This sort of item can and should be pre-, or mostly pre-, assembled so it can be quick-finished and popped in that hot, heavy plate and done like a couple minutes after the order is heard or seen.

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The TOE: 7.5

                Overall the design, theme idea, and menu look/feeling is a rather good start, they’ve capitalized on a truck that can hit distinctly in our minds, they just need to work on it more. The truck is still a bit bare I think, the menu either needs more or just BETTER and creative/interesting options that are clearly filled with things they made themselves, and maybe serve the paninis partially with a foil/paper cozy instead of in a basket so they can be taken and gone in an interesting fashion. Just put all alone in a basket is just… boring.

Tally: 35/50

Final Thoughts

You know, currently, I think the best approach option to this truck is to simply get a Grilled Cheese; it’ll be made quicker, capitalizes on all the positive aspects with little risk of encountering the not-so-great things, and of course comes a bit cheaper. The Spam makes for a nice Grilled Cheese + fun meat option, I’d probably try getting it with the tomato in hopes the top slice won’t slide around so much; plus it tastes better with the American cheese I’m sure. And finally, I say this last as I haven’t tried it yet and can’t put any positive opinion both good or bad, I would assume the best actual ‘panini experience’ would come with the Chicken Club. Their particular chicken doesn’t thrill me, but it has bacon and should hopefully be able to squish down so it’s ALL heated with no cool spots; though since it’s a club it shouldn’t be much of a mind here. Though I am curious to try the Mediterranean myself, maybe if it was a buck cheaper and used something else besides JUST Feta; poor sandwich, it doesn’t have anything that will properly melt, like Mozzarella, which CAN be considered just as Mediterranean.

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Classic Yum

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https://www.facebook.com/classicyum
https://twitter.com/ClassicYum
Main Location: Minneapolis, St Paul, Etc

The second truck on my State Capital lunch visit in May of 2015, Classic Yum Food Truck, mostly appeared on the scene in the same year. I had actually planned to hit them earlier during Harriet Brewery’s Spring Truck Rally, but of course I get the call from work RIGHT as I’m leaving. Grrrrr… damn you daily life, ruining my mobile adventures!

Oh well, at least I could get back to visit this big yellow behemoth (and now I’m thinking about the Magic Schoolbus)! The focus of which seems to be the use of Chinese and Southern Asian flavors and cooking techniques into basic truck food. Specific menu items themselves tend to change and switch around rather often; in fact, every time they park at a brewery they focus almost purely on selling simple snack-based, easy eating pub-style offerings (I sadly don’t know what kind specifically, but you can get an idea based on style they serve).

Items themselves can range from a highly classic and simple Chicken Teriyaki Bowl, over rice and such, to a ‘Chinese’ Pulled Pork Sandwich (I assume the moniker is due to flavors cooked WITH the pork, and not just because it’s served with an ‘Asian Slaw,’ though who knows). Some rather consistent options include Turkey Eggrolls (which I so wanna get), ‘Dragon Fries’ (will explain later), Thai Red Curry Chicken Wrap, and a Vietnamese Fried Fish Sandwich. Many of which come with a bag of chips (Lays, which my boss was happy with. Don’t look at me like that, I had enough food in me that day, I did NOT need those empty calories, no matter how crispy they are).

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Food: 7

                That Fish Sandwich was calling out to me, and was singularly unique compared to most menus I’ve seen, so I just had to feature it. The basic composition was, of course, a white fish filet, given a light batter and fried. This placed between a buttered, toasted bun (nicely toasted bun, yum) with a spread of ‘Shrimp Pate,’ cooked shrimp turned into a paste which offered a refreshingly cool sweet seafood flavor in contrast to the warmth and flaky light richness of the fish. That is then topped with pickled red onions, FRIED onions, and an ‘Asian tartar sauce,’ which all in all come together like a classic fried walleye sandwich with a twist of South-Eastern Asian freshness. The particularly tart pickled onions and flavored sauce stand out nicely with the fish, which isn’t at that perfectly thick and crunchy fried batter that one can expect from, say, a proper fish and chips, but it stood up with everything else just fine, helped out in flavor and texture from the fried onions. That said, I think they had way too many pickled onions on top; I had like half of mine fall out, and it still felt on the edge of just shoving their presence in your face, and I LIKE pickled onions (they’re good too). Just, pull back on them a bit will ya?

The fried Shrimp, on the other hand, didn’t quite thrill me that much. An order of Dragon Fries gets you a basket of shoestring French fries accompanied by 2-3 (okay it’s been a week since I’ve had this, and my picture’s not so clear, so I forgot) shrimp, sliced in half and fried in batter. Fries are typical, nothing exciting or particularly craveable, and though the shrimp has the nice flavor you expect, it was also a touch greasy in flavor, and the batter came out rather thick and soft in spots, almost moist. Basically they’re fried in a typical ‘sweet and sour’ style, flavor being better than the generic restaurants but texture about the same.

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Being of that style, though, it did come with a thing of Homemade Sweet-Sour Sauce, which… was definitely better than the stuff from the packet. Similar flavor points, but smoothed out, not thick, and mellow, a very happy dipper for both my shrimp and the potato strips they came with. I should finish by saying that I overall don’t have any issue with the dish idea, fried shrimp on fried potatoes seems lazy but I can understand its place, but there are some execution points and choices that I wish were improved.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Dragon Fries are like eating a… well, a basket of fries, we can imagine how easy that is, only need to consider dipping. The Fish sandwich fillings did have a habit of sliding around (as I mentioned earlier, quite a bit of the onions fell out), but to be fair I think much of that mess was my own fault for not taking full advantage of that foil wrapping around it. If I actually used that instead of trying to go full-hand, it probably would have kept in tight and clean like wrapped sandwiches do and not been so much tartar and pickle stuff on my fingers. And I expect the other sandwiches and wraps to be as clean, the teriyaki coming with a fork, and everything being able to consume without much extra attention while roaming. Just two hands required.
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Price: 7.5

                  Main sandwiches come out at $10, the Wrap being a buck less, Teriyaki bowl one further at $8. The Dragon Fries settles down to $6, which feels fair and about right for a mound of fries with shrimp, which usually comes in pricier even for just a few, though I do wish the quality was further up to match it. Still very sad to say I didn’t try the egg rolls, so not sure how well they fit their $5 moniker, but if they’re anything like Vellee’s in quality (being turkey based they certainly sound unique enough) and of a decent size or quantity, I’d say it’s a safe bet. As for sandwiches, I agree with price for the Fish (even as-is), but the pulled pork and wrap need to be a bit fantastic to garner that, cuz I don’t think a bag of chips is enough of a side to qualify the extra dollar or two I’m unwittingly paying vs having the truck food on its own. Would rather get those fries or something else (preferably something else).

Speed: 7.5

Took about five minutes, average wait for three things that need frying (shrimp, potatoes, and fish) plus assembly.

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The TOE: 8

                  There’s something about the food and menu that doesn’t quite excite me as the personality of the truck’s name and design does when hearing and seeking it out on social media, or seeing from a distance. I think part of it has to do with the actual sorta tacky food pictures in the window along with the whiteboard menu, which is an annoying juxtaposition as (as a customer/reviewer) I do appreciate being able to see what to expect for each item ahead of time. There’s a feel to it when visiting that reminds me of some typical/generic newer Chinese/Pan-Asian food court or cart (like that Golden Tummy that was hanging around Minneapolis a couple years back), which is unfair to them because I can tell they’re offering some interesting and more unique options and packaging of their food, what with getting turkey in the eggrolls, (hopefully) flavoring a pulled pork sandwich with Chinese spices, and other things I’m sure they’ll come up with. Definitely giving them a few extra points for changing the menu to fit their locations, like when they offer more pub-style/snack-ish foods at breweries. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe a result of the food’s impression on me afterward. Hopefully I can change my mind at a future visit.

Tally: 38.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Classic Yum seeks to fill the need for Chinese and Southern Asian flavors presented in a not-so-typical way, and for the most part they have had a strong start towards success in this, needing only some tweaking and further twisting from a few too simplistic dishes (I’m looking at you Teriyaki and Dragon Fries) to fully achieve something amazing. For now they are definitely the spot to go when seeking Asian flavors packed between two buns, or wrapped in a tortilla. They also offer a decent possibility in the quick-snack option during Truck touring/meals or when visiting a brewery, mainly in the form of Turkey Eggrolls and other changing/seasonal items I have yet to experience.

From what I’ve witnessed in their regular on-the-street lineup, I think the most exciting option for the hungry traveler would be the Red Curry Chicken Wrap, from its high portability to tasty flavors (plenty of places now have proven curried stuff crammed into a burrito is delicious), and at a buck less than the other sandwiches, even more of a deal. That said the Fish Sandwich is quite the experience, especially from trucks; with a lineup that mostly looks to burgers, pulled pork (and other bbq), bacon, fried chicken, grilled/fried shrimp, tofu stuff, and other things meat or vegetarian related, it’s not often you get to actually get to try anything fish related. And they did do it well, I simply suggest taking off half of the pickled onions before digging in. Then you’ll be happy.

BF Sausage Cart

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https://twitter.com/BachelorFarmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food: 9.5

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

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

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

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Holdability: 8.5

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

Price: 8

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

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Speed: 9.5

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

The TOE: 10

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

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

Tally: 45.5/50

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Final Thoughts

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

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

A Reluctant Saturday Night Review, aka La Belle Crepe at Harriet

               I’ve been antsy lately, and last Saturday night didn’t help. It’s been… what, 3 months since I was last able to review a new Truck? And that was just temporary winter pop up version of something already existing. And now, with the snow melting and weather warming, teasing me with urges to go outside with visions of Truck rallies to come, only to be roped away with work and the realities that it’s still winter (well, not technically, but for MN…).

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                Thought I would have had this fixed a couple weeks ago with a great chance off to go to Harriet with a friend when the new Butcher Salt was out… and then work screwed me over. Again a clear ray of hope showed this past week; yet another new truck at Harriet, “La Belle Crepe,” and a friend available to join in a fun night of music, drinking and food.

                Well, there was a $5 cover, I didn’t find out until after I got there that the friend had a double shift, and the “truck” was just a catering table in the back corner. Can’t quite say which part I was most disappointed with, but how ‘bout we just focus on the food aspect?

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                That just really, really sucked… you don’t know how excited I was when I thought La Belle Crepe had started their own mobile operation. I’ve been to their café in downtown Minneapolis (you should too; it’s this tiny little closet-shop, like you’d find in France, just before 9th on Nicolette Ave), and they’re pretty good. We’ve been needing a GOOD, proper Crepe Truck for a long time, something with tasty components and a fun attitude.

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                Let me tell you why they would have fit the bill. Firstly, as one would expect, the crepes are awesome; good thickness, SOFT, really reminiscent of what the proper French pancake should feel and taste like. Add that to a copious variety of homemade fillings in the style of sweets, savories, and breakfast, and we have a delicious bundle of joy perfect for mobile eating. They aren’t all classic fillings either; one can get Caramel Apple, Orange dream, Spicy Chicken and Crab, Gyros, dill & Lox, Benedict, etc.

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                But wait, there’s more. Not only do they offer crepes, Belle also makes other French classic comforts like Gelato and Croque-Monsieur/Madame. Oh, and Vietnamese food, tasty tasty Vietnamese food like Pho and Bahn Mi. Reminded me of the Korean-Crepe truck my friend had found in Texas, only not quite so Fusion; Vietnamese cuisine HAS had a lot of French influence, so it makes sense with the concept.

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                Well, I had already paid the $5 entrance fee, so as much as I didn’t want to spend extra money it would have been a waste to just leave the place as-is. Thus I was able to actually sample one of their sandwiches, the Hoisin Pulled Pork. Oh boy was that good, each side completely slathered in the Hoisin Mayo, all those dressed and pickled veggies just shoved and stuffed in there (you should see them pile it on and push it in with the spatula), and the pork wasn’t too bad either.

                A little bit of sirachi on half with the tart veggies, it went really well with Harriet’s version of Sahti, a Sour Ale brewed with juniper berries and cedar chips instead of hops (tasted a bit like lambic, so I was already in a bit of a happy place).

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                The bread wasn’t the best sadly, being served without feeling the loving embrace of a searing hot grill or oven, but to be fair that was due to the setup. They DO toast it at the café, and I would assume if able to go mobile they would ensure a proper heat source to do it for orders as well. Also, the Cilantro (which there was a ton of, thank you! So good), served in whole bunches, was a bit… sagging. But again, I had ordered a sandwich about 5 hours (at least) after they got there with no proper refrigeration unit besides a cooler.

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                At the end of the day, they offer a fun concept with delicious, portable offerings, and I sorely hope they might get on the streets soon to properly replace a certain Other Truck. As for me, I still sit here, antsy and stuck, ever waiting for my first proper shot at a new truck this year.

               -sigh- At least it’s getting warmer.

Smack Shack Happy Hour

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                 Despite the many trucks I’ve been to so far and the many city restaurants I crave to visit, for research or personal reasons, I don’t actually get that many opportunities to go out, especially with my new work schedule (would think getting paid might help my cause but… not so much). Imagine my delight when, after joining multiple groups on the Meetup website (which is a great way for those house-stuck people like me to find ways and excuses to get out and socialize), my first opportunity knocked right into my ballpark: Happy Hour at the Smack Shack Restaurant.

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                Finally I can check them off my list, and soon before I’m about to hit Vellee Deli’s pop-up too! As for my little socialization thing, it was fun and eventful and a great way to spend a couple hours, but let’s get to what really matters (particularly with this blog); the Food.

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                Let me just say that walking in is the first experience in culinary delight, as the long, skinny high hallway ends right before the main bar, of which is connected to the giant Boiler Pot swimming in onions and spices (at first I wondered if it was just a big thing of popular soup or sauce or something, but nope, they use the same big thing to cook aaaaalllllll their boils. Makes me wonder of the awesomeness in flavor development as the night progresses), the aroma wafting up as one views the windowed kitchen from afar.

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                From there one can continue forward or turn into the larger bar area (not sure if Happy Hour has to be there, never asked, sorry!), lined on the left with their glass case of various kegs and bottled beer selections. I mean why store them in the back when they can all be lighted and on display?

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                After ordering a Fulton Ringer (sadly I wish they had more and interesting beers on their Happy Hour, like their drink menu, but Fulton and Summit were sorta the limit), looking very odd next to the piles of Hurricane Glasses around me (and no I’m not sure if they were better than New Orlean’s, but one can always guess; still tasty though), I placed a couple food bids from the well-priced Happy Hour selections.

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                For my first time here, I of course had to stick with some truck-reminiscent items (though I guess most of the happy hour selections were of that locale), in particular a Fried Oyster Slider. Oh, I haven’t had fried oysters in a long while, and this was a good one to come back to. Batter was good, firm and crispy, with a soft, juicy, tender inside which still contains that nice little grey-ish (I’ve discovered I like describing flavors and aromas in colors at times) briny flavor. And the mayo sauce was good too.

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                Next plate went to a couple Short Rib Tacos, made of course from Masa as it should be. Now, I love a good Short Rib, and the flavor from these were certainly proper, but it feels like they missed the mark a bit. For starters, the meat didn’t feel as tender and moist and juicy as it can be; not DRY, but like some pulled pork. I mean, if you KNOW beef short ribs, and what they can taste like after long hours of moist, rich braising…. awww man, they can just epitomize that peak of melty beefy heaven. And the texture here just seemed at a noticeably lower stepping stone than what it should be.

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                Secondly, I think the tacos needed at least one or two more elements; other ones I saw had a few toppings, while this only had pickled onions and pickled red peppers; which were good, but bare and very singular in note. Well, and a sauce too, but on bottom and very inline with the short rib flavors. Maybe just a sprinkle of queso blanco, or a little herby corn salsa mixed into the sauce, and it would have been PERFECT.

                Mind you, again, it tasted pretty darn good overall, but knowing what these guys can do I’m just surprised at what was offered over the simple possibility.

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                Of course, though this was all I ate, I had to take pictures of my colleague’s food. Both Pork and Catfish tacos were offered, and they looked GOOD (see, look at all those toppings on the fish one).

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                A Cobb Salad featuring a heaping pile of Lobster Meat, and of course some of that signature toasted Milk Bread on the side in place of croutons.

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                Someone had gotten the Blackened Catfish Slider, and god I was tempted to steal a piece of that fish; very much wish I had ordered that. It’s on the Happy Hour too, and I’m betting one of the best deals for it.

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                And it’s not a Smack Shack Dining Event without one of their Mac n Cheeses, here served into a proper soup bowl as opposed to the giant paper-made bar trays (so annoying when dealing with the leftovers). I think they got Bacon, but not too sure; and for those who still have yet to have or hear of this, it’s a must-get. Made with Taleggio cheese, it’s a much stronger and more “distinctive” flavor, but good with the bacon or lobster.

                Sadly, no one getting the traditional Roll, but I’m sure it tastes just as good as it has before. Overall I had fun, the menu was as interesting as before, a little pricey as expected though there area  few good deals here and there (especially in Happy Hour), and I was able to scratch them off my list. I do regret and wish I could have tried those Lobster Corn Dogs, but we can’t have everything I guess.

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                If you ever wanna experience Smack Shack, definitely go here; I still think that their concept is much better as a sit-down Lunch or Dinner affair than on the street, and there are a lot more various fun and interesting options. Plus, you can drink, and who doesn’t love that?

                Good Boils and Great Claw Crushing to you all, thank you to the particular social group for having me on, and I wish everyone reading luck in their street-food-related adventures!

SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 3 (Southern Comfort)

                It’s the third post I’ve done for pickling, and for this installment I’m dong… Green Tomatoes!! Hell, I had to do SOMETHING with them… with the oncoming freeze of winter, we had to pick off all the fruit from our cherry tomato plant early, leaving us with a whole, piled bowl full of the under ripe bastards. And they’re not the easiest to immediately come up with a random dinner with (at least not with the small ones… and I’ve already made fried green tomato BLTs last year). Luckily for us, Pickled Green Tomatoes are quite a southern dish, and I couldn’t help but think of it immediately when I got the bowl.

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                As it turned out, the idea evolved into a great new post for the ongoing pickle recipe line-up that seems to be forming, as the various online recipes I’ve researched has led to my first foray into the purely unique, traditional, and separate technique of Jar Pickling (really though, I couldn’t find a single recipe that didn’t make me do this…). I’m talking true old school, full sanitization, sealing, and shoving into the basement.

                What’s the difference from the basic quick-method I described in my first forays? Well, besides a fuller and more integrated infusion of the pickling base, what ends up in the jar, completely sanitized and separated from the world around it, is left to mature and develop purely among itself, almost like an aging/settling bottle of wine. The final result, though subtle, can yield to what is to be a more… “complete,” deeper flavor (if done right).

                But less talk about theories which I have put absolutely NO time or effort in researching, let’s start the process!

                We begin not with ingredients, but equipment. Everything you use needs to be sanitized, EVERYTHING; depending on the scale one goes to with this, it can be a complete pain in the ass, one of the reasons I haven’t actually done this until now. That and that minutia of worry I’ll always carry in the back of my head that “maybe something got in from the air or counter afterwards.”

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                So gather everything you’ll need: A glass pickling jar, the lid (which should separate into two part, the circular top and the rim), tongs, a pair of chopsticks, your knife (yep, even what you’re cutting the tomatoes with), a small empty can or plate or wire rack, and the largest (or at least highest) pan for boiling water you can find. You’ll also need to sanitize the cutting board, but with its size I’m guessing it won’t fit in the pan: I just ran mine under super-hot tap water for a couple minutes.

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                To set up, fill the giant pan as high with water as you can and bring to a simmer (not a boil, simmer). By this time, set some sort of spacer at the bottom; a metal rack works wonders if it can fit. This is to make sure none of the items rest against the pan, letting the heat fully circulate (and making sure you don’t scrape your cooking equipment, haha). Then submerge all the items as much as possible; which is why you need a huge pan, those pickling jars are tall, especially after being elevated. I had to turn mine to the side. Also, I only submerged the main metal parts, not the handles, of my tongs and knife, for easy removal and handling afterwards (how am I supposed to take the other stuff out if I can’t lift the tongs, right?). Simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

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                Set to dry on a very clean towel, or other area you trust to be as sanitized as possible, and more onto the pickle. Choosing whatever aromatics you want (recently read a recipe with 4 different options for spice flavors with the green tomatoes), instead of boiling them with the vinegar you can put them all into the bottom of the jar beforehand. Don’t worry, they’ll be getting just as much heated infusion later, so for now we can keep them underneath everything so we don’t have to deal with the annoying group of spices covering the top of our pickle. I stuck with a simple mix of peppercorns, bay leaves, dry rosemary, cloves, and a cinnamon stick (I also found a fun way to replace chili peppers in a recipe when you don’t have any).

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                Now, slice all tomatoes in half (if we were doing the large tomatoes, then wedges), along with any onions, garlic, or other veggie aromatic you wanted in the mix. Transfer these to the clean and mostly-empty pickling jar; I like to layer the onions and garlic I used, just to ensure thorough flavor mixing (plus it looks so pretty, AND you can eat them along with the tomatoes!). Do not fill all the way to the top, but leave at least the rim open for air and space come sealing.

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                Next, bring the base pickling liquid to a boil along with anything that needs dissolving (salt, sugar, etc). For the recipes I researched, I found a couple things to note: one, you’ll want to make half the volume of the pickling container/s, so for a single quart pickling container I used 2 cups, or a pint of liquid (it came PERFECTLY to the top, so awesome). And two, for the green tomatoes you’ll only want about 50% vinegar or less in it; I saw an iron chef’s recipe that used like 8 cups vin to 1 water, and that’s just way too psychotic. Green tomatoes are gonna have enough tartness and acidity to them as is, we only need the vinegar for flavor and general preserving at this point. Oh, and use Apple Cider Vinegar if you can, it’s really tasty with these guys!

                I didn’t use any sugar in this one, and many recipes only call for a little bit of a sweetness factor anyways. What I DID use, however, was Hot Sauce! It was a fun little experiment, since I just picked this really yummy bottle up from a recent trip and I didn’t have any mustard seeds or hot peppers to add to my spice mix. So instead, I used what was a notably mustard-focused, habanero-made hot sauce. I only added a couple tablespoons, so it’s not noted in the final flavor, but I’m sure it added something. My one concern is that it doesn’t dissolve completely into the brine, but sorta floats around in little particles… not that attractive.

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                Once everything is mixed and boiled, pour directly (and carefully) into the pickle jar, completely submerging your desired produce. Here we use the chopsticks (bet you were wondering what the hell those were for weren’t you?), grasping the end and carefully pushing down to the bottom here and there. This helps get out all the extra tiny air bubbles trapped beneath the veggies, so make sure to be thorough about it.

                And onto our final step: Boiling. Screw the top on, TIGHT, and place the whole thing back into the water bath, which now you have hopefully brought up to a full boil. It’s even more important here that it be completely submerged, but I just felt uncomfortable with turning it onto its side so I just got as much water in as I can and came up to the rim (hopefully the steaming water helped enough). Cover the pot, and leave to boil for 10-15 minutes.

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                This is definitely the point in my reading that I just had to stop and ask “Why the hell am I doing this?” None of the recipes said anything either, so one’s left reading a recipe with no justification for a very strange and annoying step. But after considering
things for a while, I think I can glean quite a few benefits from this process.

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  1. Sterilization: a little idiotic, I mean who needs to sterilize the outside again? But I believe the boiling process assists in bringing a sterilized aspect to the vegetables and spices themselves, ensuring absolutely NOTHING brings in any interfering spores, bacteria, yeast, etc.
  2. Cooking: these ARE green tomatoes after all, very firm fellas, who certainly need a bit of heat in the pickling to soften them up for enjoyment. I could definitely see one using this method for very firm whole cucumber pickles as well.
  3. Sealing: probably the MAIN reason for this. Not only does it apply the whole “heated metal expands and then contracts when cool” thing, but as the insides boil (which they do), I think micro amounts of air escape from the tight barrier, with none being able to come back in. Thus, the jar will end up with its own little vacuum of sealed air and pickling mix, with an iron-tight lid that’s a bitch to get off (make sure you have a little fork or lever for the top part).

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                  But yeah, that’s about it. There’s probably more to it, but I don’t really care too much, and I doubt I NEED to know for these purposes. My only needs now is to let it cool (probably in the water unless you have a way to safely remove it while still hot) and transfer to somewhere dark and chilly; a basement, or garage on my part.

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                 Leave for at least a week to “settle and mature” and you have yourself some very traditional home-pickled green tomatoes! Free to use with breakfast, on sandwiches (I popped them on an openfaced with leftover trout and some horseradish-sour cream), or just munching on their own. They’re not too bad on top of late night nacho snacks either.

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                 Thus ends the third installment in my little series, hopefully it was a fun addition to the other two. I almost wonder what hare-brained random experience is gonna force its way into #4… though I’m still waiting for more Napa Cabbage…

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.

SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 2

              Well, my classes have dragged on, tests are taken, studies come to a close, finished a trip to Kentucky, the Food Trucks are starting to wind down for the season, and the cold, bitter threats of “before ‘Winter’” are hanging on my mind… but my Sauerkraut has finished its pickling!!

                Okay, so “pickling” isn’t really the proper term, as I came to learn when researching recipes for this fella. There are, of course, multiple “quick/easy” kraut recipes that involve actual pickling of the cabbage, but I just couldn’t help wanting to do the true, original method for this sour treat: Fermentation (… no, this has absolutely no tie in to my interest in alcohol… none at all…).

                http://www.wildfermentation.com/making-sauerkraut-2/

                This is my favorite site on the method in question, the author going a bit detailed into the process of how to start and control the “Wild Fermentation” (basically making use of the natural yeasts hanging in the air as opposed to introducing a produced, created, controlled product found on a supermarket shelf). If you decide to try making them yourself, it’s a great link to go to for checking up on the little details.

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                Overall though, it’s a fairly simple process. We start with a tight, compact head of cabbage, white or red (the author likes to mix the two for a fun, pink-colored product) and slice or chop it up however you want. Can be thing strings, rough squares, shredded in a grater or torn apart with your hands… so long as it can be packed into a bowl later.

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                I always like keeping these things thin, so Mandoline it is! Once shredded, mix the veggies with salt: kosher or sea salt works great. Avoid table salt, and though many recipes CALL for special Pink Pickling/Curing salt, it’s not a stringent requirement. What’s important is how much you get in; the main ratio is ABOUT 3 Tablespoons of rough salt to 5lbs of Cabbage (2 heads, ish). Though lead no worries in trying to measure about specific weights and TBs, the author reveals that it’s not too set, and actually changes depending on the season. In summer he’ll add some more, and in winter a little less (most likely due to fermentation speeds with temperature changes).

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                From here come the additions! Any sort of herb, spice, aromatic, or veggie you want to customize your own Kraut mix! I kept things simple with a crushed clove of garlic and bay leaves, but one could shred some carrots or peppers, get in some coriander for the classic European flavors, or whatever else one thinks of.

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                And that’s it. That’s all the ingredients we need for this. Just need to pack it (tight and HARD) into a clean, sanitized high-sided bowl. The author suggests a ceramic crock, but also any safe plastic bowl should work fine as well.

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                Top the vegetables with a flat, firm covering, like a small plate or lid, and place a weight on top of that (I stuck with a bowl of water, though soup cans could work well too). The important thing is that one is sure ALL of this is clean and ideally sanitized; a little dip in screeching hot water a while beforehand should do the trick.

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                Cover this with a fine cloth towel, or cheesecloth; making sure to keep out insects or solid matter while allowing yeast particles in.

                No matter what the season, one should start the first day in the warmest section of the house (not HOT), or even outside if the weather is nice enough. Keep this here for 24 hours, occasionally pushing down on the weight. By now, the salt has started to draw out the cabbage’s fluids, while also controlling the yeast’s fermentation once activated.

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                After the first day, the ”Brine” SHOULD be covering the veggies in a thin layer at least; it’s hard to imagine once you start with the dry, crunchy bundle, but it will happen. If it doesn’t, could be due to an old cabbage, add some salted water to cover. From here, move to wherever you want so it’s out of the way, should be a stable temperature. Cooler basement temperatures aren’t required, but would work well if one wanted a long, slow fermentation.

                And now we wait. How long depends on kraut, temp, humidity, salt, and other such factors, but at least a week and up to 3 or more. All we have to do is check the stages of fermentation, maybe push the weight down now and then, and deal with “scum.” This is basically a combination of little particles that float up to the surface during the fermentation and possible light, yeasty molds that develop.

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                It can look like this depending. Don’t worry if you see it, it’s absolutely safe (despite some smells), you just need to check every couple days and skim it off the top with a slotted spoon or something. It’s only if you start to see the blue or fuzzy mold when there’s a problem…

                But after enough time, it’s done and you’re ready to consume. If the moldy scum was pretty well present, I might suggest rinsing off the top layer of fermented cabbage before storing, otherwise we can eat directly from the bowl.

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                A little sour, surprisingly crisp from the salty protection, and aromatized with whatever veggies one chose, this offers a high contract compared to the soft and pungent product found in the green bags and cans. I myself wonder how off I really am from the original recipe’s ideal, but I like the outcome! It went great on this Wild Rice Sausage Brat Sandwich (with Mustard! and yes that’s a pretzel bun… we had leftover).

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                Before I finish, there’s one last step in the process for those looking to continue their Kraut-making sessions. After shredding and salting up your next batch of cabbage (I thought I’d see what happens if I used Napa/Chinese Cabbage, since I had nothing else to do with it), pour the already-fermented Kraut on top before pressing. This will hopefully help the new cabbage to begin a steady, controlled fermentation, while also melding the flavors somewhat. If continued for multiple years, the resulting continually-developed kraut should have a deep, complex subtle flavor to it.

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                So whether one decides to start their own batch of the European Fermentation (or continue it… apparently I’ve found out there are a lot more people who make this than I thought) or not, I hope this recollection and recipe link helped to inform and inspire your insight (wooh, three i-words) to this product. As for me, I’m starting to think about more Napa Cabbage… I’ve been getting an urge to try making Kimchi… (look for a 3rd part to the Pickle Saga sometime in the coming months)