Bark and the Bite

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http://www.barkandthebite.com/
https://twitter.com/BarkandtheBite
Main Location: Breweries, Minneapolis (Maybe?)

So I guess I need to pay more attention to CityPages on a frequent basis, since it made for quite the little ‘blind spot’ for me in not doing so. That said, it DID lead to a rather fun surprise near the start of a good night out, so maybe not so bad of a situation afterall.

Let me run you down what happened. Finally, after weeks of distraction or not having any reason to do so, I got the urge to force myself down to Tattersall Distilling; well that wasn’t so difficult, it was the finding someone to meet me there to make it an ‘occasion’ that took a while. Of course before I went I checked out their little event page, the place rather well known for nightly correspondences with Brooks High Batter and other food trucks; but just my luck that it was THAT Saturday that had no truck listed for nosh possibilities. Guess Brooks went elsewhere. But oh well, wasn’t necessarily even in the mood for food, but it’s fun to see options right?

So I drive there, finally find that little pain-in-the-ass alley-that-doesn’t-look-like-you-can-drive-through to get to the cocktail room and park, and what do I see as I’m driving by? Not just a food truck, but one that I’ve NEVER seen before, so the back of my brain starts thinking about the money I’ll have to lay down that night… then it notices that it’s a BBQ truck and that number rises a little more. It explains why the food truck spot was blank on the website…

After an Umeboshi Sour, but before a late night Baby Spice (both of them damn good by the way, I need to go back to try out more of their creations), I head out to my first visit of Bark and the Bite. Of course it’s just my luck that they are indeed a new Twin Cities truck and not someone from out of town, guess that means I have to eat their food. Oh darn. They’ve been on the streets since the start of September; or to be more accurate, on the doorsteps of various breweries. So it didn’t take me that long to find them, relative to plenty of other periods-of-ignorance you know I’ve had, and it makes sense considering I don’t get the chance to brewery it as much as I want… like, almost never.

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As a typical BBQ truck should, the forward-highlight of its menu is of course a basket of Ribs, theirs Dry-Rubbed and Memphis style. As opposed to others I’ve found, though, the rest of the menu is rather simple. One gets their pick of 3 ‘pulled proteins,’ such as the typical Pork, Chicken, and a vegetarian inclusion of ‘BBQ Jackfruit’ (oh I’m talking about this guy later), which can be gotten on small or big sandwiches and as a classic ‘pile of meat.’ One then picks their sauce: Cherry Bourbon, Vodka Chile, or ‘Bark’ Sauce (a mix of whole grain mustard, brown sugar, and I think chilies and/or other bbq things). We then of course get a list of typical, sort of, sides; Cider Vinegar-dressed Slaw, Baked Beans, Arugula Potato Salad, and of course Hush Puppies, ‘Honey Spiced.’

There’s even a cookie! Browned Butter Chocolate Chip (with Pecans). So I grabbed one of those, and a few other things, and got to chowing down, thankfully with help of friends! Thought I’d have to bring home leftovers…
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Food: 8

Okay, had to get the Ribs since it’s their purported favorite/specialty/focus, and for sandwiches that Pulled Pork and the intriguingly unique BBQ Jackfruit… though it was so hard not getting the Chicken, it apparently was coming right out of the smoker! But money… was spending enough as it was, especially with cocktails that night!

Also I was able to get a taste of a Hush Puppy! Oh and these are good ones, and very happy to say of a distinctly different ‘style’ compared to those found at Funfare, which were small, crispy and easy to munch. Comparably, these are big globes of moist cornbready denseness, in the good sense, and with a light honey sweetness just barely glazing the outside; enough to get your fingertips a touch sticky but not enough to even say they’re close to being ‘sauced.’ It offers an actual element to the fried bread, and there’s that happy guilty pleasure we get when eating cornbread and something deep fried.

I should mention here, before getting into the meat, that I actually got one of each Sauce; I asked them to assign as to what they think works best for each, but they instead just put them in cups so I could swap and choose at will! Not sure if that’s what they usually do anyways for sauce sides, but hey it was great here! They all tasted pretty darn good btw, I think I like the Bark as my favorite, but I’m a big fan of stoneground mustard; or just anything with that notably different texture and stronger, ‘pungent’ flavors.

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5 Ribs come out on top of a bed of Coleslaw (sounds like I should have a punchline for this doesn’t it?), of which didn’t stand out too much; just a basic Red Cabbage-based salad, good and decent but nothing exciting or standing out. The ribs on their own now, I actually prefer when they’re NOT on their own; with sauce, they are wonderful, tender and flavorful, a nice porkyness with that mixture of deep spices and wet tanginess. But unadorned, they’re good still, aren’t chewy, tender and sticks to the bone like smoked ribs should, but there is this little oddity in texture, almost a… I don’t want to say chalky, but maybe a slight off-dryness either from being smoked just a little too long or, I’m thinking, not nearly enough; I feel like the timing is probably good but the temperature and smoke level might need to be higher. That’s me spit-balling though, I’m no expert in BBQ problem-solving. Suffice to say they’re not perfect but still good.

I’ll admit, I’m not as excited to see pretzel buns today as I USED to be, before practically everyone did it and ruined the specialty of using the ‘right’ bun for the trendiness, but they are damn good here. Or should I say they make them damn good; THIS is why I advocate toasted buns in most situations, for that moment when you bite into a sandwich, you get that mouth full of meat, sauce, flavor, bread… and then that thin layer of toasty CRUNCH to add that extra textural element, which is so needed with ‘tender-fillinged’ sandwiches like pulled pork.

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As for the fillings themselves, tender, not dry, toothsome and flavorful; the pig had that great distinctive ‘porkyness’ to it, though for a BBQ item I wish there was more smoke or spice flavor, I really couldn’t taste any. But that JackfruitSO cool. I mean look at the picture; can you immediately even tell which one certainly is the vegetarian pulled sandwich and which one isn’t? The only thing that helps is that the ‘bbq jackfruit’ is already mixed with some marinade flavoring, thus the added color to it. And god it was fun to eat; it wasn’t a complete ‘meat substitute,’ but it was actually rather close; had a full texture to it, soft but with a bite… if I had to compare the distinctive feel to it, though, I’d say the closest thing that comes to mind is the meaty quality of a good artichoke heart, but more shreddable. Then it had this little, sorta-pickled tang in the background of it, which also reminds me of some bamboo shoot dish alongside the texture… it is just so interesting. But at the end of the day, GOOD, vegetarian-required and curious will both enjoy this. Now that I think of it, I’m not even sure if any other BBQ truck or local business has offered a full, proper vegetarian substitute for a main entrée, and to such a degree.

Oh, and then there’s the cookie! It cost a dollar and… tasted like it. Not that it was completely horrible, you get the chocolate chips and the pecans, a bit of the brown butter… but after being baked and wrapped in that film for who knows how long, it certainly developed a not-so-great texture, rather crumbly without being crisp. May need to develop a better recipe, that comes out thicker and softer, or perhaps it was just an effect of staling.

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Holdability: 7

I got mine in ‘to-go’ containers, mainly as I figured I’d have quite a bit to take home, but they do use the classic baskets too, which aren’t AS cumbersome. As for the food, a little typical compared to other bbq places, nothing extraordinarily helpful via sandwiches, though the pork held together rather well. The dry style of ribs helped… though I did have the sauce on the side, not sure if normally choosing a sauce would have it on top; it’s either that, making it stickier, or it’s on the side, meaning something extra to handle. But not an overall mess. Forgot to grab a fork for that coleslaw though, but that’s likely my fault! And then the hushpuppies had that little tacky stickiness from the honey; not really messy, but has one licking fingers… a yummy trait indeed, but it should be noted as far as this category is concerned. I also imagine getting a ‘pile of meat’ gets one further involved with needing a fork; and since I doubt anyone wants to get that on its own, added sides will add more components to handle. Okay, list done.

Price: 7.5

$12.50 for the Ribs, of which you get about 5 plus a mound of that slaw, not to mention the chanced to get a ‘Loaded Platter’ of 2 sides along with a big sandwich or meat pile, a nice little deal for those who want the more complete BBQ meal. Without the platter deal, each of those entrée-like items goes for $9.50, and one can get those smaller pulled sandwiches at $5 a-piece to get a better chance at sampling the different fillings; and they’re not particularly small, still have a good little heft, so the price on its own is reasonable for what one gets, but can add up fast. Sides generally range between $2-$3, with the Hush Puppies at $5; one gets 3, but as you can see they’re a good size, and tasty… I say judge their value for price for yourself, it could go either way depending on personal opinion. Finally, the cookie, as mentioned, is $1.

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Speed: 8.5

Most prep comes simply in tossing things together with the various needed sauces/seasonings, piling it on the toasted bun or basket, and off we go; a little faster than average, but not near instantaneous.

The TOE: 9.5

I love the feel and personality of the outside, the name and design finally gives me that feeling of the ‘modern bbq food truck’ that I’m familiar with seeing from other cities, as opposed to the old-school, plain-designed truck/trailer with the long classic options menu; nothing wrong with those, but it’s the difference between seeing an old Mexican Taco cart and a bright, colorful modern fusion taco truck. They hit it nicely in my opinion. And I mentioned menu, which is something I really appreciate here; the normal thing  is one has to go up to a BBQ truck and you have to choose… Ribs, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken, maybe Wings, they got Sausage, and is-that-even-part-of-the-animal? Not to mention side listings. And when BBQ businesses are noted for having distinct personalities in each of their separate products, usually being ‘really good’ in 1-3 and ‘just okay’ in the rest, it makes that first choice hard… gotta hope you’re picking the right one. But here? Ribs, Pulled Pork and Chicken (and the Veggie of course, but you’re either doing that from the get-go or not); and one could get the pork AND chicken easily in two sammiches. It’s a lot more approachable, and nice to see a place that narrows down their focus, in my opinion. And with the names of different items, Memphis-style Ribs, Jackfruit, and particular options for sandwich/platter, the truck and menu does feel rather distinctive in personality compared to other BBQ trucks. Though we have been lucky in garnering BBQ food trucks in the past year that all set themselves apart from each other, but one knows what I mean still.

Tally: 40.5/50

Final Thoughts

The Pulled Meat is definitely where it’s at; whether it’s to grab a single mini for a low-priced lunchtime filler/snack (or a good way to sample BatB’s flavor cheaply during a food truck rally), or a bigger Sandwich/Pile to really load up on some BBQ goodness on whatever sauce style is your favorite. If you REALLY want the experience, and a nice loaded lunch, I say go for the Loaded Platter, Sandwich option (I’d really say any of the three, though you’ve got to try that Jackfruit at least once just cuz… I mean who else is selling something like it at the moment?), with the Honey-Spiced Hush Puppy and Potato Salad options… perhaps the Baked Beans too, though I haven’t tried it to confirm and I feel bean dishes REALLY need that confirmation.

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Crusts and Dough Hooks

(Issues with WordPress and Comp, sorry for delay between posts)             

               A recent class project found me making Pretzels by hand, so I thought it’d be fun to share the recipe and process! I’d also like to share pictures, but sadly I was only able to take a few… I had so many other things to cook that day I kept forgetting!

            Unlike my other “Making Food” posts, I’ll actually start this one with the proper recipe.

Homemade Soft Pretzels (Via Alton Brown)

1½ cup Water, Warm

Tb Sugar

1 pckg Active Dry Yeast (NOT expired… don’t ask)

22oz/4½c Flour

2oz (½  stick) Butter, Melted

Oil

5 cups Water

1/3 c Baking Soda

1-2 Egg Yolks

Kosher/Sea Salt or other Garnish

            So here we go! Start off the same as any proper raised-dough should, combine the water, sugar (make sure it dissolves a little), and Yeast, and “bloom” for 10 or so minutes. Basically until it starts looking “different.” If you’re lucky it’ll froth and spread or something, though if you’re me likely it’ll probably just look like paint.

            Carefully add one’s Flour and Melted Butter. If you want to do it right, one does this in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, which one then turns on to mix on Medium speed until it “pulls away from the sides.” However, if like me who doesn’t yet have a dough hook, can just do this with your hands until it all sorta comes together and looks good.

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            That’s nice looking dough, right? Well we follow this by transferring it to a bowl; but not just ANY bowl, this one is to be rubbed with OIL! Or, if you happen to have it like I did, leftover melted butter. Why not, they’re both fats, and I know for certain the latter tastes better.

            Cover in plastic, sit in a warm (not hot) area for at least an hour or so until it doubles. High up is usually best, especially above ovens and stoves. Or, if it’s a nice sunny summer day, outside!

            Now that it’s doubled, we can start considering our shape. At this point in time, I’ve found myself highly inspired by some of our local Trucks and Bars in their use of the “Pretzel Bun.” Since it fit with what I was doing, I then went to dividing my dough into 4 sections and rolling each into a ball, which I then sorta squished into a wide patty.

            There’s one more important step before we bake, and anyone who knows about Pretzels has already figured it out. We have to give it a bath. In particular, a Baking Soda bath, made by simmering the Soda with Water (doesn’t matter how big a bath it is, so long as the RATIO is the same and one can easily dunk one’s Pretzel Buns in it). Now, why do we do this one may ask? I myself find it curious, and forgot what Alton said in that one episode of “Good Eats,” so I looked into it.

            Traditionally, these breads (Laugenbrezel) were prepared in a lye solution (thus where the word “Laugen” came from) which is alkali in nature. That basically means it raises the pH of the water (the opposite of Acidic). As the pretzel is dipped, the outer coat raises its pH as well along with “gelatinizing” it. The result of this, upon baking, is the intense browning of the new gel/pH coat, giving pretzels their distinctive color as well as a little different flavor.

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            Given their bath, I now score my buns for a nice little cross pattern (also helps with any possible expansion), wash the top with a mixture of Egg Yolks and a touch of water (also helps with the color), sprinkle with any Salt or other toppings one desires, and bake in a 425F oven. Now, as one noticed, I didn’t mention turning the oven on in the very beginning like you’re supposed to for every single recipe you find that uses an oven. I just don’t think it makes since, cuz if one actually did that first the oven would be on for about 2+ hours before we could even use it.

            On that same note, the actual recipe for a pretzel states 450F. With my large, thick hunks of bread mass, I doubted they would cook as fast as a normal pretzel. Thus, one compensates by lowering the temperature a bit; giving the outside a longer time to brown so the inside can catch up with its rising.

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            And if done right, they should end up looking pretty like this!

            Ready to use for all one’s sandwich, cracker, or just regular munching needs! This size is a bit bigger than regular buns, so I ended up using ½ and ¼ loaves for my own needs. Just note that they don’t really puff up in size, so roll these to whatever width and thickness you want them for in the beginning.

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            For myself, I was also working with some nice Kishka (German/Jewish Blood Sausage) that day. Steamed it in beer for a while and sliced the nice log up.

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            Look at that syrup left in the pan; that my friends is concentrated Doppelbock and Wurst juices. The perfect topping for any meat dish, sort of like my own syrupy au jus.

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            A bit of Mustard and Horseradish on the bottom, and this pretzel bun has got it made. Now all I have to do is learn how to make them smaller…

To Elevate the Simple

(Alright, THIS is my last post before I leave, I swear!)

            When we take a look at some of the most iconic, some of our favorite items offered out of the various Food Trucks throughout the country, we tend to see a hodge-podge of different approaches taken to elevate the food to such heights. Some keep purely traditional to their style, just doing it fantastically. Others look to fuse and twist, add a little extra something, while others purely take certain dishes and channel it to the Street styles. They work hard, do a lot, and come out with a fantastic product.

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            Of these different approaches, there is one more that has recently been standing out to me, and which I think many may not be giving the credit it’s due. That is, leaving something as it is, but in its best version (yes, I will explain what I mean here). Taking a very simple, very staple menu item, not changing it in any sense, and making sure each element is of heightened quality. This particular style has been seen in a few of my recent burger reviews, such as Melch’s extremely simplified burger, elevated purely by the quality of the meat and the fantastic pretzel bun. If anything, though, my last post on AZCanteen’s burger offers an almost perfect example.

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            The use of goat may be debatable, but it has no differing in burger flavors and formula in any sense besides that. Onions and Tomatoes are just roasted, the bun is Brioche, and the handmade Pickles are still of the traditional variety. Already this combination is fantastic, yet somehow this strategy, this ideal, of sticking to the true nature of the dish itself with only changes of quality, is somehow able to increase the quality of it all in an exponential way, creating an eating experience at the same level, if not even higher, than some of the other previously mentioned.

            Though I didn’t really start thinking about this until dinner last night. We decided to do a good ol-fashioned Chili Dog meal, as we already had a can of Hornel in the pantry, and it was my job to grab the dogs and buns.

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            Yeah, not homemade or anything, but it’s still chili. As this was one of our last meals before vacation leave, however, I wanted to make it a little special, so my eyes were peeled in the store.

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            My first find was a Jalapeno-Cheddar stuffed bratwurst. Grilled up, it offered a simple, juicy brat with flavors to match the traditional chili.

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            And what is a chili dog without its bun? What did I happen to find but a small 4-pack (exactly what I needed) of Pretzel Roll Buns. Sliced and toasted, these offered a fantastic way to eat these awesome dogs, while still keeping in the whole “bar food” feeling.

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            Didn’t have everything I’d need to TRULY elevate these (would love queso fresco on top, then make my own beer chili) in the same style as AZ, but it turned out tasty, and we both ended up very satisfied at the end.

            So next time you’re on the street, or at the store, and you wanna try a new version of a particular craving (burgers, dogs, taco, etc), maybe edge away from something “different,” and think about finding a way to make it as-is, just better.

            And yes, this shall be the last strange and oddly-worded post that you’ll have to read through for at least 12 days

Melch’s Meat Wagon

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http://melchsmeatwagon.com/

https://twitter.com/MelchsMeatWagon

Main Location: Minneapolis

             New to the scene, Melch’s Meat Wagon is already making an impact with its Big Bull of a Food Truck, standing massively next to most any truck it’s parked by. Brown, rough, with a giant red steer decorating its side, Melch’s firmly identifies itself in the eyes of us seekers of the bloody, of the fatty, of the MEAT.

            True to their name, burgers is their game (well that and a fried pork and chicken sandwich). Toppings are pretty simple, they also offer a vegetarian black bean, but more importantly any burger can be either single or double. The true claim to fame, however, is the “Melch Me:” an artery-clogging, heart-stopping stack of a burger, chicken breast, two slices of cheese, and bacon, all held together in a toasted pretzel bun (as are their other burgers).  THAT is what I got on my first stop.

            In an interesting turn of events, it seems I wasn’t the only person reviewing Melch’s on the day in question. Right after ordering my burger, I see someone in a checkered cap pop out of their front door, waving a camera and telling me that my burger’s going to be the star of its own photo shoot. After watching him talk to the truck owner about where to take it, getting a base and napkin, etc, I finally had the chance to ask if he was with the truck or not.

To my delight, it seems Thrillist was doing their little post on it as well (it’s fun, see it Here), and we both got the chance to share a nice little talk about food trucks and the different sites devoted to them. Listings, mixed review, or the full focused blogs such as this own, it was fun to discuss the various benefits of each. He also mentioned the Owner’s plans on introducing the idea of “interesting meat items;” think game, but I have nothing to prove that. Either way, I’m already excited at the thought, and I’ll be sure to head straight back soon as they start.

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Now, the real fun in the day came in being able to take a picture of the guy taking a picture of my burger! Look at him ANGLE that shot!

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Yeah, that burger’s posing nice and sexy, that pretzel bun barely covers its skin. So indecent how it shows him its bacon too…

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Overall, as you see they were able to get it into a nice, perfect little stack. As we joked, “It’s like a McDonalds commercial… only real.” Shared a laugh, I took my burger, transferred it back to the to-go box…

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And immediately ruined the perfectness. Oh well, doesn’t diminish the taste.

 

Food: 9

              Let me tell you how good this burger is; by now, I had already eaten all of my House of Hunger dog (the monster that it is), and I had PLANNED on only eating part of the burger for now. Despite my obvious love for all that’s delicious and drags me closer to the verge of a heart-attack, I am currently watching my weight. Problem is, the burger wouldn’t let me… it was gone in under 10 minutes.

            Aside from the burger itself, which I think is already at the point of rivaling Neato’s for best Burger Truck (I really need to go back soon to make the final confirmation), this single item is filled with everything it should be. The chicken is juicy and cooked well, pretzel bun is toasted fantastically and brings an extra flavor along with its firm base, and that bacon… it ain’t the thin kind. Taking a look at it, one may be dubious of the boring American cheese, but when used with the right foods one can see why they’ve become so popular in our culture.

            And the burger itself… cooked to medium-well, it still retains that nice burger juiciness. It has to be their own grind, or at the very least a mixing of good-quality, high-fat beef. It just has this little note, little angle in its flavor that reminds me of R Burger Bar, which, before sadly closing, was home to the best burger that I have eaten to this day (I still think of how heavenly my first bite there was). The fact that there’s even a slight reminiscence of this special note earns them huge a lot of respect in my book.

            As for fries and rings, though I haven’t ordered, from what I’ve seen in pictures and other plates, not to mention how well they must fry their pork and chicken, it’d be strange to consider them low or even average in quality.

Holdability: 6.5

            Juicy and served in a big to-go container, this is certainly a sit-down burger. Ultimate experience depends on the items; fried chicken and pork are likely to be much easier to eat and walk, but the Melch Me and Self-Centered (stuffed) would err on the other side.

Price: 8.5

 Prices range $6-8, with $9 for the awesome Melch Me, and one can pay only 2 extra dollars to make these burgers a double (they aren’t thin burgers, so it’s quite the little deal). Overall, the only price points which I dislike are the $3 and $4 for the fries and onion rings.

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Speed: 7

 It can take a bit to get the burgers made, but that’s just going through the proper cooking of an awesome product (doing the pressings, bit of basteing, steam, etc). Definitely worth the extra minute.

The TOE: 8

             Having only started recently, Melch’s has already started paving its own path among our horde of Trucks, building a sense of self and reputation with their little bundles of meaty goodness. They’ve really communicated that specialization on the burger front, and I expect their future to be filled with hordes of loving fans. Ultimately, their pure identity isn’t quite there yet, but I think they’ll be pretty close once they get those game and alternative meat items going. I am very much looking forward to when they do, and will certainly be there to prove witness to their ongoing evolution.

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                        Tally: 39/50

                        (So here’s a fun little piece of info; I just realized that Melch’s currently has the exact same score as their burger rival Neato’s. Further proof that these two are neck in neck in the goal of best Burger Truck)

Final Thoughts

            A must try, definitely one to go for if you have the chance to sit down after ordering, or if you’re just in a Burger mood. Of the selection, they’re all good, but I would go for the Cowboy or Self-Centered as your first item; the Cowboy itself is topped with Onion Rings, so it’s a good way to try them without having to order a side. If you don’t mind spending the extra couple bucks, though, definitely shoot for the Melch Me; combo of Burger and Chicken is always a fun, tasty experience. Same said for getting side of fries and rings; price is not one I would do immediately, but if you have the extra it’s a definite.

            If you absolutely have get something to eat here but still need to walk, the Fried Pork and Chicken Parm are your end-game.