Z’s Smoking Bonez

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http://zsmokinbonez.com/
https://twitter.com/Zsbonez
Main Location: Markets and Outside Etc Locations

It seriously feels like all the trucks I’m making it to in 2015 are BBQ Trucks so far! I think this is the third one in the past month or so, it feels like I’ve been trapped in a cage of smoke, pork, and bbq sauce. Not that I’m complaining of course, who doesn’t love getting multiple chances at brisket and all other meats that are good with the world? (I’m looking at you Vegans… scoot along with your evil ways)

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At the very least all of them have shown marked differences, and this last one has proven quite interesting in its own way. Having opened up in Maple Grove in 2012, Z’s Smokin’ Bonez is a full-on BBQ Sandwich shop, filling their menu with smoked pork and brisket piled between bread, and of course some classic ribs and cornbread.

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Their restaurant and catering business has obviously done well enough, and recognized an obvious strength in their food, ‘cuz they got a truck outfitted and moved their cuisine out and onto the street! That’s right, starting this year we’ve been able to see Z’s Smokin’ Bonez Food Truck hit some of the lots, farmer’s markets, and events in our Twin Cities’ outskirt areas. With a big white trailer outfitted with a ‘patio’ in back where their old-fashioned barrel smoker is mounted, it’s rather nice to see them able to bring their ideal cooking to the streets.

As for that food, they make some changes from the restaurant to offer unique handheld bbq options (and other things). Of course they have a half rack of Ribs, Classic Sandwiches (big and small) of Pork/Chicken/Or Brisket, including a Bacon Cheeseburger using ground brisket. THEN we get to the fun stuff. Tortilla Wraps stuffed with pulled pork, beans, and slaw (Big Pig) or brisket+pork+mac n cheese+slaw (Whole Hog). Then there’s Deep Fried Rib Tips, the Trailer Trash Burger (piled with all manner of meat, veggies, and a fried egg… my god I need to start trying burgers more), and a ‘Squish-wish.’ I’ll describe that one later. Oh, and a KFC-style bowl of fries, pork, and beans called the Smoke House.

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Of course we get the classic options for sides: Coleslaw, Mac and Cheese, Baked Beans, and Potato Salad, nothing more nothing less (oh and ‘Ziggy Fries,’ that’s an automatic thing usually). And the whole side of the trailer is filled with all their BBQ Sauces, seriously 8 different kinds, from Original to Jalapeno to the classic Texas White Sauce. I tried a few on each item, definitely wasn’t disappointed. Speaking of which, let’s start really getting into that food.

Food: 8

                I guess I should start with talking about the Squish-wish, my first item of the day (I wasn’t going to get more, but then, ya know, I just had to… but that’s for later)! The name certainly suits it, since it is actually squished right on the griddle, a proper pressed sandwich to my delighted surprise! Sadly, it was supposed to be made with a Cuban bread but they ran out; I didn’t mind, the regular bun acted just fine, I can only imagine it’d taste and come together even better. Ultimately it was much different than we’ve come to expect with traditional BBQ sandwiches, aka cheap, soft, and completely un-toasted bread to soak up the meat. I appreciate the additional texture and awesome crunch (yet still soft inside) to go with the filling.
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Which is rather good; Pulled Smoked Pork AND Smoked Brisket, melted Pepperjack, Onions, Pickles, and BBQ Mustard. Both meats were tender and had distinctive smoke flavor, enjoyable in their own fashions, and ultimately ate well as this delicious BBQ twist on the classic Cuban, coming with some added texture from the other fillings. If officially meets approval.

And then there are Ribs… Holy F&$%balling Mother of S#!% there are RIBS! My God look at those sons of b!%&#*$! You actually get a PROPER order of half a rack of ribs, big pieces of smoked pork meat that are actually composed of mostly meat with just a bit of bone for grasping! This is by far the best order of them that I have seen and/or gotten from a truck since I started doing them; and part of that may be due to others using baby back or some other style that costs more, meaning they have to give less for the same price, vs the St Louis Style cut that Z’s uses, but I don’t care about that. As I’ve always said, this is a food truck, not a restaurant, IF you’re going to charge $15 or more for something on the menu, then you better get something GOOD in return, quality and quantity wise.

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And these are good. The meat is still tender, it has that proper toothsome/bite quality to it (not melt-in-your-mouth, which shouldn’t really happen from smoked ribs anyway), though I did find the end pieces a bit more ‘rubbery’ than the rest (not drastically or anything, but you can see they’re not ‘as’ good, though they do have a higher meat ratio to them too…). It’s still covered in grinds of pepper or whatever spice was used in the rub, the flavor of which is distinctive but not overpowering (you know what, was it lemon pepper? I’m thinking there may have been some), and indicative of a certain style. Of course the smoke was nice, and best of all they tasted great with some of the sauce on top. It was a satisfying experience; if I were to list the faults, it’d probably be that the St Louis cuts they use result in a rib that indeed is more ‘meaty/proteiny,’ with less of the fat veins to make it extra tender, but if so it’s minimal, and I think I’m just trying to find a complaint that’s not really there so that I don’t seem like I’m just saying all-positive out of some biased opinion. Guess you’ll have to try for yourself to TRULY know.

Sadly the sides were rather unimpressive; not bad in any way, but the quality doesn’t stand really stand out. In fact the flavor of the Mac and Cheese was nice, a little better than typical from BBQ joints/trucks I’ve found, but with a rather thin sauce, almost like a slightly thickened cheese soup with noodles in it. Which is sad because now I have little to no actual interest intrying the Whole Hog Wrap. The Coleslaw, as I found on the sandwich, was purely basic, standard, couldn’t even taste any of the dressing so I doubt it’s particularly tangy or flavorful. I will say that I DID enjoy the Bacon Potato Salad; it was also rather typical in style, with that tangy sour cream dressing and some onions, thankfully some nice chunks of bacon, but it was done well and the kind of side I can REALLY dig into with a giant spoon from a tub, at least for a while. Nothing special overall.

Holdability: 8

                 I’m definitely giving them some extra points for their heavily sandwich-based BBQ offerings, especially those wraps, which I do still wanna try someday (even if the sides they stuff it with don’t thrill me). And that pressed squish-wish, thank god for Panini-style sandwiches for holding in the hand while walking. I can’t say for how messy the burger and typical pulled pork/brisket sandwiches shall be, I expect the former will need some napkins, but I certainly know the Ribs are a full sit-down item. Though at the end of the day, of course, serving in the classic BBQ to-go styrafoam boxes like this as full meals (doesn’t seem like any sandwich can be bought on its own for less, so it’s an automatic addition of fries or another side) will cut down on that factor I oh-so-cling to, even though no one but me cares haha.

Price: 7

                  Besides a $7 and $9 price for the small/side sandwiches, most are $10, $12, or $13 (the latter two for Brisket and Specialty Sandwiches/Wraps), with $15 for the Ribs. I will repeat, compared to other trucks this is easily the BEST deal for ribs, getting the most bang for your buck, for the money spent. But price points are overall still higher up. Though the $10/$12 sammies, including the burger, do in effect come in as good sandwich+side combos for the price (they’ll sometimes switch out the fries for another side if you mention interest).
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Speed: 8.5

Depends, things like the pressed sandwich take an average wait time to grill up and/or prep up, fry the potato sticks, etc. Some things just need scooping and cutting (helloooo ribs and potato salad) to be served up.

The TOE: 9

                  I feel so bad now, because I have to repeal my recent naming of Baldy’s as my favorite BBQ Truck, for I think Z’s has already dethroned you. Not to say I think they’re the BEST, I think I much prefer Baldy’s for quick grab-and-go sandwiches at a better price, but I really appreciate and respect a lot of what Z is doing EVEN MORE. The big thing here is the Setup, what kind of packages for the BBQ they offer, and they definitely do that in a way that more fits the street, both in the ability to only need your hands to eat most of it (minus bowls and sides, thus a fork comes in handy), but also in the attempts to trying some different and fun/unique forms of the original via wraps and other sandwich combos. And though longer truck menu selections like these can lead to an annoyance in wonder and confusion, or just a wish to focus and specialize in a few things, this is one of the trucks that, because they’ve done it well enough, I myself am somewhat intrigued to want to come back and try more if given the chance (particularly those Deep Fried Rib Tips). I haven’t said that out loud for other trucks, but there have been others where I feel the same.

I’m a bit sad they don’t have any of that Jalapeno Cornbread I’ve read about in the restaurant, that sounds like it woulda been a fantastic addition. Hell, I’ll take a brick of that instead of those French Fries anyday… or used for a sandwich (get on it!! Please?).

Tally: 42.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Whether you’re looking for some true flavors and heart of BBQ food or a truck showing a fun street food twist on something classic, Z’s Smoking Bonez can fill part of your heart. It will be best enjoyed when you have some time sit or pause and enjoy it, leaning against a wall or sitting down with your entrée in question, though there are possibilities for the on-the-go.

Though it’s still not the item I’d ever get purely on my own interests, if you ARE looking to get Ribs from a Food Truck, this is the place to do it. I myself would definitely suggest jumping on the Squish-wish or Trailer Trash Burger for the full, deep down Meat experience with a side. For those of the more portable-minded, the Whole Hog Wrap (though I’m not too interested in it now since I wasn’t impressed with the mac and cheese, though it’s still a sinful addition right?) or the Fried Rib Tips are the way to go. Finally, the Side: Bacon Potato Salad. The others don’t really stand out, I doubt the beans will, and the potato salad actually works really well, the tangy sour cream helping cut through all that rich and fatty pork/beef.

As for those looking on the simple side, debating brisket vs pork vs chicken, that all seems to be up to you, as they seem to be handle at an equal level. Though that’s only a consideration for those who want to visit but are really on a budget and thus looking at the cheaper regular/side sandwiches.

Ultimately, it’s definitely worth a visit, I’m positive you can find an experience here.

Big Brother Almighty BBQ

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http://www.bigbrotheralmightysmokedbbq.com/

https://twitter.com/BBAlmightyBBQ

Main Location: Minneapolis

It’s always interesting when new batches of Food Trucks come in each year; the discover of which, usually, coming through various waves and instances as the 10+(usually a lot of +) come in unannounced throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall. 2014 has stood out as somewhat interesting, though, in how many articles and reports and postings I’ve seen come out, grandstanding around THE new group of mobile vendors coming out this year. This always being the same group of 5-8 Trucks being anticipated for by bloggers and media alike, setting themselves squarely into their own little ‘Rat Pack Street Food Style’ of the 2014 Generation. Though of course one or two of the trucks aren’t always consistent list to list, certain new businesses being more unique or informationally available for each article owner, there are a certain few that consistently stand out at the top of the list.

Of these, Big Brother Almighty BBQ seems to shine as the most intriguing of newcomers (well, next to Butcher Salt, but they came out much earlier), calling those denizens of the street forth in curiosity as the unique, Zeus-embellished logo. As for their story, it seems the business is originally based out of the bbq-joint-of-the-same-name, located on Hoover St in Minneapolis.

Like all BBQ businesses, there is no such thing as ‘menu specialization;’ no matter what their best and worst items are, they shell out everything. Ribs, Pulled Pork, Beef Brisket, Rib TIPS, even Chicken Wings, one can get all the classics, every which one of them being smoked for flavor. Of the sides we have those mainly typical of a lower key place, or perhaps a picnic, with Baked Beans, Coleslaw, Mac n Cheese, Potato Salad, and French Fries (sad to say no bacon/ham and collard greens made the list). Besides the Pork and a Polish Sausage, all smoked items come in Full and Half orders, reminiscent of making the aching decision of whether or not you can handle double the ribs in your local lodge house.

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And did I mention every meat comes with a free slice of White Bread? Now that’s classic barbecue. Sadly, they don’t make their own sauce to accompany this or your meat, maybe a wet marinade for some items, but they carry a few classic options to choose from and distribute on your own desires.

Food: 5.5

                It’s a very, very difficult thing to get a grasp of any BBQ joint’s food and style when only having one or their items; whereas the ribs from one place are divine, that same business’ pulled pork may be abysmal (or at least just okay), or vice versa. Many places have noted strong and weak items, some may be strong across the board, but we can’t know the full situation with only experiencing one meat. Thus my exploring of this mobile shack had to be relegated in my schedule twice.

Thankfully for me, my very first visit provided a stroke of luck, walking up to the counter right as they were inspecting a slab of Rib Tip. Cutting off an end, the cook asked my opinion on its level of preparation; it did need more time, as it was still notably chewy, but the juiciness of that meat fully coated my mouth and fingers, accompanied by a lightly piquant red marinade that made me very hopeful for my meals to come.

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But that stopped soon afterwards, for though the side of Beans I acquired provided a nice flavor compared to the generic puddles of goo one is loathe to remember, still a touch chalky in texture but definitely a good basic experience, my regular Ribs left my feelings neutral. Not that there was anything wrong with the ribs; my teeth can bite through, one can taste a little smoke, the pork flavor is nice; but there’s nothing really ‘right’ either. They’re not bad, but they aren’t great, and ribs are one of those foods where any time you eat it the flavor should be GREAT and excite you. But they just felt decent, ‘alright,’ it was cooked well enough nothing was wrong with them but there was no special quality.

The Brisket sunk me even lower, finding something that made me disappointed. I love brisket, absolutely love it, but this just ended up tasting like roast beef, with barely any smoke flavor and none of the pink flesh from that heated carbon-curing. It was gray and brown with no bark (literal and figurative), and really pointed out the sadness that they don’t make their own sauce to slather over the finished meat. Because worst, worst of all, it was dry; and no, not as in the sandy, chewing on leather dry, but that texture right in the back tells you immediately there will be no juicy reward in this food, with just a hint of flesh scraping, which may be nothing for other meat but for a brisket is DRY. Oh, and did I mention I had a piece with a chunk of fat/gristle that I, of all people, COULDN’T eat? And I love chowing down on delicious animal fat with steaks and whatnot.

All this comes as no surprise when one reads on their homepage that the owner himself, a ‘Professional Cook,’ has been working only as a Prep cook he was 20 and ‘has even taken a course in BBQ from Jack’s Old South BBQ Cooking School in Unadilla, Georgia.’ Ooooh, a whole course?

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I now sadly doubt if the rib tips, though delicious when fresh, would actually come to customers near that level after having been sliced and kept ready to serve like these previous items. Could very well be wrong though, they may just keep that idealistic perfection, with a texture my teeth can actually cut through on their own. Finishing off, I did get a look at their Mac and Cheese, and for the typical thick, gooey yellow style one usually sees from BBQ and Sandwich trucks (like Bloomy’s), it looked to be of the tastier variation.

Holdability: 5.5

                 Though sides, when ordered solo, are placed in small, easy-to transport containers, any entrée choice immediately requires the characteristic giant styrafoam box, no matter how small the whole order is. Though options like ribs and chicken wings, when not heavily sauced by yourself, can allow for ease of consumption (despite the obtrusive packaging), brisket and pulled pork offer much cumbersome mess. Picking up the white bread that’s supposed to act as their sandwich bread base only ends in part of it ripping in half, saucy meat falling, and you turning around to grab napkins as you plan a better navigation plan. Put simply, these items are meant for shipping to an eat-focused-location.

Price: 3.5

                  The cheapest one will pay here, not counting only getting some sides or ordering the $7 Polish Sausage, is $9 for their ‘small/half’ orders. This applies to only 3 slices of brisket, 4 small ribs, 4oz of rib tips, or just 6 chicken wings (not sure how much pulled pork you get, but I don’t expect I’d be wowed). Oh and did I mention this is before the tax kicks in? So it’s almost $10. To actually get a decent sized order, one will pay around $14 for double the amount, $12 in the case of chicken wings (which isn’t actually getting a full double anyways), before tax again. And sides are $3-4 each.

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Very typical and not so surprising price listing when heading into some BBQ restaurants, but completely unacceptable from a food truck perspective; we either need some more affordable options or, at the very least, substantial quantities (and qualities) of food to match the higher-end price listing in the street vendor line-up.

Speed: 9

A relatively quick recovery of pre-finished product into your container, or spooned into Tupperware.

The TOE: 4.5

                  Big Brother seeks to apply the same feeling and experience of eating at their restaurant or bbq catering table, I presume, without making any consideration changes towards Street Food culture. Nothing is made purely to eat mobile, the price system mirrors brick and mortar expectancies, and portion size for even the most affordable options are laughable. They do carry an ambiance and a unique enough design and attitude which initially draws us in quite well, but it never carries through unless one is tunnel-visioned enough about the idea of a barbecue stop that they simply don’t care (which I admit, and have for many of my reviews, that these may simply be the opinions of a self-obsessed ranting lunatic, but nonetheless…).

Tally: 28/50

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Final Thoughts

Unless one really has a craving for a BBQ lunch, and are dependent on getting it from a Food Truck, I would ultimately suggest finding somewhere else for lunch. That said, if one WERE to visit here, I have two main ideas for a decent experience.

1: for the BBQ-focused, I would bet the Pulled Pork probably allows for the better eating options, and you may get more for the money (pork used for pulling generally being cheaper, and since they only have one option for I would assume that means it’s not a half/dinky order. Then again, it could just be charging for a single, small sandwich). Then again, if the Rib Tips ever tender up once cooked, it should be pretty good, just one of the pricier street options. Though considering they’re the main two items they seem to push on the website, it’s not so surprising.

2: skip the BBQ all-together, get yourself 2-3 sides, some Mac and Cheese and Baked Beans. They open themselves up as a possible choice when creating a full-course food truck day plan. Though don’t get the fries, they’re pre-cut frozen things I can tell.

128 Cafe (Truck)

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https://www.facebook.com/pages/128-Cafe/115653807931  

https://twitter.com/128cafe  

Main Location: St. Paul

           It’s been a couple years in the making, but finally I am capable of writing a complete review on the St. Paul Restaurant-turned-Truck, 128 Café.

           My first visit to the Café was during the first few weeks of “Lunch by the River;” you know, when it was always on Kellog and Wabasha, and each lunch was basically crammed with Food Truck Fair-reminiscent crowds.  Oh, I wish I had been blogging then… the sort of post I would have created after those events, meeting the Mom and Sis (who worked downtown) to be able to try multiple trucks, then ultimately giving up after only a couple and going to Potter’s in the park. Where of course we would grab 2-3 whole pasties anyway and eat until inebriation-by-pastry-crust.

           But I digress. The point I was trying to make (despite my other personality’s successful attempts at interrupting) was that, sadly, my visit was so long ago and filled with so much other stimulation that, by the time I’ve started my foray into writing, I completely forgot what I even ate, let alone how it tasted. And with a slow return to the 2013 season, I’ve only just received my 2nd chance to explore this white behemoth.

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          128 is certainly… “different” than other trucks in the face that there’s not much underlying theme behind its menu items. All items are based simply along things they do, or would, serve in the sorta-seasonal, variant-menu café. The main feature, as is seemingly the case in the restaurant as well, is of course their Ribs. This is usually followed by a couple sandwiches, Grilled Salmon and a Portobello when I was there, BLT also featured at times, along with a few others I’m sure. These are then followed by some form of Salad (ugh… just not gonna talk about it), and the 2nd menu staple, Ginger-Soy Sirloin Skewers. Lemonade, Iced Tea, and a mix of the two form a drinking backbone.

            So, is it more worth it to go here, or the restaurant?

Food: 9

            Yet another Truck this season where I had to grab two items to feel at ease in judgement.

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             First up are, of course, the BBQ Baby Back Ribs. Covered in a sticky, molasses-based (I’m sure) sauce, these fellas are hot and pull from the bone with the smallest movements… in a particularly familiar fashion. I am actually pretty certain in how they make this; considering the color of the meat, the complete tenderness, and the absolute lackness in any real smoke flavor, I am 100% sure that these are what I call “Restaurant” or “At Home” Style Ribs. Basically meaning that, instead of a smoker, the chefs just cook the ribs in an oven (with some water) or a steamer; if they DO smoke it, it’s for minimal time. Overall, done right like they do, it leads to a very good and very tasty product; however don’t expect it to be the same flavors and experience at a proper BBQ/Smoke House.

            I very much enjoyed the Grilled Salmon Sandwich as well; the fish was moist, wasn’t too “fishy” in flavor (something to consider with salmon and other fatty fish), and the veggie topping plus béarnaise had a nice texture and flavor to go with it. Light toasting on the very simple Ciabatta roll, leading to a soft bun that holds the ingredients very well; there isn’t much texture in the final result, but I can’t find myself to dislike how it eats at all. Ummm… you remember my complains about Tiki’s Pulled Pork Bun? This is the same kind of bread, but due to its reduced size and some further treatment, it’s put in much better use.

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            A couple other shout outs food wise. First, I have to say I really enjoy their slaws, veggies toppings, etc; they’re smooth, bright, and nicely simple in their preparation and use. They’re actually one of my highlights. Secondly, it’s very weird to say this, but I also really liked the kettle chips… which I’m sure they don’t make themselves (or maybe they do, the texture seems a touch different…), but I think they toss them with something else before using in service. Sort of a nice, extra little flavorful spice; at the end it reminded me of Sambal… but then again there’s the chance that some sauce might have just fallen on and confused me, haha.

Holdability: 7

             Though I found myself sitting down to enjoy both of my options, I would have to say they’re overall not too bad, individually, for walking and eating. In a basket requires the use of both hands, but the sandwiches hold together well, the Sirloin skewers are easy to hold, and the sides of slaw and such at least seem easy to eat with a fork. With the Ribs being the mainstay, I was originally contemplating on notching this score back a few more, but as I mentioned they ARE quite pull-from-the-bone tender, so it’s easy to eat with your hands. Though, as one would imagine, it’s quite sticky and messy; and it doesn’t help that they don’t give you wet naps to clean up with.

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Price: 4

            Hidden behind a poorly-located planter box, it took a while to see the menu in full on my visit! Haha.

            Noticeably shifted towards the higher end, with items mainly staying in the $9-$12 range, with only one $8 being relegated to a simple salad. As far as things are concerned, each item seems pretty obviously overpriced. One of the $9 was for a cheaper, vegetarian Portobello Sandwich… a big mushroom and some bread; while the other was for this:

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            You can make the argument that it’s Sirloin, but the fact is that is NOT a lot of food right there; what’s the justification, $5-6 for the meat and the rest to cover for the sides?

            Then we get to the Ribs. Before getting the order, I was planning to ask if they offered a half order; I mean $12 for a basket of ribs, I’m sure there’re those who would appreciate a nice deal like that. Then I get it, and realize that IS the half-order… actually, it was only 5 bones, so even less. And as I’ve explained, though these ribs are good, they’re a simple “Restaurant-style” oven preparation; there’s no long, special, quality technique-filled smoking. Again, there’s no real justification for this price; I mean, at the Restaurant sure, but not out on the streets like this.

            Ultimately, it seems they haven’t quite separated themselves from thinking along the lines of a restaurant.

Speed: 8

             Not too bad, especially with a good-sized line.

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The TOE: 6

              Their prices betray the underlying thought process that, despite attempts to transform to a fully-integrated Food Truck, they’re still just a Restaurant serving out of a mobile operation. I certainly applaud the use of skewers and sandwiches, but these forms are simply the easy way out to making Street Food. Okay, it’s probably not really as bad as it sounds like I’m saying, but nonetheless I don’t feel that great “sense” of a Truck when I visit; maybe it has something to do with the overly simple, though sharp and clean, van design…

                           Tally: 34/50

Final Thoughts

            Probably a better, cheaper option than going to the Restaurant, though I’m thinking there’s better overall deals throughout our Truck scene. If you do end up going, the Sandwiches seem the only way to go; from what I can tell, they seem to be the only items somewhat close to the Price-Percieved Quality line; and hey they do taste pretty good. Avoid everything else: the skewers are barely anything, and the Ribs just don’t seem worth it at all, not for 5 small bones that don’t even compete with the quality Smoke-House Ribs.