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.

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.

Rockin’ at Motley Crew’s Heavy Metal Grill in Lakeville

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Four months after the infamous and devastating explosion incident that destroyed one of our Minnesota Breweries’ most beloved food trucks, Motley Crew’s Heavy Metal Grill is back yet again, this time with their much-awaited standalone bar of the same name. Bursting out of the gate guitars blazing, the 40 days I myself have had to wait to travel down to their new location has been filled with packed nights, much local love, and a few ‘special visits’ from certain musical icons. As always I feel so rather crappy for not being able to go down sooner, this was the one truck-steraunt (patent pending?) that I actually wanted to make sure I was down for on opening day.

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But alas, the implantation of this brick-and-mortar (by the way, still hate the phrase, and yes I know that I have no proper reason for this) was straight down in Lakeville, 30 minutes south of Minneapolis and 50 from my own residence. So it sucks for me, but is a truly great thing for Lakeville; sadly, many a restaurant or other fun edible stop have been leaving the city over the past few years, limiting local options to only one or two places to dine out. Not only does Heavy Metal offer a different and totally awesome bar to change things up with every once in a while, which most of them have certainly shown appreciation for in these first months of business, but it’s only the first wave in a battalion of new businesses aiming to bring further fun and life back into the area. As anyone who’s been following the build of Motley’s restaurant is aware, a month or two from now will see the opening of a brewery-taproom in the same building, creating the perfect visiting experience. Not only that, but yet ANOTHER Brewery, this one with its own restaurant and apparently some kick-ass design ideas, will be opening in the space right BEHIND Motley’s, a trifecta of late night beer and bar food heaven.

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Though mostly bare on my visit, the walls of this hard rocker’s upscale-ish dive are already getting loaded with sweet guitars, flaming posters, and most notably Truck scraps. Yes, though the truck may be gone, its bits and pieces live on in glory within its successor, like a propane-fueled phoenix rising from the ashes… or scraps of twisted metal, whatever. If you look at the back of the menu itself, you’ll see a picture of the old truck parked outside their future space, already with their name on it… like a proud momma looking over her growing child. Sadly that was THE last picture ever taken of the old girl before the accident, displayed in yet another honorary position as part of this establishment.

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Currently we get to see this with some of the surviving classic attire so nostalgicly seen on the truck’s side, various stickers, license plate, and they hung the whole of the final menu in honor over in one of the corners. Then there’s the bar Hand Sink; who ever thought anyone would talk about a goddamn SINK in any business-related article? But one of the few surviving items from the vehicle, its hand sink festooned with stickers and all, has been given permanent place out front, still doing work and keeping its soul alive as part of the long working bloodline that is a restaurant’s kitchen and bar stations.

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And that’s just to start; if you get the chance to head down there soon, talk to Marty about decorations, that man has some PLANS for filling spaces. The original hood, or something, of the truck is going to be hung up in front between the air vents, one of the destroyed and sorta-twisted sides will garnish a wall, and an old logo that was GOING to be wrapped on the truck (but was way too big) is going on another wall.

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Keeping true with their old-school rocker lifestyle (the only kind worth living am I right?), they’ve also got a whole mess of other paraphernalia lined up and getting ready to go on display. Pictures, posters, guitars, Frisbees (some sort of big white disk, I claim all apology in completely forgetting what that was exactly), and various other things, signed by icons or just plain badass in their own separate ways. All awaiting their debut on the ‘bleak’ (inside joke, sorta, haha) and still quite-empty canvas; though I’m sure they’ve already gotten a few more things up by the time I finally get around to writing and posting this crap.

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But décor isn’t the only thing in development; as one should hope and expect, the menu keeps hold of every sandwich and beloved food item that the truck was known for serving for, two sections of which are filled with different steak/philly and chicken sandwiches. Of course one can still get a bag of the classic sweet and spicy pretzels from Sammy’s we so fell in love with from the truck, if there are any left that is!

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It’s not a truck-steraunt without new items though, to which they have quite a few… and they’re still adding more! The big focus so far is on their Burger list, filled with thick monsters topped by totally unhealthy things and given names such as ‘Kickstart my Heart,’ ‘Feed my Frankenstein,’ and ‘War Pig.’ A section of Chicken Wings compliments the proper atmosphere of the place, an ideal basket to eat with a big glass of draft from some of our local breweries (a small-ish selection for now, but growing, or at least in frequent rotation. Oh, and something cool, got the chance to go in the back with Marty, they actually have the kegs stored right behind the tap for easy handling; you’d think that’s obvious, but I’ve worked in kitchens, doesn’t always happen), dressed in classic sauces. Oh, and they have Seafood; Buffalo-style Fried Shrimp, which they plan on turning into a Po’Boy and/or other sandwich in the future, and Crab Legs. I shit you not, you can get a basket of simply steamed crab legs here. It at first seems so opposed to Marty’s opposition of places that just make their menu options as varied as possible, yet the singular point of ridiculousness with that ONE item makes it feel almost completely at home here.

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And that’s what’s here NOW. Inside scoop tells me (look at me trying to sound special, when I bet you anyone who even broaches the subject with Marty at the bar will get him telling you every little bit of the same information as I got from a computer screen) that we’re in store for some other special and fun ideas, such as a Juicy Lucy called the Iron Maiden, now-classic Peanut Butter-Bacon named Skid Row, and just a SIMPLE Cheeseburger (which they don’t have yet, for good reason in my opinion) named after Marty’s favorite phrase and one of his favorite bands, K.I.S.S.: Keep it Simple Stupid. Are you noticing a pattern with the names yet?

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Then of course there’s a burger topped WITH Philly Meat and cheese, a Philly served with Au Jus to make into a dive-bar Dip, Fried Cod (Sandwich version or non, former called Barracuda), Rib Tips, burgers made OUT OF Bratwurst, and a dessert of Cherry-Cream Cheese stuffed Tortillas fried and rolled in Cinnamon-Sugar known as Sixx Stixx (there’s quite the origin to this name, definitely try to get Marty to tell you about it if it’s not busy). One definitely can’t say any of this is high-class fare, or even gastropub, but we never really went to them for that kind of food in the first place.

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I actually went there with a buddy, so we got to try a couple things. Besides the always amazing pretzels, and a little sample of some ‘yogurt’-coated almonds made by the same guy that does the candied ones I oh so loved when they were in the truck, we each tried a burger and got those Buffalo Shrimp. Which are awesome by the way; deep-fried then slathered in sauce, what once was crispy is now almost soggy from absorbing that classic orange liquid, but I actually sort of LIKE that texture. Speaking of which, the shrimp were delightfully plump and bouncy, and there’s little beating the flavor of buffalo sauce, meat of some sort, and blue cheese dressing, which they also make from scratch in-house as any good restaurant should.

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That’s what you gotta get through w/ ‘Kickstart my Heart’

The burgers are monsters, that’s definitely the main point you go for with them; I’ll admit they’re not particularly juicy or of that perfect grind and meat that turns some burgers into massive balls of tender, squelching deliciousness, but they’re still cooked well and very enjoyable, especially considering the excess aspect. Just seeing them made us start talking about the ‘technique’ so often seen from Fieri on DDD, and then of course Marty comes over and asks us we got ‘the Hunch’ down! Perfect timing! My friend got Kickstart My Heart, a Double burger with 3 cheeses, 4 pieces of bacon, and a Fried Egg, and of course he then made it healthy with that ‘salad’ on top. I think we were able to get a good bite out of the bastard. Oh, and by the way, if you think your heart still has it easy for some reason, can order this one ‘Triple Bypass’ with yet ANOTHER patty, which has to be at least 8oz from the looks of it.

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‘Meatallica’

I felt I had to try the Meatallica myself: Burger, Bacon, Ham, a split and grilled Hot Dog (and not the skinny kind either), topped with Cheddar and… well that’s it. Lettuce and Tomato? Why the hell would I order that, this is the place that you shove those pretentions to the side! We don’t come to a place like this if we’re concerned about balancing our diets or looking at ‘perfect contrasting flavors’ for dinner that night. You go here to just shove a load of meat, cheese, and fried stuff down your mouth and enjoy it, washing down with beer. You can do that you know? You can take time every now and then to revel in something that’s bad for you… and this is coming from a guy who cares about food quality and crap. And I enjoyed my mountain of meat topped with cheap melted cheese and served with fries.

Speaking of which, I feel obligated to mention they DO have a house seasoning which they use on their fries, burgers, and probably some other things. It’s actually mixed in back, so not just season salt, and has an ingredient that provides a subtle little smoky aspect at times. I myself got the Cajun fries not realizing this, which I did enjoy, but one should certainly find interest that the ‘regular’ fries aren’t going to taste completely generic.

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Let’s see, final notes… there’s a big patio outside, looks great to take advantage of while the weather’s still nice. There’s a chair in each of the single-use bathrooms, no one knows why so don’t ask. The big sign outside lights up at night to look pretty cool. Glasses are monogrammed, and they always look into trying to get cool t-shirts made, so I’m sure there’s a few souvenirs one can buy if asked about it. And the whole team is awesome. Most of them are all from Lakeville and randomly got into the team through the kind of individual stories and happenstances that only a guy like Marty seems to keep walking into… like his baby duck.

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So, after having to wait over a month to finally visit and feeling rather crappy about taking so long… I now wish I had waited even longer! Now I have to find another good time and excuse to get back down to Lakeville once these decorations and new menu items get thoroughly engrained. Right now I’m thinking of a whole ‘Lakeville Day’ with friends and/or family, spend some time at the breweries once they’re in, start the day with lunch at a nearby Vietnamese place Marty says has quite the badass bowl of Pho, before finishing the day on another gut-busting tour of Motley’s expanded menu. If lucky, can do it at Pan-O-Prog or some other yearly festival.

The Truck may be gone, but the rockin’ spirit and attitude lives on! Though there is potential for mobile resurgence in 5 years or so, but for now we can satisfy our ‘cheesy-sandwich-deep-fried-goody’ happy needs down in Lakeville.

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Gotta get that commemorative picture in front of the Heavy Metal Grill rock idol centerpiece!

By the way, I’ll be making sure to upload a whole bunch of new photos once those upcoming truck parts and signed paraphernalia get jammed into the wall and ceiling. And what I can’t fit between paragraphs I’ll just jam in below here for simple viewing pleasures.

Brook’s High Beer Battered

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http://www.brookshigh.com/
https://twitter.com/Brooks_High
Main Location: Minneapolis, Select Breweries

The second of this summer’s most locally-anticipated food trucks, Brook’s High Beer Battered gained fame through their popular Kickstarter campaign, gaining press and interest through the sharing of their particular vision, one which quite a few people seemed to agree with. Definitely one of the sight’s biggest success stories, at least for Minnesota, the team here proves that, if handled right with an idea that truly appears to our local hipster masses, crowdsourcing creates a viable supplemental income source for your startup food truck operation.

And what is this vision which so many of us here have been so anxious to get on the streets you ask? Well, if you have yet to run across articles like This and This explaining it (once again, since they’ve basically been talked about for quite some time, I’m going to be lazy in my intro today), they focus purely on, as the name suggests, Beer-battered and Beer-focused menu items. But not just any beer; the fun comes in the fact that as they park at brewery to brewery, that day’s batter recipe will specifically feature some of the different beers from our local taprooms. So one day you could get a typical fried something made from a light ale, while another brings complex bitter hops, and yet another day try out a uniquely dark and savory batter made from a stout.

So far they’ve been working with Bauhaus, Lynlake Brewing, Fair State, and Tin Whiskers, while also parking at the explosively popular distiller and cocktail room of Tattersall. Of which they’ve already been parking at for over a month; my delay in being able to visit has, as one would imagine, been painful. But with their mention of the menu still being worked on a few weeks ago, my steely resolve had to set itself to wait… that and my schedule sucks. But I always prefer to get to a truck at its set point while being as close to opening as possible; hopefully I got to the right point this time.

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Southside Donuts w/ ‘Glaze’

For the food itself, topping the menu is their Fried Walleye (at least now, perhaps they may switch the fish out depending on occasion) Sandwich, followed by classic Beer-Battered Cheese Curds. When asked about upcoming items, since with still only 4 on the board during my visit, it seems plans for a Bacon-Beer-Mac-and-Cheese are underway for when the temperatures drop, along with some Beer Chili. There IS a Salad for the gluten-free and veggie-required people out there, but we shall not deem it worthy by even looking at that. And what’s a fried truck without dessert? Of late their Donuts, current flavors taken inspiration from their friends at Tattersall, have seen much feature.

Now is the time to see if they can live up to the hype, as those that invested and those that just really love the idea of this truck hope and pray for them to survive on our local roads. Let’s see what chance they have at this.

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Food: 9.5

                To my surprise the Fried Walleye Sandwich comes in two sandwiches, each with a single batter-fried walleye filet, their Citrus-Apricot-Coleslaw, Tartar Sauce (of course), and half a white country bun/baguette for each. I think I saw a picture once that had their sandwich in a pretzel bun, so not sure if I mistook it, it was for something else, or they just switch it out every here and there, like the batter. Let’s start with the fish. Heaven. There done? Oh I need more details don’t I? You get the kind of fish cooked to a point where the flesh is almost melting in how it flakes, and then surrounded by thick, crunchy-fried beer batter, hot from the friar to steam your mouth, forcing you to pause and take your time. A faint amount of friar grease makes itself present on the palate, and that being near the end of the night, which is rather impressive compared to some other fried foods I’ve had.

The slaw is delightfully refreshing and creamy, an one does get those notes of citrus every now and then, really distinguishing it as their own and proving why it’s so classically paired to ‘contrast’ the richly-cooked fish. Didn’t get a lick of the apricot though, not sure what that was about. I like the tartar sauce, tasted on its own one can see it’s of an unctuous ‘fatty’ style, probably from the amount of sour cream and mayo, with this sort of deep tang. And the bread was good, not toasted on the inside but the outside got it at some point so the texture was there while the softer inside cradled its package.

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I’ve had a lot of Cheese Curds, and a lot of them have used good cheese from local and/or organic/sustainable farms, but this feels to be the first time where it REALLY expresses this fact on the plate… er, basket… actually, in the mouth. The curds on their own were so creamy, gooey, and just plain craveable. If I had to pick my personal ‘ideal cheese curds,’ I know everyone has their favorite at the State Fair and whatnot, these would be it. Besides that cheese, the batter formed a completely even coating, thin but still crispy and textural. It made me very confused as to whether I liked it better with or without the wonderfully creamy and spicy ‘Baeoli’… aioli with beer.

It’s a shame I ended up on one of the few nights which they only had one beer to make the batter with (Bauhaus’ Wonderstuff by the way), though I’m not quite sure how much of a difference it would have made. Despite intense testing of the batter, on its own and with the food, I wasn’t quite sure I could notice any particular flavor from the distinctive beer itself. Structure, as I’ve said, certainly; I can’t recall the last time I’ve had fried beer batter that good, at least in Minnesota.

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We finish with the Southside Donuts, their little ‘donut holes’ served with a Juniper-Lime Syrup; they call it a glaze, but really it’s this thin syrup on the bottom of the basket, which I delight in rolling the donuts around to coat before popping in my mouth. I do wish the juniper flavor came out more in it too; the acidity is there, but actual flavors are subtle, and I really wish I could EXPERIENCE it, get it upfront. The menu said #BOOM… I wanted the boom –innocent little tear-. Donut on itself was… interesting. Not in a bad way, just in that I’m not sure how to exactly describe or judge the style; I think it’s similar to the brioche-dough-doughnuts. Given the style, I do believe the structure was done well, and once again is fried well, not dry or doughy. Sadly not what I had expected them to be; but now we know what they’re coming out with so you know what to get excited about.

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Look at that cheese stretch!

Holdability: 7

               Officially basket, and in the future bowl, food; besides the hand-picked donuts and curds, or fork-required salad, the slaw and sauce on these sandwiches seem quite eager to attack my fingers. Even when I tried actively pushing them down between fish and bun(an idea I used to unjustifiably inflate my own pride), still had some veggies and tartar notably fall out, so it was a good thing the basket was there; and yes you’ll want napkins as you thoroughly gulf down these bad boys in a creamy affair.

Price: 7.5

                $12 for the Sandwiche/s, $6 each for the other fried items, and $8 on that salad; so ultimately the main item, if getting for oneself, is a bit in the higher range for truck entrees, the curds seem about right, but do think we should be getting more of those simple donuts if having to pay $6 for them.
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Speed: 7

The wait felt noticeable; for the sandwich, that may have likely just been me, but I do swear the curds and donuts were longer than I expected for basket-snacks. And by that I mean a minute or two; also, NOT me saying this is taking longer than they should, they have definitely achieved that practically perfect deep fry, comes out hot and delicious… and one should be ordering this at a brewery anyway so, unlike me who has no life, you have a glass of beer and friends to keep company in those extra minute or two.

The TOE: 10

                What can I say about the truck’s concept and intrigue that hasn’t already drummed up excessive revenue for their kickstarter and media attention? Combine that with their strategic move of, as far as I can tell, ONLY parking at taprooms (or cocktail-rooms in Tattersall’s case) and events, which always have a strong local beer focus, and we have a big behemoth of a truck that melds fully into the environment while drawing us in with their appealing personality.

Want to mention the donuts again, mainly cuz, as mentioned, I was hoping they would be something different and reach a wholly unique (and again, more flavorful) Toe Ring status symbol for the truck. Perhaps if they covered it with a juniper-sugar, maybe a proper lime-frosting-glaze drizzled on top or on the side, or perhaps lime-scented white chocolate sauce…

Tally: 41/50

Final Thoughts

Now that Motley’s has gone to rest with their new restaurant, Brook’s High Batter comes in as one of the main trucks to stick to at our breweries. One could potentially get a basket for snacking at a festival, the only other place a deep-fried and beer-placed business such as this would excel in experience, but they do seem to be best when sat down alongside a nice big, rich glass of beer; ideally the one accompanying the batter-of-the-day.

Order the Walleye Sandwich with a friend; not only is it a great sandwich one can actually share without worrying about trading spit (you know unless that’s what you’re into), you’re basically getting a single delicious and reasonably-sized sandwich for $6 apiece, turning it into a better deal again. Ideally, this should also be hit at a gig where they do indeed have at least two different beer-based batters; that way when you get your obligatory Cheese Curds (Get Them! Seriously!), or perhaps their upcoming Bacon-Mac and Cheese, you can enjoy the spirit of the different preparations. Plus then you could tell me if you can actually taste the beer notes in each…

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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The Bison Butler

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https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/thebisonbutler
Main Location: St Paul

Those who’ve read a few of my reviews are probably used to me starting off now and then with an exasperated, apologetic, and overall depressed statement on my inability to get to certain trucks as fast as I would enjoy. Often the issue is pure circumstance; knowing they’re out, but never having that perfect day or chance to visit. Other instances I run across a truck that I simply haven’t heard of, or only saw twitter of it one or two months after opening. But the worst feeling has been revisited this recent week, ambling out to find a truck that not only do I have little to no recollection of, but that’s apparently been in business for multiple seasons. Perhaps the name and paint looked familiar, that I may have seen once before, but truly was this vehicle alien to me, and thus I had to amble up and find out more about it.

This big yellow truck with the buffalo and grass painted on either side is The Bison Butler, a business that finds two particular impressive points to it. Firstly, and most expected, is their exclusive use of Fresh, Local, and Hormone-free product, including their Produce, Pork, and especially the Bison meat. Secondly, the goateed gentleman behind the operation painted the truck himself! Doesn’t his bison and signage look awesome? I’ve always found it sketchy doing non-professional wraps and paintings on trucks, you can always tell and it’s not always the best, but ya gotta love the simply well done, sort of native hulking figure standing there, waiting to be gazed on as you eat one of its brothers (Maybe this part would have fit my TOE section better? Oh well, come back and pretend this is the intro or finale to it later).

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When asked, they SAID they’ve been on the streets for 4 years, of course making myself feel really bad for not getting out to them sooner, I’m sorry!! Though as I write this I actually researched their timeline and found that opening happened in June of last year (perhaps he HIMSELF had 4 years experience on the streets, who knows), so I don’t need to feel SO bad now. Still need to get out to more of these guy, gosh darnit…

That aside, the truck itself really focuses on simple, classic Street Food bison and pork items. The American mammal comes in Burger, Steak Taco, and Sausage versions (I’m assuming the last is like a link sausage for bratwurst lovers, but don’t hold me on that; could be patty sandwich). Pork is often Pulled and placed in a Taco, Sandwich, or their Cuban Wrap alongside ham, pickles, pepperjack, and their creamy House Slaw. They also have a Bison Hot Dog and Rib Tips.

OH! And it’s not a local meat business without some Beef Sticks for sale on the side! In hindsight, I really should have bit the bullet and tried one, or at least asked if they make it themselves or get it elsewhere (I’m heavily guessing elsewhere). Maybe on my next trip to St Paul, they seem to be in Mears Park quite often nowadays; I’ll try and report if it’s particularly impressive!

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Food: 6.5

                Starting off with the Burger; which is offered in Mushroom+Swiss, Cajun, California (American Cheese, Lettuce+Tomato+Onion), Cheeseburger and Plain; I felt like trying the Cajun to see how they did it, as the others seemed easier to guess. Sadly, like all ‘cajun-spiced’ burgers I’ve had, you barely taste those spices, and the single thin slice of mass-produced pepperjack doesn’t actually help it; so note to all, IF going for a burger, some other option. The patty itself is of the thin and flat style and well-done; not my favorite, but considering it’s working with a very lean meat, it’s a smart choice. Any thicker and it would likely run the risk of drying out when fully cooked (and I guess there’s some reason you don’t do lean burgers medium rare? No clue what it is). Now, as a Bison Burger, this is done very well; it’s not dry or chewy, still tender, has that great little edge of gamey/earthy flavor we look for with alternative meats, and the bun is grilled. I can’t stress how much I appreciate the proper creation of this item. That said, as a burger overall, it doesn’t thrill me much; I actually read some other post on them, with a guy mentioning how juicy it is, and I’m sorry man, it’s not juicy. It’s tender, there’s a touch of moisture that leaves it enjoyable with no real complaints, but it’s not juicy. A burger should be an experience, a meal, a handful of thick meat and flavor that makes our eyes clothes and throat work happily as it’s shoved down our gullet as the juices drip down our chin or onto a plate; I still think the best ones are medium-rare or medium. And this okay-sized, thin-pattied slab of ground meat just doesn’t do that. If this was cut in half and made into sliders, it’d probably do much better; but on its own, it simply doesn’t hold up that well.

Well, moving on. I have similar opinions on the meat used in their Bison Steak Tacos, filled with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and blue cheese; feels like tenderloin, it bites easily, cooked well, a bit gamey, but it doesn’t come through in that fantastic way we hope for, sorta like those grilled asada steak tacos. Probably would be nice if it was cooked on an actual grill instead of a flat top to better get that an actual crust. What I do like about it is, for one, the inside of the taco has obviously been griddled for a bit of extra flavor, which is cool! The other fillings taste really good together, reminds me of flavors you’d expect in a basic steak restaurant, but it’s all so… dry. Not like chewy or bad dry, but they really need a sauce here, or just some pico de gallo; it’s lacking in necessary acidity, that extra element, and mouth-filling/flavor-carrying moisture, otherwise it’s just earthy, gamey, and a bit sweet from the onions.

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Just remembered, forgot to mention the fries, those aren’t all that enjoyable; in fact they’re quite weak, so one should feel no real necessity in getting them.

There is a bright spot though. I decided to bite the bullet and also grab a small, cheap Pork Taco, made from slow-cooked, local and hormone-free pigs, which first off is where I found the joy that is their Coleslaw. Purely creamy, great crunchy texture, I wouldn’t mind having this at a BBQ or at on any sandwich or burger (that’s what they should do, just top the burger and taco with THIS stuff, maybe some BBQ sauce or something else too). And that pig… oh god, this is why we need to do more proper farm-grown, local animals. It actually had flavor, was tender, moist, and it’s in two other menu items that I bet I’d enjoy VERY much. Just wish they did some more with it, everything is rather simple.

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So though executed rather well, the food I had wasn’t completely inspiring; though I hold much hope for the pork.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Since the food is rather non-juicy and devoid of much-adored sauce, it’s all actually quite compact and easy to lift and consume from its basket.

Price: 7.5

                  $8 for Bison Sausage, Rib Tips, and Cuban Wrap, $9 for the other two Bison options, and some good deals on the other pork items such as the Sandwich for $7, Hot Dog for $6, and $4 for a single taco (so a bit of nice range). They even have a combo deal of $10 Sammich/Burger with Fries and Water (which I completely forgot to grab xD darnit).
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Was thinking of scoring this a half point or so higher, but only a couple of these come with the fries (which again, not that great or numerous), and though I won’t argue the higher cost of Bison meat, the amount of meat isn’t quite that numerous, for any item I’m sure.

Speed: 8.5

I saw a Pork Taco, ordered alone, come out almost immediately, so one can assume all pork items to go out really fast, with the wrap and sammich maybe taking a touch longer (and of course enough time to deep fry that hot doggy), but the burger and steak taco needed about average amount of time, if not a bit more, to prepare. Variable, but good speed possibilities.

The TOE: 7

                  There’s the stuff I said earlier, and the fact that we get a place that deals with that classically Midwestern unique animal for meat, even if I do like the simple pig better. Sort of makes me think of the kind of place I might visit at a state/street fair; you know, during that period of life where you weren’t trying to down every completely new and weird creation out there and were drawn to those buildings displaying the fact they had Deer or Ostrich burgers. Though I do feel I’m missing that full-on feeling of place and experience looking back on it.

Tally: 38/50

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Final Thoughts

As much as I want to promote the fantastic focus on local, grass-fed Bison, I would actually implore anyone visiting to attack the other items with that slow cooked, deliciously organic and tender pork; they really do give a better lunch experience. The Cuban Wrap has that little bit of uniqueness and complete composition, while Pork Taco offers a quick, affordable grab-and-go option, both of which contain that really nice creamy-crunchy slaw. If absolutely craving that wild-roaming beast, go for the Snap Dog; hot dogs always have that perfect texture, it’s only $6, easy to grab and go, and they deep fry the bastard! What’s not to love? Though I would rather get it without the fries and have them pile on that coleslaw, maybe some nice stone ground mustard to make it perfect.

Oh, I guess I SHOULD add this in too, because I know there are those who are still planning on heading gung-ho to grab a burger, probably because they aren’t as picky (but seriously, I don’t get how people can know about inch+ thick, super juicy, medium rare and flavor-packed burgers and put something like this on the similar level of enjoyment? Again, it’s made very well for a bison burger, but if offered the choice between those two burgers then you know where I’m going), I would probably just go for a Cheeseburger, or California if you prefer the American cheese. I saw a picture of the Mushroom-Swiss once, and the fungus looked half raw. Something to consider.

Sal’s Place on the Road

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https://www.facebook.com/salsplaceonlinemn
https://twitter.com/salsplaceonroad
Main Location: St Paul

For those like me with the consternation to try and visit every food truck in the main cities area, or at least hit as many as possible when given the chance, one usually ends up going through phases. Often we hit a mix of interesting and non, sometimes we’re lucky enough to get multiple amazing trucks in a row, others can just feel like dragging through some others on the side just to cross them off the list. But despite that grouping of bbq-themed guys earlier in the year, the year of 2015 has been turning up mostly fun and interesting trucks so far.

In particularly, I’ve been aware and receiving notifications for a certain truck for a while now, having only to wait on the right week to hit it. Of course delays happen, my budget not allowing me to drive down for truck lunches as often as I’d like, and having a few occasions where a truck not-so-often seen takes precedence over one which I knew I’d be able to get sooner or later.

Apparently I needed TWO visits, with quite the menu listing of different items. But, I’ve finally gotten a solid experience out of Sal’s Place on the Road, and can now do my long-awaited review on them! They taunted me with Facebook updates on their Italian menu items and desserts, and after seeing the complete menu on my first visit, the vehicle sky-rocketed to my absolutely most anticipated food truck of the year so far (we’ll see if they live up to it later). Wish I could have stopped to get a little interview and learn some more about the family behind the truck while I was there, like I’ve been trying to do lately, but things come up, you know how it goes (mainly the fact I was with the cousin, the street was busy that day, and their generator was loud as hell). From what I do know, and can tell, Sal’s does seem to be a family-run operation, and has been on the streets a few seasons already.

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The Menu itself definitely revolves around Traditional Italian-American Diner-style food, mostly geared towards street fare desirables. This includes a collection of Sliders (like Meatball, Pork, Chicken, and Caprese), a Sausage and Pepper Hoagie (cooked in tomato sauce of course), and Arancini, balls of risotto stuffed with cheese and other goodies before being deep-fried. Though no Italian menu is complete without Pasta, to which they change things up, making different ‘seasonal’ flavors and styles as the whim hits them, sometimes going Ziti while others doing Shells, perhaps even noodles of some sort. The one consistency is that it’s ALWAYS done with handmade egg-based pasta dough, likely rolled in Sal’s giant mitts every week.

They also have dessert! Which includes Zeppoli (small Italian doughnuts covered liberally in powdered sugar) and a Deep-Fried Ravioli, also made from their own pasta of course, stuffed with a hazelnut-chocolate filling. And yes, I got both, so you shall see my opinions below! And no I’m not wasting any more time on that.

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Food: 6

                My first visit actually had me starting with dessert! So, despite every parent’s worst meal-planning nightmare, I feel it only fair to discuss their sweets first, especially as they seem to be the main highlight overall (at least in my opinion). I myself was much surprised that the Chocolate Ravioli were deep-fried, it didn’t say, but it gave a nice crunchy outside. At first though, I wasn’t impressed… the filling didn’t stand out too much; but then, after my third, I realized my first couple pieces were actually rather thin. The REAL raviolis, with a good full tablespoon of hazelnut-chocolate inside… ahh, it’s like taking a bite of… well actually I can’t think of a comparison, but it feels a bit nostalgic. Like the best chocolate sauces and toppings, hot and runny, hitting every point of your chocolate cravings perfectly. It highlighted nicely with the firm crunch of the pasta, but as a whole I really did wish for one more element… after going past to start setting up this unique and interesting dessert, the dish needs SOMETHING else to make a complete and amazing plate, powdered sugar doesn’t do crap for it. Maybe just a drizzle of raspberry sauce or something (cuz it’d look like tomato sauce, right!?), or marshmallow (alfredo anyone?)…
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But I hold no complaints with the Zeppoli. They’re perfect. They may look a bit overdone on the outside, but it’s perfectly crisp, not greasy, with a tender interior that I can only describe as in the realms of the best, idealistic brioche and/or poundcake, probably leading more towards the latter. You bite in, enjoy the texture, the little eggy richness from the dough, the heaven of powdered sugar that takes one to the streets of Louisiana, and then realize there’s an extra little flavor there; a touch of citrus, lemon or orange. Simple and classic, something I normally would actually find boring, but for once thoroughly enjoyed the addition as it rounds out a well-crafted dough to make a uncomplicated doughnut sublime. Wouldn’t change a thing. Now onto savory stuff.

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Arancini comes in with an evenly crisp outer shell and soft, tender rice inside, the risotto mixed with cured meats and cheese, resulting in an end product that wasn’t particularly distinctive and outstanding in flavor, but still enjoyable. Especially when you got a bit of cheese goo that stretches when bit into! Rather num, particularly when dipped into the Tomato Sauce, a simple slightly heavier style but I found no apparent flaws (or at least things I disliked about it, to be more accurate to what we’re really all just writing about in review posts).

It also comes with a Breadstick on the side… which they ‘reheat’ by dropping into the deep fryer. Yeah. That happens. Then covered in clumps of… parmesan? Garlic Powder? A combination? I don’t know. What I DO know is that this breadstick is… unholy in the best of ways. It’s crispy on the outside, but fatty, a touch crunchy yet really soft inside, and gives a flavor that’s hard to describe outside of a feeling reminiscent of certain slightly-over-greasy doughnuts, but savory and actually crave-able. Which makes it even worse when I tried the Garlic Dunker basket (not my choice, my cousin got it because he doesn’t know how to really live food-wise) and none of them tasted as good. They were chewier and didn’t have that same outer layer of unhealthy excellence… and I know why. If you look at the picture, you can clearly see they’re using three SMALLER breadsticks for this, which causes a different effect after the frying (which I’m guessing doesn’t even last as long since they don’t ‘need’ the extra time like bigger ones do, another cause of the effect). I wish they’d just do two of the bigger ones instead (or, I mean, come on, just do all three, breadsticks are cheap as f*$# anyway), I might gladly order them myself.

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What I won’t gladly order again are any of the Sliders. Ultimately, we ended up getting three; the Abruzzo Pork, Chicken, and Meatballs. Now, whereas the fillings of each were all decent; juicy herb and wine-braised pulled pork (though I was rather sad that’s all it was, was hoping they’d either have a flavorful sauce or at least some extra toppings on it, otherwise it tasted like plain pulled pork, though really juicy), grilled chicken with a nice pesto and griddled red pepper (love cooked soft red peppers), and a meatball that was soft, well-seasoned, and with a tasty sauce; the simple decision in buns made the experience absolutely disappointing. First off, the ‘ciabatta’ style slider buns were way too thick for the fillings inside; ended up eating all of the meat before finishing the bread, leaving a big chunk of dry dough to force down the gullet. Secondly, there was NO TOASTING of them at ALL! And THIS was the kind of pre-cooked roll that needed a second run-through (like those take-home baguettes at the grocery store that you need to put in an oven to actually get crispy and soft), which is why they were all completely dry, doughy, and absorbed every drop of sauce. They dearly needed to be coated in oil or butter and put on the griddle for a bit at least, get some texture, form a layer, actually make it edible. And they had ample time to do this with the chicken too. They seriously need either get smaller buns or stuff them with more filling AND have them spend a bit of time on the griddle or in the oven before service.

Let me say if it wasn’t for the quality of the non-sandwiched food, and what I imagine how good the pasta probably is, this would be a much different score.

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Holdability: 8

                 One of the things I was most excited about when I first saw the menu was that my main worry of what was a very Italian-American style of business, typically filled with bowls of dishes filled of pasta and meat and sauce, very much expected to serve most of their usual fair in big to-go containers alongside plastic forks, actually took proper steps to twist and focus their food into a more portable means. As I’ve mentioned already, many main items are in sliders or a long sandwich, or are offered deep-fried as typical finger foods. Obviously the one pasta dish (and any sorta seasonal ones they say they do) still need forks, but everything else should be able to consume with hands easily, though the stuffing of the baskets with a buttload of chips feels like it curtails the portability feeling a bit (not to mention highly cheap and an unnecessary addition). Should I count all the powdered sugar on the Zeppoli and Fried Ravioli, not to mention its gooey chocolate insides, against them? Probably. Will I? Hell no; I mean that’s like complaining about mini-donut cinnamon sugar on your fingers (YOU MONSTER!!!).
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Price: 9.5

                  $4 for each dessert; $7 for any slider including a sampler of two (can get a sampler of 3 different ones for $9) and the Pasta; $6 for Arancini and Garlic Dunkers; and $8 for the sub. Really great range and deals overall, in addition to those massive additions of chips and that bigger fried breadstick on some, but the quality and actual size of those sliders (and unsatisfying bread) makes the lower price of THOSE understandable.
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Speed: 8

Overall, most of the ordered items didn’t take too long to get out; desserts and arancini just needed quick fry, meatball and pork sandwiches cut and scooped into some at-the-moment sliced ciabatta, and breadsticks deep fried. It was only that which needed cooking, like the chicken slider, that took a while… though it did seem quite a while. A bit disappointing considering how much time and opportunity they had to also put the buns on there (no, I am NOT going to stop bitching about those). Can imagine pastas, which are always cooked to order, will be a while. No idea on the sausage sandwich, though I expect it to be similar to the meatball situation. Overall it differs highly, so pick wisely.

The TOE: 7

                  When I first finally got to visit them, saw their menu, and tried the desserts, I was really excited. You know that feeling you have when you go to, or at least think of, one of those old, corner family-run Italian diners/restaurants? Walk in, look at the menu, and you can practically feel some old matriarch or patriarch in the back, just kneading masses of pasta dough by hand, stirring big pots of meat and sauce, following the same recipes and movements that generations of family members did before them. Reading the menu, getting served by the obviously wizened owner behind the window, I FELT that, even before eating the food.

And then I went back and had those sandwiches… and I lost that. Really I shouldn’t technically be having the food quality affect this score too much, but it just makes such a dent in the experience. Not to mention, I never thought I’d say this, but the generator was exceptionally loud on the second visit, seemed like a rather older model, which actually affected the experience a bit. That said, make sure to follow my Final Notes, pick the right menu items, and this hopefully shouldn’t affect you. Fingers crossed.

Oh, a last thought, something I’m really not able to say often anymore, but of the few items I DID really like I found what may indeed be the emergence of a Toe Ring. Those deep fried Chocolate Raviolis certainly hit that unique-yet-familiar note, sinfully delicious aspect, not how I expected but almost complete success. Big props for that.

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Tally: 38.5/50

Final Thoughts

Given my experience with the sliders, it’s plain to see that this is not a truck I would suggest for your everyday lunch needs, especially with other options available. However, parked in a food truck fair/rally setting, or on those days when those like me enjoy popping from truck to truck in gathering a ‘meal’ from separate little bites while keeping an easy hand on the wallet, Sal’s Place has a few items that excel.

The Arancini fit the same categorical need as Gogi’s Kimchi Rice Balls, only better, crispier and with that added element of gooey cheese. After getting that as a snack, finish off your day with the Fried Chocolate Ravioli or Zeppoli; it’s very hard for me to choose between the two, but if I really had to I’d probably pick the latter just for perfection’s sake. These guys definitely make a ‘food truck meal/day’ complete.

If still one wants to come by with the absolute intention for a sandwich or otherwise fuller meal from Sal’s, I cannot provide a 100% solid solution. That said, I do still hold some higher expectations for the Sausage and Pepper Sub; like the meatball it IS handmade, bigger, and there’s a chance the bun used might hold up better than those ciabatta sliders; plus, more portable. But if there’s any entrée they should do well with, it’s their Pasta, whatever seasonal thing they have on that day (Ziti, Mostaccioli, et). They make the egg pasta themselves, not to mention their tasty sauces, so it should offer a proper menu highlight. But those are the only two.

Filius Blue

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https://www.facebook.com/Filiusblue
https://twitter.com/filiusblue
Main Location: St Paul, Wineries, Etc

Some trucks are always more of a challenge and wait to find the opportunity for me to visit, believe me there are quite a few popped up that have mocked me with their distance (just gonna have to face the fact that certain trucks in Duluth and Bemidji will likely never find their way into one of my review save for freak strokes of luck), so it’s always a welcome pleasure when I can head out of my house before to fully explore one of these usually out-of-reach businesses.

Thus I was led to Filius Blue on a trip to St Paul, where-as the South American and Caribbean-influenced truck was sat in the bright sun, the uniquely designed sides in clear view to roam over as one waits for food. It’s only their second season, so I can safely say that I haven’t delayed too fantastically long compared to a couple OTHER trucks that I’ve hit in the past!

A couple fun facts, the truck itself is named after the filius blue pepper; a tiny little purple pepper that actually gets MILDER as it ages (apparently the only pepper that does that). This particular point hints at another key element to their menu, that being the use of Heat and Peppers in what seems to be their real specialty, Handmade Sauces. From one using the filius blue of-name to habanero, jalapeno, even horseradish, the food (which I’ll break down more in a bit) finds its central focus on which of these latin-american-inspired sauces coats their top.

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Besides that, the truck itself, while focusing on St Paul over Minneapolis, mostly finds itself booked in Waconia over the weekends, along with parking at various wineries and breweries, so look for them at one of those if able. And when you do, take the chance to look along the sides; a friend of the owner’s made all the original artwork, from cutting out patterns in linoleum to make all the animals and pattern stamps along the top and bottom to a Mermaid based on an original artwork the owner had in his basement. And based on the size of those hips, seems she’s quite fond of their food herself…

There are two sections to the menu, Sandwiches and Tacos, both of which basically have the same options for fillings; at least protein wise, all of which are Slow Cooked and/or Grilled, no frying in the truck at all (they seem quite adamant about they, either that or just couldn’t afford a friar). Pork, Grilled Chicken, and Grilled Tilapia are slathered in pre-determined sauces for sandwiches, whereas one gets their choices on the Tacos, like a creamy not-hot Avocado-Buttermilk to the classic Filius Blue, and others depending on season (apparently there’s a Puerto/Costa Rican that is to die for). Tacos did also have two different filling options, a Beef and a Beans for the red meat or veggie minded.

Well I’m all set to dive in, you?

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Food: 9

                We start off with what is basically their ‘signature item’ the Jezebel Pork Sandwich. Slow roasted with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, big chunks of this come out soft, juicy and fatty, it’s like thick dices of delicious beef brisket in pig form, perhaps from the same cut. Safe to say it came as a happy surprise, as if anything one usually expects the ‘pulled’ variety of oinker… and let us not, oh dear god let us NOT, forget this sauce. Apricot jam, horseradish, and who knows what else, all I care about is that it was sweet, savory, filled with lovely horseradish (enough to taste it and provide that signature nose tingle when eaten fast enough, but not enough to turn anyone but the most sensitive off, ideal level in my opinion), and dripping off that meat and onto your fingers. It does NOT hold together in that bun the best, but that just gives one the excuse to pick it up with the chips or just eat the pork straight off your own fingers. The only word I can think of is Delectable. Bun got a happy butter a toastage on it too.
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After that I moved onto a Taco, Grilled Tilapia since it seemed appropriate, and of course I had to try it with the Filius Blue Pepper sauce. The fish itself was cooked well, had some of that nice grill flavor to it and texture, and they actually toasted one side of the tortilla on the grill! Like only using one tortilla for an enchilada and just turning it into a taco, I’m realizing how sad it is that no one I’ve seen has done this yet; sure they warm it up or get SOME grill marks on it, but never take it to the point of having that crispy texture and browning all throughout. Such a good element, it’s a shame that it was partly ruined by the toppings. I mean we end up having some fish in the bottom, but at least half of the taco is composed of shredded lettuce, not-the-best cheddar, and some pico. Basically something reminiscent of what I can get at Taco Bell, though at least fresher; I was sadly hoping for something a bit more unique and complimentary. The pepper sauce itself wasn’t what I was hoping it’d be either, having this little creamy-chunkiness and not much heat at all. Still good in its ways mind you, but after that sandwich I was hoping it’d stand out more, which the taco overall does not outside of the tortilla.

Final note, Salsa was tasty, well-made, with a consistent texture and just a TOUCH of heat for a nice accent, maybe not spectacular (but to be fair, how often do we find a salsa that really is?) but an enjoyable side nonetheless.

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Holdability: 6

                 As I said, that sandwich was quite the monster! Pieces falling out, sauce getting all over your fingers… delectable, but still something that needs some sitting down and napkins for best results. I expect other sandwiches are similar, though likely less messy. Tacos at least increase portability, but loaded with that much lettuce/etc and using only a single shell leaves for fallout (non-messy fallout, but nonetheless).

Price: 8

                  Sandwiches at $8-9, the awesome pork at $8(yay), Tacos at $7-9, dependent on filling and automatically coming with a side, good prices though a little more range would be nice (or, as often is my wishes even if I don’t say it every time, the option to get something on its own for a little less money), but that point is always just a hair splitter when comparing to the ‘perfectly affordable/cheap’ menus.
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Speed: 7.5

Seemed to be an average wait time for grilling and assembly.

The TOE: 8.5

                  Besides the Latin-Caribbean flair, the added ‘theme’ of hot peppers as a focus certainly tickles my intrigue bone… or maybe the capsaicin is screwing with some weird nerve. Either way, it’s certainly the first time I’ve heard of a truck with this sort of edge, and I definitely appreciate it. The truck itself is attractive, maybe not so interesting from a distance but once up close to see the details and personality of the staff and wrap, one finds a truck worth going back to.

Tally: 39/50

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Final Thoughts

With a menu full of things slathered in cravingly pungent handmade sauces, this is not necessarily the food to get when one needs to keep their fingers clean, but also not suited to cart back to an office or other location… since you’ll be too intent on eating it then and there. So definitely a truck to stop by when you have the time to sit and savor.

The best strategy truly is to stick with the sandwiches, you get more impact from the meat and, come on, that Jezebel Pork is just to die for, and should be gotten on everyone’s first visit. But if you want to try something else, or just went back for a second or third time, I’d say the Jerk Chicken and Grilled Tilapia seem to be quite money… though that Gravy Pork piques my curiosity… maybe grab that and ask for one of their other sauces on the side to compliment. Since you’re sticking away from Tacos (you ARE sticking away from tacos), you’ll have to request them on the side to mix into other sandwiches, which I always find fun, sort of like when blending different veggie stews and curries into rice when I go for Indian. Red Pepper Jalapeno and, when they have it, the Puerto Rican (or Costa Rican, can’t remember) are the ones to experience.

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.