Hot Dish “100 Favorites” for 2014-15

It’s a little late in response (though aren’t most of my posts usually nowadays?), but I do always love featuring the Trucks that achieved the graces of making City Page’s “The Hot Dish blog’s top 100 Favorite Dishes for the year. I wanna make it a yearly thing! No promises of course… I am quite fickle… and forget things… SURE I’ll have another shot of Vodka.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, awesome food trucks. Though quite a few of the ones to make the list this year were purely resulting of the Restaurants they generated, but it deserves featuring (and I need SOME kind of material to flesh this post out some… don’t look at me like that! I’m needy…). So, let’s see who made the list this year…

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#77: Taco Cat with “The Larry”

They may not be an actual truck, but their street food soul shines bright, plus I recently did a quasi-review on them and feel they deserve continued honor in that respect. And their tacos are rather awesome, as is evidenced here through City Page’s feature of The Larry, a pile of Chicken, Chorizo, and Cheese stuffed inside three double-wrapped masa tortillas. Of course it’s the one that I didn’t get…

#62: The Curious Goat with Goat Cheese Curds

Their menu is quite frequently changing with whatever local ingredients they can get their hands on, but it’s not often one won’t find at least a few dishes with goat meat and/or cheese on the menu. And they take this latter up to an epitome of experience by lightly frying curds of it and serving with roasted butternut, some spring onions, and a drizzle of honey (my new favorite cheese curd companion forever). Again, something I dearly need to have at some point… here’s hoping for a rally.

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#55: Smack Shack’s Shrimp and Grits

I may still hold strong reservations and annoyances about this truck (don’t ask me why, I’ve probably lost proper reason for it long ago), but one can’t argue their food always gets results in those willing to spend the extra buck to attend their mobile or standing business. Usually getting renown for the lobster, this year highlighted one of the best southern combos to ever grace the table: Shrimp and Grits. I know, the last word strikes terror and disgust into many a heart, but done right than oh my god… I’m still vary happy to have gotten it at Surly myself.

#54: World Street Kitchen and The South Side

Not surprising to see them on this list again, this time for Brunch! The restaurant location serves out a dish composing of a bile of hashbrowns, ‘secret sauce,’ and some big chunks of lamb topped with basted eggs (which, if they’re PROPER basted eggs, are easily the most sinful and delicious way to eat them whole I swear).

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#39: Chef Shack Ranch with the Big Boy Ranch Plate        

I almost probably shouldn’t even be mentioning these gals on the post today, since the restaurant focus has almost NO connection to what the truck turns out, instead serving out bigass servings of classic BBQ. And it’s not a bbq joint without a giant parchment-paper-lined platter dolloped with practically one of everything, like grabbing a charcuterie board at the more hipster-ish locations but with hot, soul-fulfilling smoked meat… and more of it. As it’s apparently some of the best bbq in the Twin Cities, this little selection of pork and beef moved itself rather high up on the list.

#25: Hola Arepa’s Corn Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich

Of course the local famed belter of the stuffed corn-dough sandwich is now turning out a dessert version, stuffing sinfully smooth vanilla ice cream in a sweet cookie dough filled with butterscotch, fritos, and corn flakes. Why didn’t they have THIS at brunch!?

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#7: Hola Arepa and the Beef & Plantain Arepa

That’s right, they got on twice! (And they’re not the only ones, damn Spoon and Stable… making me want to go to you when I don’t have enough moneh) And fitting we end on something that actually could come out of the Truck itself, their classic masa ‘flatbread’ bun stuffed with sweet, soft plantain, rich beef, tasty pickled onions and of course some sauce. It then gets kicked up to 11 when eaten in restaurant and served with those amazingly thick, crunchy Yuca Fries that I just think are perfect. No wonder they’re at the top of the books.

Well, that’s the second year for me done and taken care of, we’ll have to see how the following 2015-16 season goes. Will more trucks move to restaurants and fill the brackets, or will a resurgence in interest for starting mobile operations take precedence? Find out next time (he says in announcers voice as if he was coming back to this in a week and not a whole year)!!

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SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 4 (The Revenge! Wait, revenge is sweet…)

                When I was in culinary school, we learned a quick, one-day method for making “preserved lemons” during our African Cuisine class. The memory is hazy, but it involved cutting them in half, putting them in a hot skillet with saltwater (I think) and in the oven for a bit before shoving into a jar. Or something like that. Suffice it to say, it was an interesting thing to do, though the results were less than impressive (not bad, just… not noteworthy).

                My particular intrigue in this particular Moroccan culinary item was peaked again after seeing the full preparation method utilized on TV (no, this one wasn’t Alton, it was someone else… who I’m too ashamed to say). This being soon after I practiced full mason-jar-pickling, and the actual method of it being quite simple, I thought it’d be fun to attempt (and give myself another great pantry ingredient).

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Preserved Lemons

8 (ish) Lemons (ideally small)

Coarse Kosher or Sea Salt

Juice of 4 Lemons

½ cup EV Olive Oil

Bay Leaves, Cloves, Other Whole Spices (Optional)

                Starting with our equipment, we sterilize our Mason Jar as with the usual boiling method. You’ll want to grab the biggest Jar/s you can find (maybe decorated from a recent holiday), though the size of the jar is nowhere near as important to ensuring it has a very wide Mouth (you’ll see why later).

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                Cut the lemons in Deep Crosswise slices, almost cutting them in quarters but stopping right at the bud. Basically you want to keep them as whole as possible, while opening the insides up for “stuffing” (which makes me wonder if there are other cutting designs that can be tried out, like scooping V-slices).

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                Take your Salt and press a liberal sprinkle right into the flesh; like a Tablespoon or two at least. The proposed method for using this, and definitely great if you can do it, is to do this over a large pile (medium bowl, filled) of the salt and just do it by hand. Super easy, don’t have to wash hands or worry about salt going everywhere, but it becomes a big waste for all the salt you DON’T get in (as it’s now polluted with dripping citrus juice), so it has to be thrown or used immediately in some salt-heavy dish. So for those who are a bit conscious in how much they use, I sprinkled directly from the box, over a bowl so I can collect and immediately use the leftover salt.

                From here we can start stacking in the sterilized jars…

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                … is what I’d like to say, if I had a wide-mouth jar. If I did, we could just push the lemons in whole. However, some of us don’t have jars large enough, or lemons that are just too damn big, so we have to improvise, which as far as I can tell shouldn’t have affected the quality of my lemons at all (or if it did, VERY very small). I just cut mine in half, crosswise or lengthwise, and then a similar cross-cut as before to better stuff. Personally I think I prefer the length-wise cut better for getting and stuffing into the jar, though I’m not sure if there’s any curing advantage.

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                Either way, stuff the lemons deep into the glass, sprinkling some more salt every now and then between (at least if you’re not sure you stuffed enough salt inside) citruses. Go right to underneath the rim, and do NOT be afraid to squish and shove things down tight; we want that sort of environement. Probably while you’re doing this, or once done, you can choose to insert some bay leaves along the side of the glass, or a few other chosen spices between layers (or even in the lemon cuts beforehand) to flavor the preservation. I decided to keep mine simple and plain just to see what it’s like.

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                Fill with a 50-50 mix of water and some of the lemon juice, to the top, cover and leave on the counter for about two days. By this point the lemons would have softened a bit (you can sorta see it in the jar, just looky!) and you can shove one or maybe two extra ones back in. Re-fill with lemon juice as needed, and then top with Olive Oil to better form a lipid barrier (which I COMPLETELY forgot to do and am only just realizing! God I hope my results aren’t drastically different than what they should have been).

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                Re-cover and leave in a room temperature location, doesn’t need to be fridged or put in the snow, for at LEAST 3 weeks, a little over a month ideal (at least for me).

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                By the end you’ll have a soft, malleably pungent chunk of citrus that can be placed in any soup, stew, sauce, marinade, salad, or whichever kind of food one desires. Following a few simple rules, and supposing the flavor fits, of course. Firstly, despite its deliciousness, one should not be eating this “raw,” as-is; just a bit TOO much for that. If you want it in a very minimalistic, “pure” or fresh connotation as opposed to manipulated flavors, should still Blanch for at least 5 minutes (great to blend in salad dressings, or julienne fine afterwards for a garnish).

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                Secondly, when using, one can most likely get rid of or reduce the amount of salt used in the dish. And Lastly, you’re only using this for the Skin. When applying for cooking, you want to peel the flesh out (which is accomplished really easily and cleanly, as can see by the pic) and toss it, as it is supposedly unusable… at least that’s what I’ve heard, I also ran across a stew recipe that used some of it. Sooooo… best left to your own judgment in the situation I think?

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                As for what we can make with it here, could easily stick with a classic Moroccon Lamb (or other meat) Tagine, like I made one night… and will probably wrap in a tortilla for work tomorrow. Or we could use it to substitute and enhance the lemon aspect of another recipe, sayyyy… something Shrimp based….

Preserved Lemon Shrimp Scampi (after adjustments)

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

½ Head of Garlic (5-6 large Cloves)

1 Small Onion

½ Preserved Lemon Peel

1-3 Tb (depending) Fresh Herbs, chopped

Ground Black Pepper

1 Package, 24-32 Large Shrimp

                I saw a fun recipe for Shrimp Scampi that I thought would be great to put in a Taco, though I had to adjust it a bit (can you believe they only used 4 small cloves of garlic and TWO whole onions? I mean seriously), then re-adjust from some… -cough- overestimations.

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                Start by heating up the olive oil to about a medium-low to medium level. While this is going, mince the onions and garlic to very small portions, almost a paste: using a grater works really well for this purpose.

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                Dice the Lemon peel small, almost to a mince, and transfer to the hot oil along with the onion and garlic. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, add your Herb of choice (Tarragon works really well, or Cilantro since we’re doing a Taco, but I only had Sage) and a pinch of Pepper, and keep cooking 1-2 minutes more. By the end, the veggies should have softened, released their rich aromatics, and not have any form of caramelization to them.

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                Let this cool a bit in the pan, and prepare your shrimp as needed.

                Peel, devein, disassemble, or do whatever your particular shrimp needs doing so as to leave it as desired for the preparation. Traditionally, this would be with only the tail on, but for this use all shells should come off; also, I like cutting them in half so as not to deal with the weird, large circular whole pieces. (Though a note on selection, I would have LOVED to use those really tiny, flavor-packed Rock Shrimp, and suggest them highly if you have the chance)

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                This does leave me with a lot of leftover shells though, which I hate to throw away, and you shouldn’t either. If you have them, I suggest sautéing in a pan, covering with water and boil/simmering for a few hours to make a Shrimp Stock, great for Sauces, Soups, or other uses (I used it for my liquid base when making a Rice Pilaf).

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                Mix shrimp and garlic mixture in bowl (yes, my garlic turned green… no I’m not sure why, but I assume it was due to an olive oil absorption) and let “marinate” for as long as desired. The original recipe only did it for 30 minutes… but again, seriously? I popped it in the fridge for the afternoon, whoooo Go Garlic!

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                There are probably a few ways one could cook this, with the most oft used and generally useful being to Broil at High, which only takes 5 minutes. I tried it, and it looked beautiful and turned out tasty, but I wasn’t fully satisfied for the final results. I’m sure it worked great for the original recipe, or maybe it was that my broiler wasn’t AS hot as “ideal,” but ultimately the garlic marinade never cooked around it ideally (harsh as it is to say, but I might have had too much garlic in there initially… thus the adjusted recipe). Next time, I’ll probably end up skewering them in bunches and grilling; always been my FAVORITE way of shrimp preparation anyways, no matter the use and flavors.

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                Once cooked as desired, it’s simply a matter of assembling your taco however you want. I did use the Flour Tortilla in this, I will defend that point; it’s basically a European based recipe, so I find it acceptable (plus there’s many a Caribbean seafood taco that uses flour over masa/corn). A little bit of the Shrimp Rice (also cooked with a bit of preserved lemon), some Salsa, Onion-Celery Slaw, and a fresh grating of Parm on top, and we have ourselves a tender, garlicky bundle of perfumed lemony goodness (and salsa, much salsa…).

I hope this post has helped to get you thinking about even more ways to “cure” and “pickle” the various produce we interact with on a day to day basis. Still I look forward to making even more things to fill this ever expanding “series” which I seem to be doing, and can’t wait to get onto the next delicious venture. But for now thanks for reading, enjoy your sour little condiment, and good luck preserving in the rest of the cold winter months.

Smack Shack

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smackshack.com/ 

https://twitter.com/Smack_Shack

Main Location: Minneapolis

             The white truck with the giant lobster on its hood, Smack Shack skyrocketed to the very top of local Magazine’s Food Truck Lists before the end of their first year. High-end seafood and lobster is their game, serving up a couple Po-Boys, Lobster Salad, and, the true draw, their Lobster Roll.

            The Roll comes in both regular and “King Size,” served on griddled Milk Bread. Nationally recognized, it has listed in the U.S. Top Ten Lobster Rolls for the last few years, and is likely to remain there for quite some time.

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           One does not have to go on the Street just to find them, however. Working out of the 1029 Bar, Smack Shack serves its ENTIRE menu (not just the 5 items served in the truck).

Food: 10

            Gotta admit, it’s Nationally recognized and there is a reason for that. Each slice of the Milk Bread is 1, 1½ thick, and once griddled is buttery and creamy, soft… like the ultimate brioche. The Lobster is tender, sweet and flavorful, and encompasses what makes this Roll so good. Unlike others, it’s not shredded; they leave it in whole, giant chunks; whole and half claws, bare chopping of the tail. It just acts as this guilty pleasure of enjoying so much of this “special meal” item in such gluttonous excess, and for a sandwich no less.

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           Mixed with a very light, clean mayonnaise and tarragon, one of my favorite herbs, it combines into one of the best sandwiches in the entire city.

           I’d talk about the other menu items, but the fact is that those are very rarely purchased in comparison to their Lobster, so for a rating system they’re practically of no consequence at all. Though assuming they are anything but delicious versions of the regular would be unwise; the Chef and owner was a Teacher of mine, and I know his dedication to quality and flavor, not to mention the many techniques they use to speed and quality.

Holdability: 6.5

           Though sandwiches are their focus, placement is within those awkward cardboard to-go-box thingies, along with chips. Po-Boys are probably the easiest to hold, but the Roll feels a little bulky. They aren’t quite as simple to hold-n-eat as they immediately look.

           Overall, individually not that difficult to hold, but combined with the serving box and one is the wiser to look for a place to sit; becomes a bit odd when walking.

Price: 0.5

          They’re lucky to get any points at all, but I don’t like giving 0 on anything, and they do have ONE $9 item. But unlike Barrio, where you can see the basis for this rant, which sells 3 different tacos for that price, you wanna know what Smack offers?

           A SAUSAGE SANDWICH. That’s it. I’m sure it’s a really good sausage, but for $9, when the rest of the menu is filled with Lobster and Shrimp? That is a bit of a Smack.

          Here’s the Kicker; remember me mentioning the 1029 bar? Well, it just so happens that both the regular and King Lobster Roll on the Food Truck Menu cost MORE than the ones in the Restaurant, despite being exactly the same. So not only are the prices higher than any real Street Food has a right to be, they charge more for getting it on the Road at lunch than if you were sitting down for Dinner. If anything it should be the other way around.

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          As always, what gets me frustrated is the fact that one could easily make the choice to develop a couple menu items at a lower price. Nothing stopping them at all, but then why would they NEED to when there are so many businesspeople able to spend out $15-20 every day for lunch?

Speed: 9.5

         I have to recognize that, among all the Food Trucks offered, Smack Shack has put a lot of effort in streamlining their process. This includes two different lines for cash and credit, a long window for production and waiting, and a well-practiced production line. Instantaneous it is not, but for specialty sandwiches like this, this speed is highly impressive and worthy of a good score.

        Lines are usually still long though.

The TOE: 1

        I am very lucky in the fact that I was able to get a free sandwich during one day of class with my Teacher, because I had absolutely no plans of ever ordering from Smack Shack, ever. My only real hope was going to 1029 for dinner at one point or another.

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        In my consideration, this is not a Food Truck. I find it very frustrating and insulting to all of the other hard-working, quality Trucks in the city whenever I see people putting Smack Shack on the top of their Street Food lists. Their Food may be the best, but they do not embody any Spirit of what True Food Trucks are. They are a Business, a High-end Lunch Café in a different form; they don’t serve people on the street, they serve Businesspeople and Office Workers who can come down for work.

        I’m not exaggerating on that either. Go visit them during a busy lunch. I’ll bet you most, if not almost every person in line is in some form of Casual Formal-wear for work. That’s their target audience, and if they were to set up shop in any other kind of location besides a busy Downtown-area, they would NOT be able to survive like they are now.

        Smack Shack has broken and disregarded the one aspect of Food Trucks that should never be ignored, nor forgiven. I’m not even sure if I’d go back if they ever do decide to add affordable item; though if they do, I hope it’s not something like the regular burger at the 1029.

                        Tally: 27.5/50

Final Thoughts

       Don’t ever go here. Eat at the 1029 for Dinner sometime; you can get the same food plus a few other interesting options (the Lobster Mac is really good), and the Rolls actually cost a little less. Lobster Roll is the obvious Must-Have on your first visit. I’d say just go for the Regular, it’s pretty filling as-is (King might be good as a more affordable way for two people to order the sandwich, just split). It is a much more acceptable feeling to eat this for a fun dinner, and you don’t have to worry about walking around with it.

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Barrio

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http://barriotequila.com/barrio/#!/BarrioTruck

https://twitter.com/Barrio_Truck

Main Location: Minneapolis

            Premiering alongside the same slew of “Original” Minneapolis Trucks in the 2010 year, Barrio sells a higher-end Mexican experience. Originally parked in its own special location a few streets off the normal Truck crowd, Barrio now takes its usual stand among the rest on Marquette, much to the chagrin of the many Skyway Food Court owners (I once listened to the Taco John guy go on and on about them, despite the fact that no one can even see Taco John’s from the street).

            Burritos and Tortas side half of the menu, but the real mainstay is, of course, the Tacos. With fillings like Soft-Shell Crab, Cumin-Fried Chicken, and Lengua (tongue), Barrio shows customers a sense of TRUE Mexican ingredients, treated with proper technique. Each Taco is then filled with its own purely unique salsa, sauce, and other toppings to match the protein of choice.

            One can, of course, still get Pork Carnitas and Beef Barbacoa in taco and burrito form, made from natural and local animals. Drink menu contains Mexican Coke, Jarritos, and a couple other interesting things, but they come at a higher price than other trucks.

Food: 10

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             A popular, upscale Mexican restaurant, it shouldn’t be surprising the tacos are made brilliantly. The Soft Shell Crab has that perfect crispy texture, the delicate sweetness peeking through to pair alongside watermelon-tomatillo salsa. Tacos de Lengua are nice and tender, cooked properly and topped with rich Arbol Chile salsa, crispy radishes offering perfect contrast.

            Normally I would go off on that fact that each taco has only one tortilla as opposed to two… but here it just seems to make sense. All ingredients are packed in the taco perfectly so that nothing spills at all… there would be no real use. They’re small, compact, and feel like they came from a top-quality restaurant.

             Note this is a one-time exception that I shall ever allow this as “okay,” so don’t you new Taco Trucks think I’m about to get masa-soft.

Holdability: 7.5

            As mentioned, Tacos are stuffed very well, so they’re quite easy to eat; given two individual tacos, one has a basket from which to eat them from. One cannot say the same ease may be met with the Burrito and Torta. Both are served alongside many condiments and starches, Burrito with rice-beans and Torta with Chips n Guac.

Price: 2.5

            I have said quite a few nice and quality-focused comments on  Barrio Truck so far, but that’s just focused on the quality of the food. Truth is, I don’t like them. I don’t like them at all. And this is why.

           Both Barrio and Smack Shack (as you will soon see) share one very common feature, outside of the fact that they both make really good, upscale “street food.” Whenever it is that I end up talking to people about why it is I do not regard either of them as a true food truck, this is the main statement I use. “If you look at most Food Trucks, the HIGHEST price that they might charge for a menu item is $9. At Barrio and Smack Shack, the LOWEST price they charge is $9.”

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          Now, for reasons you read later, this is even more infuriating with Smack Shack; Barrio at least has 3 different, easy-to-see-quality items with this price. They all taste good, and in the scheme of things I can understand how the food made is worth this price; quality ingredients made with a LOT of focus. But the fact remains that THESE prices are for a RESTAURANT; not a Food Truck, not Street Food.

          It is then difficult to order these, look at how small they are, and not wonder about the other Tacos you could have bought for a few dollars less, which would have had MORE fillings and been just as satisfying. Even if they weren’t “technically perfect” in execution.

          I mean seriously, they even charge more for the same sodas than other Trucks.

Speed: 7

         Takes a little longer to get a taco here than at other trucks.

The TOE: 4

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            For keeping to Tradition, for using well-recognized Latin Street Foods, Barrio is able to make up for some of their obvious disconnect from their Restaurant base. But the fact remains, they are another truck sticking with the same Menu as the original despite moving onto a very different territory. Current prices on specialty tacos should remain the same. They do have to make a profit, but going out without even trying to offer lower, more average-priced items is a sign of pure disregard and elimination for a noticeable percentage of the Lunch Crowd.

                       Tally: 31.5/50

Final Thoughts

            Screw lunch here, get your tacos somewhere else, and go to the Barrio Restaurant for dinner where the prices are more suited. You can at least get yourself a Tequila Shot to enjoy with the food.

            When you do, and want to stick to some of the flavors from the Truck, try to find anything with Soft Shell Crab or Beef Tongue; they’re my personal favorite and will be yours once you work past the “ewwww” thoughts.