S.O.B. (Quasi-Review, Winter Edition)

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                Pop-ups seem like they just might be an upcoming trend in our local Food Truck scene (obviously it’s been a, if not THE, restaurant trend for the past 1-2 years). From Vellee’s recent 5-month lasting uptown restaurant to Chef Shack’s new place of business (ok, not a pop-up, but it sorta feels like it, especially after their place in Bay City), and one other pop-up thing I’m sure has happened but I’m forgetting right now…

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                Then we get to S.O.B. Having been ransacked, stolen, and taken over by a shady group of masked culinary revolutionaries (… so yeah, not actually true, but it’s so much more fun to think of it like this!), Gastrotruck has been completely repurposed for the Winter Months.

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                Parking themselves in Downtown Minneapolis every Thursday and Friday at 6th St and 2nd Ave (or Marquette if there’s a -cough- police car in their usual spot), “Soup on Board” puts out one thing and one thing only (I should NOT have to say it). They offer 3-4 different options usually, served warm and steaming in a little to-go baggie.

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                During my visit, options included a Apple-Squash Puree, Tomato Basil (actually I think it was Oregano based), and Chili. For those who have a hard time deciding, or just want to have them all, they happily sample out all they had, so I was able to get a great, complete sense of their food.

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                Let me just say the Apple-Squash, made with two kinds of squash (Acorn + Dolcetta), apple Cider + Unpeeled apples (very important for that tannin and full, musty flavor), and topped with a Honey Goat Cheese was just plain beautiful. Smooth, with a dreamy rich squash that allowed the full flavors of the cider and apple to still come out, along with black pepper of course. Next to it, the Tomato stands in stark difference as a deep, rich, heavy concoction, made by caramelizing the Onions WITH Balsamic Vinegar, using both Fresh and Dry Oregano (very important, utilizing the positive aspects of each), and topped with housemade Garlic-Rye Croutons. So good, so yummy.

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                For my lunch that day, though, I just had to get the Chili, made with Beef Cheeks (yay!). Though I don’t normally place a “Final Thoughts/Suggestions” in my Quasi-Reviews, and it’s very hard to do when every S.O.B. item is so equally worthy, I WILL say that the Chili (and those like it)is easily THE soup you want on the coldest of days. Along with the beef and chilies, they use both Pinto and Garbanzo beans, and Turnips instead of other starchy items, which I love cuz it gave a nice little sweetness.

                This is finished with your choice of Baguette or Hand-Fried Masa Tortillas (I of course had to get that crispy Masa goodness). It was a very good and very enjoyable lunch, especially on the warm day, and if I scored them properly it’d look like this:

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                Food: 10 – it’s Gastro, as you can tell they put a lot of effort, care, attention, and deliciousness into their foods. And it shows in the Soups; if anything, it’s Proof (many an old chef considering the crafting of a proper soup as THE pinnacle of a person’s sense of palate and culinary skills).

                Holdability: 9 – Once out of the bag, it’s a cup of soup. Two hands only, easy walking, and it keeps the fingers warm too.

                Price: 10 – $4 for a smaller (but still filling) cup, $6 for the larger. Well priced.

                Speed: 9.5 – A bit of time to actually move it into the cup and into the to-go bag, along with the toppings, but fast.

                Toe: 10– A pure Soup Truck, doing all very thoroughly delicious options, just stands as a great Unifying Feature (I finally found a phrase to help describe this stuff! Woooh!). And doing it only in Winter, with an edgy little “taking over” gig, just seems to make the many little things even better.

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                It’s a bit sad that this little operation will only be around for the cold months, but I’d rather have them here than not, and there’s always the following year to look forward to (and maybe Gastro will keep one or two more soup options on their everyday menu). Either way, I hope for the chance to make it out to them at least once more, and you definitely should too.

               

                A point of clarification I feel should be mentioned, for those that may be confused as to why I delegated a truck I’m so positive towards in the Quasi-Review “category” along with others I have openly showed to have little to no actual interest (comparatively to my full reviews). Though I dearly wish I could write a full-on, longly detailed review on them, the fact remains they’re ONLY around for 3 months, two days out of the week, with only 3-4 things on their menu. And it’s all soups, there’s not too much else I can say, even with it being so exciting. If you were wondering about this, then I hope the explanation cleared it up for you; if you weren’t, why’d you read the entirety of this last paragraph?

Fork in the Road

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forkintheroadtruck.com/ 

https://twitter.com/forkNroadtruck

Main Location: St. Paul

            “The Big Orange,” Fork in the Road has settled itself into a St. Paul truck staple, being one of the first Trucks to receive news attention after their release. Focusing on familiar foods with their own house-made additions and twists, Fork offers a variety of different options that switch daily. The bulk of their menu containing sandwiches of one type or another; such as grilled, subs, sliders, hoagie, taco, etc. They also serve soups and salads, both pasta and leaf styles.

            With no real singled-out area of protein, a trip to Fork can yield any type of meat-laden option surrounded by bread (or tortilla). Guinness-braised Bratwurst, pulled chicken and pork, meatball and salmon sliders, cured sliced meats in a sub… one can find practically everything you would expect to on the street.

            So many options, it is difficult to determine which ones really shine above the others. From many reports, though, the sandwich to get is the Grilled Cheese with BBQ Pulled Pork and Caramelized Onions. They also sell a Buffalo Chicken Sanwich, BLT with Avocado-Mayo, and Guinness Chili.

            Not to mention they do love using Texas Toast for some of the sandwiches (and no, not the thick, frozen kind we find in the supermarket… I think).

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Food: 7.5

                The Pulled-Pork Grilled Cheese really IS good and yummy, with that perfect grill and the whole nostalgia+ thing going on; and it’s hard to not like something with caramelized onions. From the continued business and sound of the menu items, I doubt there are very few things that simply aren’t well made and add up to a good lunch.

                I very much appreciate what it is they do, but I find overall the food tends to lack a bit of… “soul,” of “focus,” that a lot of  other Food Trucks have in spades. I would go on, but I think it’s best to read the TOE section for a full explanation and understanding of where I’m coming from.

Holdability: 7.5

                Sandwiches are served cut, in a basket, surrounded by potato chips. Luckily they’re usually easy to pick up, at least the grilled ones are. I am not too aware of the hoagies and salmon sliders, those may be more iffy.

                I cannot imagine that the salads are ones which you would be walking down the street to enjoy; those seem more “find a nice bench or go back to the office” items. Soups are a little easier, supposing one only gets them and nothing else. With their hardiness though, I don’t see that as an issue.

Price: 9.5

                Very good prices, $6/$7 for full items (you can get salads in half orders, which cost $4), and I would say it easily makes a great deal for the food options being served.

Speed: 8

               Pasta salads and soups made ahead of time, grilled sandwiches come fast, and others come at the expected pace, leading to a good speed.

The TOE: 6

              Fork in the Road has a big tendency to stand out from a crowd; the color really brings out that positive quality for them. Also, I think this is another case where the name used actually ADDS a little bit to that dining experience.

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             As to the food, after a bit of thinking, I actually sort of like the idea of the pasta salads; it’s nice to see a place that does them well. Salads in general for Food Trucks always puzzle me, but these are a good addition, and there are always people that want a salad with lunch. Soups are never a problem, and I love the fact that they use Guinness instead of a regular Ale; brings that rich, dark chocolate and coffee flavors that work so well in chili.

             When I talked about the idea of “generalities” in my review of Gastrotruck, this is what I meant. Go on Fork’s website and look at their menu, and you’ll see what the problem is:

             There are way too many things there.

             Now granted, they only use a small amount of those options each day, but every single menu option is different. The only common ground is that MOST of the items are sandwiches, and even those you have Italian, Southern, Bar Food, Salmon, Fresh, Meaty, EGG SALAD… there’s no focus. They do a taco and a wrap; not TACOS and WRAPS, just a single of each.

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             All of these are good, solid menu items, but they distract from any attempt to try and solidify what exactly it is they do. There isn’t a single thing on here that really FEELS that special, and nowhere near are they to having a Toe Ring.

            I personally think that they should draw some of these options back, figure out what works best and keep those, with maybe a couple more new regular items of a similar style, just different formula. As for ideas, I’m not them, I can’t say where their hearts lie, but if it was me I might consider doing a mostly Grilled Cheese styled concept. The BBQ Pork Grilled is a really good sandwich; it needs to shine among a group of its own kind, not shouldering itself with a mass of differences. Plus, the cities don’t even have a Grilled Cheese-themed Restaurant (which is surprising, I mean come on we’re Minnesota). A truck like that would stand out COMPLETELY and add that great uniqueness to the entirety of our Food Scene and Culture.

            So keep the salads and soups up, and let’s hope that there is some more streamlining with the main menu items.

                     Tally: 38.5/50

Final Thoughts

            Okay, let’s get salad and soup out of the way: stick with the Pasta Salads, particularly I might try the Orzo if they happen to have it on. You can find a decent leaf salad in most restaurants, but the pastas done well are rarely handled. All their soups are the rich, belly-filling ones, but I would stick to the ones that lay on the more extreme end in that respect. Guinness Chili and Loaded Baked Potato are easily gonna fill that need for the down-home beer drinker; not to mention fill your stomach for a really low price.

            After looking over the menu, here are my suggestions for sandwiches:

  • BBQ Pork Grilled Cheese (no more explanation needed, just good)
  • Meatball Sliders (easy to walk and eat, smoked gouda gives a different, tasty note)
  • Buffalo Chicken Sandwich (for the bar food lover, creative twists on this are usually fun)
  • Santa Monica BLT (for the health conscious; on a whole wheat, avocado + blt is almost always a good, balanced combination)