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.

Bubba’s Fried Chicken (Quasi-Review)

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https://twitter.com/bubbaschicken
http://www.bubbasfriedchicken.com/

Our first Wisconsin emigrant food truck has arrived this year! I noticed Bubba’s Fried Chicken in downtown St Paul a couple months back, but with its very state fair concession-like trailer look, was rather cautious on the approach. Not to mention home research, both of them and their locations posted up through the Facebook page, informed me that their home base is in fact River Falls Wisconsin. As such, I knew I had to wait, see if the trip to Minnesota was a one-time only thing, or just REALLY infrequent, or if it became regular. As luck would have it, their travel down to our Twin Cities has continued to come around here and there, and on a recent day off that they happened to post their location in Mears Park (first, main location, and second, they annoyingly don’t update Facebook THAT much, so you’ll likely best run into them if you’re down in St Paul regularly or via luck on most occasions).

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Bubba’s Fried Chicken sells, what else, Fried Chicken, and not much else. The business itself originated in a storefront in their home state, but if I heard them correctly that sadly got shut down, leading, or at least encouraging, their food truck-forward business strategy. It would certainly explain why their logo includes mention of Fried Okra, Collard Greens, and Deep Fried Corn on the Cob, and yet on neither occasion did I see ANY of these. Which sucks, because fried corn cob sounds AWESOME as a food truck addition, perhaps of even Toe Ring significance if done right, and they’d complete its menu as a deep south/deep fried business. There’s not even much excuse; okra can be gotten year-round, it’s PEAK corn season, and they obviously have a friar and prep space, all that’s needed for those two items. Oh well, a man can dream.

The menu itself gives us an option between fried chicken baskets; 2 piece, 3, 4 Wings or 4 Tenders, all of which comes with house-cut Jo Jo Fries (I’ll admit, when I saw that on the menu, I thought it was the generic stuff that they probably bought frozen. So props in at least cutting their own potatoes). Though what they don’t tell you is that the ‘3-piece,’ probably like the 2, is just 3 drumsticks. It’s a real shame you don’t get the chance at the breast or thigh meat, a classic mixed-basket deal or something. But if you like Drumsticks best, or either of the other two cut options, then you get to have a whole bunch of it just for you.

And there are a few simple sauces available; a BBQ, Hot, and Ranch-ish, which I’m pretty sure are all made in house. The flavors and balance on each are all rather standard, simply enjoyable in what they are; to be thought of and used on the side as a typical condiment, nothing to really write home about.

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Food: 6.5 – a thinner-styled coating on this chicken before frying, so lack of audible crunch but it forms a tasty ‘fried’ layer that’s seasoned well, perhaps a bit heavy on the salt. The chicken underneath IS moist, with expected flavor but nothing outstanding. Standard fried chicken, executed well for the ingredients and methods used. The fries certainly are ‘Jo Jos,’ big, soft on the inside and soft on the outside, no real crunch; but that’s an expected trait of the style, so I won’t really knock them for it.

Holdability: 7 – Easy to eat-and-go, but still classically need a napkin just from the slightly greasy skin and moist chicken meat. I feel it’d be nice if we didn’t HAVE to have Jo Jo fries automatically load up every single basket, for both this and the price factor.

Price: 9 – $6 and $7 for 2-piece and 3-piece, leaving a good deal and option to upgrade to some more food, and $7-$8 for the Wings and Tender baskets. Overall good and affordable level, worth it for the AMOUNT you get, I find myself wondering about the price for just 4 chicken wings but then again realize that those might be the WHOLE wings, tiny drummy and other thing attached to each.

Speed: 10 – well the pieces and fries are ready to go… great for speed though maybe not what I’d ideally want from a proper fried chicken food truck.

Toe: 3 – Ultimately it feels like something that we see at a State/County Fair or some Music Festival Block Party, it’s hard to feel that complete personality which we find at other trucks; especially since it’s all just the few kinds of same-fried chicken and the potatoes. With those other items they promise, perhaps it’d help, contorting them to a full respectable menu with real options.

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Leprechaun Dreamcycle (Quasi-Review)

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https://twitter.com/leprechaun69
http://www.leprechaunsdreamcycle.com/

Long long ago, in days past when food trucks only just started the ‘Lunch by the River’ phenomenon in St Paul, I recall coming across a little popsicle cart that would hang out by the crowds on hot days. The side was festooned with posters of products, reminiscent of a classic ice cream truck with our old favorite, Fudgesicles and Rocket Ships and the like, just in smaller form. Of course I ignored it, needing to save my money and not even sure if it qualified as a ‘must hit’ business, purely using pre-made consumer frozen goods as opposed to homemade specialty; as far as I was concerned, was it no different than the regular musical ice cream truck, which does not usually qualify for my writings.

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Years later and I start seeing pictures for Leprechaun Dreamcycle on Twitter and Facebook, and curiosity got the better of me for what could be a unique business. The cart has been notably updated; well, actually added-on, getting a second now festooned with colorful decoration, making their own cut-and-paste displays for menu items and prices inside the rainbow of unicorns and children’s fantasy that is the bike, cart, and umbrella. Of course the older cart is still in use, the owner’s son now taking responsibility and setting out to dispense frozen treats on his own time in the Twin Cities while father, Wally ‘O’Wanka,’ stands stout in his old timey white suit no matter the weather, red hair and moustache twirling in the breeze.

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The ice cream and pops are still the classics, from Blue Bunny ice cream sandwiches (I got the ‘birthday cake’ one, gotta love that sugar/sprinkle/frosting-extract flavor! And an ice cream that practically felt and tasted like marshmallows) to the classic Orange Dreamsicle. Though the owner has let slip that a friend of his is currently in the works of making 3 particular items JUST for them; could this friend perhaps be from Frio Frio? Who knows.

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Setting up at local events and St Paul parks, Leprechaun is truly set up for the children in all of us, but really excels with children in general. Did you know you get a free Balloon Animal with every purchase? I got a Llama (I think, it might be an Alpacca… I’ve named him George, do not ask me why)! They even have Coloring Books, which Wally makes himself featuring local St Paul parks and other things. A little guitar sits in the basket waiting to be played, and I won’t begin to try and imagine what else he has up those long sleeves, or hidden in that colorful contraption of his, ready and waiting to have a good time with. If there’s EVER a choice of street vendors to visit with the kids for a quick treat, then make it this one which specializes on the experience by leaps and bounds compared to others.

And isn’t that just the most adorable hitch trailer used to haul around this cart to their various frequent and changing locations?

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                 Food: 9 – Much props to the texture, the treats kept at the ideal so they aren’t super-cold and firm, giving simply with pressure from the lips while holding shape. Gotta admit, the flavor and sugars may all be factory-made and confected, but is there not that childhood nostalgia from these that we still secretly love? It’ll never be AS good as properly made, quality, natural flavors, but we can hold some appreciation for it. Really though, this is one of, if not THE, only carts practically made for the MUCH younger demographics, and we all know how they feel about dreamsicles, fugesicles, ice cream sandwiches, and all those good things.

Holdability: 10 – Unless you wait a while, not even melty and sticky… maybe for the kids.

Price: 9 – Mostly $3 and $3.50, with a $4 item and the dreamsicle at $2.50, or one can go even lower and get the rocket ship for $1.50

Speed: 10

Toe: 10 – I mean for the love of god look at it! And you get a balloon animal and coloring book! Need I explain more?

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Had to get at least one professional-looking picture in here! A shame I didn’t take it

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!

MoonDog

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https://www.facebook.com/MoondogFancyMeats

Main Location: St Paul, Farmers Markets, Lift Bridge/Alternative Breweries

Either I completely forgot about this guy, or I hadn’t heard about him at all until I saw info on a Food Truck Rally for the U of M’s ‘Bee Research Facility’ (or whatever it was) opening party this past Monday! I wanna say I forgot, simply to give myself at least SOME credit that I had paid attention to his existence for at least one point in time… anything to make myself look better…

Either way, I got to stop over and officially visit Moondog for a long-awaited visit, as the guy normally trucks his shiny metal specialty Hot Dog Cart out to the more out-of-the-way Breweries like Lift Bridge and Hammer Heart, amongst many other locations not normally so close to my Twin Cities stomping grounds. I feel I should also say that I was heavily debating just doing a Quasi-Review for this, small dog cart where most of the stuff speaks for itself; but if Natedog gets a full review than so does this guy! I show no favoritism, except when I’m biased! (Wait, that doesn’t sound quite right…)

And this little silver box on wheels has some interesting facts unto itself. Firstly the fact that 10% of all sales goes to the 2nd Harvest Heartland charity.

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Though they aren’t handmade by the food slinger himself, all Hot Dogs and Brats ARE produced locally by Big Steer Meats in St Paul. They use All-Natural, Grass-Fed, Hormone + Antibiotic Free meats, all of which are Smoked for cooking/curing purposes; the tastiest form of preservation (don’t tell Gravlax I said that, she’s still bitchy I haven’t called her in forever). The specific wurst selection is sometimes changing, for instance I overheard him mentioning having a Jalapeno-Pepperjack brat on that day, they usually keep a staple selection of: Hot Dog, Pork Bratwurst, Beef Bratwurst, and Bison (+ a bit of pork) Bratwurst. These are then topped with choice of classic fixings; you know, onion, hot peppers, relish, kraut, ketchup, regular+brown mustard, with an option of sriachi for the hipsters (and yes I debated it… while wearing a fedora… you shush), none of which I’m sure is made by himself besides the diced onions, but what hot dog vendor does one expect them to be?

AND of course there’s the typical options of bags-o-chips and cans-o-soda for sides + refreshment, all standard, though at least the chips are semi-interesting and not just Ruffles or Lays. I think I’ve run out of things to say now, I feel I had SOME thoughts on the philosophical side of mixed spiced meat, the nirvana of casing and excitement for local food carts… but who wants to read about that?

Food: 9

                Best parts of a Dog and Wurst are a good snap, which they have, and a tasty interior, which they also have. The hot dogs used aren’t of the same purely-pink, emulsified mold as we’re most familiar with; not that there’s anything wrong with that when it’s done well. Instead it’s blended with other spices and goodies, reminiscent of a seasoned Italian pork sausage, giving a more personality-focused wiener to which to enjoy our toppings; of which I chose the giardanera-like hot peppers.
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Sauerkraut and brown mustard topped my Bison Bratwurst, since I’m always a fan of the Germanic classics. Again the flavors were good, the wurst didn’t quite wow me as MUCH as I wanted to, was hoping for that deeper, denser Bison/Beefy flavor; there felt a ‘thinness’ to the flavor, almost like a good drink that’s had one extra ice cube added, and I myself would have heavily enjoyed some added seasoning in which case to bolster.

Holdability: 10

               What can I say? There’s a REASON hot dogs are classic street food.

Price: 8.5

                This is why I partially wish I started this blog at the same time as the trucks came out; go back to an old post to compare menu prices for scoring, and it was of course in the time where I wasn’t taking damn pictures cuz I had nothing to take them for! Thank god for Google Images right?

With dogs at $4, Brats at $5, ‘Meals’ (+chips and a soda) $1 extra, and ‘2 Dog/Brat Meals’ basically just double the price of a single wiener in each category, the costs are a buck or two higher than competition and local sausage god Natedogs, a guy who makes his own amazing condiments mind you. The meal deals are better priced, in fact cheaper, but then again they don’t have the specialty sodas. Apologies for doing this via comparison, btw, but in this situation it’s a very effective and direct measure. Oh, and obviously prices are still rather awesome for street food as-it-is; especially when one of the items can be made from Bison.

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Speed: 10

Technically it takes like half a minute if getting toppings and/or multiple dogs, something I would normally bop down to like a 9.5, but that IS up to us; one can have instantaneous if needed.

The TOE: 8

                Normal hot dog stands have a hard time excelling in a section like this I’d imagine, there’s too much of that ‘mass production/see-it-everywhere’ feel. Having your own and outfitting it with a unique name and your select sausages from a local place, however? That does pretty damn well, especially when you clearly communicate through signage and personality how special and awesome these products are, which Moondog does. In my opinion I think it’d be nice if the cart itself got some extra decoration/paintjob, and if one went the extra step to get some unique and special, ideally homemade, toppings in addition to the dogs themselves. Little things like that round it down from something purely distinctive and experienced down a few pegs, but it still stands out strong as an independent cart, there’s no way I’d mistake any memory for that of the often-boring ‘vienna wiener’ carts.

Tally: 45.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Wanting something portable? Want it at a good price? Want a classic piece of Americana street food? Want it to satisfy your soul a little? Want to not have to wait for it? Well it sounds like you want a hot dog or bratwurst. And if you’re at a brewery or event that Moondog happens to be at, a visit there will fit any of these qualifications; not that anyone has needed an excuse to buy a hot dog, from what I’ve seen. Do I need to even promote something like this?

I’d say the main interest for me would come in seeing what different Bratwurst selection he’s got for the day, getting something interesting and special in that category, or just enjoying the classic but unique Hot Dog. But at the end of the day, everyone has solidly developed their own preferences on what kind of sausage and toppings they get at carts like these, so I’ll leave the final decision to you, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

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.

A Peace of Cake

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http://www.apeaceofcakemn.com/home.html
https://twitter.com/APeaceofCakeMN
Main Location: St Paul

As we wander the streets in search of food truck meals, sooner or later we’re hit with that familiar urge… the need for sweet. Sometimes just having a taco or sandwich won’t do it, but instead that need to finish a period of eating properly with some crave-ending dessert becomes all that’s important. But what options for this in the Twin Cities do we have? There are those Cupcake Trucks that are sometimes out, a few select purveyors of Frozen Treats, even a new Crepe vendor that’s hit our streets. Yet we’ve already seen these, the same old kinds of food we’re used to, with none of that true ‘edge’ which I myself always seek out from my ideal food trucks. If we’re lucky a savory truck might offer an intriguing little twist on some kind of dessert, but who knows which one and when they’ll decide to do it?

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Enter A Peace of Cake, already a dependably consistent St Paul native truck rolled out just over a month ago, offering something quite unique… well, actually, quite classic to the streets, but served in a way we’re definitely not used to (try to find another place that’s publicly known for doing this, I dare you). Despite the name’s assumption, Mini Donuts are the name of the game as a result of the owner absolutely abhorring the idea of throwing away food at the end of the day (I feel ya sister, much pain there), so instead they went for a medium that they could stop making whenever they wanted/needed and didn’t have to worry about produce, fruit, batter, or other things spoiling over a slower week.

Looking to recreate herself, owner Dana decided, like many food truck owners do at one point or another, that she wanted to work for herself. Thus the truck was started, along with their message (which can be clearly seen in the triple-logo) of Anarchy, Peace, and Mini Donuts, for “In Society, how can we be all upset if we find a little bit of peace and a little bit of happiness with some sugar on top.”

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Gotten in the classic little white paper to-go bag, these fried pastries can be dusted in Sugar, Cinnamon, Cardamom, or other Seasonal flavors. Or, in one of their “Boats/Barges” (really it’s just a basket, but let’s not rescind their right to amusing labels). Though it’s not that they’re served in these containers… but that, when in here, they are then completely doused in a variety of sweet (and sometimes savory) sauces and toppings of choice, like a big pile of deep-fried, O-shaped, buttery pancakes eaten in only the most sinful ways (screw berries, chocolate and caramel and nuts all the way!).

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The offerings themselves come in a variety of pre-made combos utilizing some form of Chocolate, Caramel, or ‘Vanilla’ sauce (though one can just get a basket drizzled with one of those), often along with other toppings like nuts, sprinkles, candy, etc. The Peanut Buster, containing chocolate+caramel+peanuts, is popular, as is the Oreo with the classic cookie and vanilla. Though there are also options like “Hot Cakes” w/ maple and powdered sugar, a Sriacha-Honey number, even a Strawberry-Coconut thing (among others, even Nerds), all depending on what’s on for the day one gets there.

And no need to fret the difficulty of hard decisions, as they offer the amazing option to split baskets in half with two options of one’s choice. Eaten with an environmentall-friendly, degradable ‘wooden’ fork, and this can certainly combine into a match made in sweet tooth heaven. Let’s see if it actually does.

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Food: 7

We have to start at the heart of things; the donuts. First off, let me just say how refreshing it is to finally be able to have a mini donut that doesn’t have every bit of it covered in sugar or something. I never knew how much I was missing out on this crispy, perfectly fried dough outside, encasing the buttery soft interior perfectly. It’s a good thing I didn’t have a bucket of these, otherwise I would be deadest on getting them all shoved into my or stranger’s stomachs before turning cold. They’re like the donut version of Sweet Martha’s Cookies.

So you could say it’s a good thing that they were covered in those sauces… because they did not make me want to eat more of it. As excited as I was, as delightfully sinful as it looks, and as much as I love dessert and sweet things… there was just too much sugar here. Seriously. I know I know, hey, I’ve watched plenty of food competition shows and yelled at the judges for bitching that “oh this dessert is sweet, and I don’t like sweet desserts,” because you know that if anything it’s just a tad more sweet focused than having that sweet+savory+whatever-the-hell-else balance that doesn’t even taste like a true dessert anyway. But I know there are also times when something really is just TOO sweet, I’ve experienced it many times, like those cheap cakes that are just filled with frosting that just feels like sugar turned into paste and rubbed across the teeth. There really is such a thing as too much, usually that point when the expression ‘tooth numbing’ comes into our head.

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And that’s what some of the main sauces tend to do here. Taking advantage of the duo basket to try the two most appealing things on the menu and in pictures, I went for the Oreo and Peanut Buster flavorings. To keep it short (maybe), the ‘vanilla’ sauce used in the oreo is nothing more than royal icing, the purest form of sugary frosting ever, closest to what’s normally used to frost donuts, but that’s in a thin layer. This is poured on in a thick glob of white, accompanied by the classic chocolate cookies, the flavor of which sadly doesn’t even stand out much. I was hoping to get that amazing ‘cookies and cream’ experience, but all I got was sugar and some cocoa-crunchy stuff.

The chocolate sauce they use for other things is quite obviously milk chocolate based, and tastes very much like a Hershey’s bar. It’s definitely a thick, sort of cloying chocolate, decent on the first bite with some caramel and peanut, but making you hate yourself a bit in the not-so-fun/ironic way we usually do with the idealized ‘sinful’ foods. I just… wish they did dark chocolate, not because ‘oooh it’s fancy and I’m grown up so dark chocolate is what I’m supposed to like,’ but because it actually has that proper balance of sweetness, not to mention the AMAZING deeper, chocolate flavor that we really want in these dishes.

If only a couple of these sauces were improved, some sort of marshmallowy-cream thing for the oreo and dark chocolate, probably a better caramel (wasn’t easy to taste, but I imagine it feels just as confected), or at the least feature more of  (or purely focus on) the other unique flavors/toppings their online menu suggests they have from time to time, then it’d be just perfect. Because I really hated the fact that I had to bitch like this here for this truck. Really I did. Luckily the donuts were good enough that, knowing there are other non-sauce options, I can keep the score for them at a decent point.

Holdability: 9

Either you’re getting a bag with the classic carry-around ability of regular mini-donut adventures or a basket covered in sauce, which may seem daunting at first in this line (if you use your fingers, yes it’s messy), but using a fork eliminates EVERY bit of this. I know I normally encourage eating with fingers, especially for something like donuts, but here it just feels proper to use their special forks to very easily lift each bite-size (put it all in your mouth at once, DO IT!!!) topping-covered dough ball at a time. They thus transform into the easiest and cleanest kind of basket food to eat on the street.

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Price: 9.5

Doughnuts really are quite the price-efficient food items, with a basket of 6 coming in at $4, doubling it for a total of $6, the value of which increases even further to the simple fact that you don’t have to buy separate baskets to try a couple different toppings. I’ll admit I didn’t pay attention to what the classic sacs of mini-donuts cost, but I think it’s the same for 10-12 are, but I think it was $4, or also $6 at the most.

Speed: 9.5

They’re not fried purely to order (but as one can tell from previous, that definitely doesn’t affect the quality of what you get), with batches ready and needing only a drizzle, sprinkle, or whatever one has on top for order.

The TOE: 10

Look, I love cupcakes, and crepes, and ice cream, and all that stuff, but we have needed a full-dessert truck like this for the longest time, one with that ‘food truck twist.’ The design is fun, the name is cool, their whole view on things is funky and a little different, which clearly comes through both with their image and the food served. They’ve taken something we’re all familiar with and love and just served it up notably different than what we’re used to, like making a dessert version of chili cheese fries or something; that’s sort of cool right? And the regular sugar/spice sprinkled options can still come in unique flavors if one so desires. This really is exactly what I’ve been looking for in terms of having our own special dessert-focused food truck. In essence, the whole menu is a giant collection of Toe Rings, some of the toppings just need tweaking… well, more than tweaking. But at the end of the day, the whole idea, uniqueness, and fun behind it launches top points for the experience category.

Tally: 45/50

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Final Thoughts

For anyone developing a sweet tooth while walking the streets, this is the truck to take advantage of. But if you’re not sharing a basket with a few friends, make sure to be quite wary which flavoring options one chooses.

Despite my own love of the concept, especially considering the chance to finally experience the raw crispy-butter edges of these donuts without being covered in a layer of sugar/icing, I would imagine the truly best option is going for the Cardamom-dusted donuts in the classic white travel bag for a fun twist on traditional mini-donuts that doesn’t numb our teeth in excess sugar. For the basket options, I would haphazard the Hot Cakes/Breakfast of Maple Syrup and Powdered Sugar would come together rather well; a bit more naturally sweet vs the artificial chocolate and icing. Though the Caramel on its own might work better than my experiences, so perhaps a simple drizzle of that.

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There ARE other menu items that weren’t featured that day-of which I imagine would work amazingly in the mouth. Sriacha-cha (using sriacha honey), Sweet Chili (chili sauce, peanuts, powdered sugar), and Strawberry Shortcake (strawberry sauce and coconut cream, yum) should all form some fantastic oral experiences at much better and more controlled, or at least contrasted, sweetness levels. If you HAVE to have something chocolate, and have a friend or two to share, attack the S’mores (we’re used to that Hershey Bar sweetness for those anyway) or Walnut Walkover (apparently that one has the walnuts mixed INTO the caramel, should highlight it more).

And please, PLEASE, until they change the topping, avoid the Oreo and other options using the ‘Vanilla’ sauce. I know it’s attractive and seems like a proper signature, but it’s just pure sugar royal icing that doesn’t contribute anything besides cavities. Look at the other options, I beg you.