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.

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Habanero Tacos

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https://www.facebook.com/Habanero-Tacos-636831153117512/timeline/
https://twitter.com/habanerotacos
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

Those who are somewhat familiar with my blog my notice a certain peculiarity to my archives, that being, except for a couple rare exceptions, I don’t really do reviews on Traditional Mexican Taco Trucks/Carts. Now the modern, bright, new-business, fusion/twisted, and other sort of taco-based trucks we see on our main downtown streets, sure. But as a general rule, I’ve made the decision to just ignore all the almost nameless, likely family-owned, no-frills and no-social-media-focus taco trucks that are so often seen in various parking lots, on the further outskirts of uptown and south Minneapolis, etc. You know the ones, the ‘taco trucks,’ those businesses that were likely the true precursor to our food truck industry in the US.

Note that this has nothing to do with any disdain or even disinterest towards these businesses; I absolutely adore taco trucks. They use proper masa tortillas, have a whole variety of usually delicious fillings, are NOT afraid to cook things like tongue or cheek or other offal (more people are coming to appreciate, but the rest of you are still pansies. Pansies I say!!), are often very cheap, and sometimes even offer a variety of options to eat with your desired filling; like going to Chipotle. There are reasons these kinds of businesses have succeeded for dozens of years.

But there are so many of them, parked who-knows-where half the time, usually with no online presence letting those unaware find them easily, and as much as I love the kind of truck… the fact is if you’ve been to one you’ve almost been to them all. The experience is rather identical; yes yes, there are little differences in flavor and quality between each, much like BBQ trucks, but it’s even less noticeable than that example, and I’m going to be happy either way. In my personal opinion, if I WERE to track down all the different taco trucks, I feel the only way to properly review them is between each other; or in other words, I’d have to start a whole separate blog, or blog page, devoted JUST to reviewing the aspects of the taco trucks themselves. And I don’t feel like doing that… yet. For now, it’s easier just to focus on the masses of every other kind, familiar and weird, that keep popping up in the Twin Cities.

So it was with much reluctance that I passed by Habanero Tacos at a farmer’s market some months ago, making the difficult decision to ignore it and save some money for other truck visits. The truck certainly fits into the same category as other taco trucks I’ve been to, so they were a no go. That said, of late I’ve taken strong notice of the fact that they’ve been parking in downtown Minneapolis quite a lot, they have a twitter and Facebook handle that gets updated, and are otherwise rather in the public eye just as strongly as some of our other food trucks. So I feel it only right that I give them my full respect and offer a complete review to add into the ranks on this blog for all the effort they’re clearly going through to get known. Plus, I like to think one can then use this as an overall idea on where taco trucks in general rank on the ‘food truck scale’ for each ranking category.

As for some details, the menu offers the chance to get Tacos, Burritos, Enchiladas, Alambres (meat sautéed with bacon, peppers, and onions; with melted cheese, I think it’s on rice or a big tortilla, basically an entrée), each with your choice of filling. One can pick from a list, slightly differing between item, including but not limited to: Al Pastor (Marinated Pork), Carnitas (Roast Pork), Carne Asada (Grilled Steak), Barbacoa (Shredded Beef), Pollo, Lengua (Beef Tongue), and Cabeza (Shredded Beef Head). One also has the chance to get a side of Elote (Mexican Street Corn, on the cob w/ lime, mayo, cheese, and spices) or Tortillas. Not to mention a full line-up of sodas, canned and Mexican bottles and guava juice (gotta love guava juice). That about sums it up, so let’s get down to it.

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Food: 9

                Can’t go to a taco truck without just getting the tacos; it’s a good way to try a couple fillings for cheap anyways. As expected, proper soft masa tortillas, double-stacked for each taco, garnished with onion, cilantro, and a section of lime for each taco. And yes there was a little thing of hot sauce, which I completely forgot to try on top of the tacos cuz they were SO GOOD; I love a proper taco from these kinds of trucks! But I did sneak a taste of the sauce on its own; has a kick, with some of those dried whole spicy chile flavors and some development start to finish.

Decided to go for the Al Pastor, ‘Marinated Pork,’ and the Cabeza, ‘Beef Head,’ for this trip. Both tasted great on their own terms, wrapped in their pillowy tortilla folds and with spikes of herby aromatics and bright crunchy onion. The pork’s marinade shone the most, with that distinctly unique tomato-chile-based (I think, maybe it’s a red mole or similar) sauce providing the most distinction; though on their own, the pork meat WAS a bit dry, luckily everything else balances it out enough to not really impact you. Oh but the head, fall apart tender and rich and juicy… well, not really juicy, in fact almost ‘slimy,’ but in a good way, like certain special Japanese noodle dishes. Bit of that fatty/collagen-y aspects from wherever they took that meat around the cow’s skull. And for those already trying to use excuses to be disgusted, shut up; it’s just like roast beef, amazing and super flavorful roast beef which is perfect like this. I only wish they had even MORE alternative cuts, like chicharrons, pig feet, brains, etc; but oh well.

They might deserve an even higher score, but I feel I’d need to try some other items for confirmation first; which also means it could just as well truly be deserving of lower, even if sticking with the fillings one knows are good. So as always, take these with a grain of salt; especially since I really just like this a general idea for all taco trucks anyways.

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Holdability: 9

                 Tacos are classic street food for a reason, they’re made to be able to pick up with one hand; and that classic double-tortilla design, as I’ve always said, is just so good. Can use it for extra support so none of the fillings fall out, or just use one tortilla first, let as much of that meat fall out as you can, and the leftovers turn into a second taco! Unless you only get one, which isn’t unlikely, one still needs two hands for basket holding. But there ARE options; yet another benefit to the classic taco truck; if one desires portability, the singular Burrito comes into play, not to mention the classic one-handed snack of Mexican Corn.
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Price: 10

                  $2.50 for each Taco, $8 for a Burrito, $7 for Enchiladas, $10.50 or $12 for the bigger entrée that is the Alambres, and $3 to get one of those classic Elote, this place has RANGE to fit exactly what you’re looking for. Whether one’s spending more on a big lunch, looking for a filling but more cost-effective option, or just wants to part with a few bucks for a soul-satisfying snack, or just to sample, these kinds of menus have it all. Yet another notable proof of evidence towards the taco truck’s success in engraining itself as THE classic American street food/food truck operation.

Speed: 8.5

I imagine it technically depends on the item, but most of the proteins/fillings are pre-cooked, may get a TOUCH of griddle time at the most, so they only need the filling time and come out quick. Alambres and Enchiladas will get more attention to cook everything together, I expect average wait on those, faster turn-out on others; they get those tacos out to you quickly! Just like any good street food stand.

The TOE: 9

                  My initial reaction when first seeing the truck a while ago, considering its plain-ish look, wasn’t all that inspiring; as evidenced by the delay in actually ordering from them. But then again, I was judging whether it qualified as one of the ‘modern’ food trucks which I mainly focus on. Truly, this IS a Mexican Food Truck, and it feels like it when you’re there and ordering from it. It seems to measure up just about as much as the others; perhaps there’s been some attempts towards a more ‘attractive’ design pulls it a bit more away from that rather traditional, operating-in-the-parking-lot-down-the-street feel that sort of comes to mind with these, but it’s not so huge. Plus I admit it that feeling in myself may be skewed simply because they’ve been doing a lot of business in downtown with the other trucks.

Tally: 45.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Gotta love a good Carne Asada, and if you can find ANY part of yourself to try it, get the Lengua or Cabeza, they’re always so good in tacos. Besides those, I’d say you’re certainly safe with anything else Shredded or Grilled/Charbroiled, then it’s just figuring out what kind of edible packaging you want it in! That variability, versatility, is what makes these trucks perfect for any need: on a budget, grabbing a snack between other things, sampling multiple things, getting a full meal, looking to eat there or move to another location, etc. Chances are you’ll find SOMETHING that fits your needs here, so long as you don’t hate Mexican cuisine (you monster). And definitely give the Elote a chance if you still have yet to try one; it can be a quick, cheap, and satisfying grab-and-go treat that’s worth the minimal spending risk, or can add it onto another order as a ‘side’ of sorts.

At the end of the day, Habanero Tacos delivers their food, for the most part, in the same manner as what we expect to come from these glorious vehicles. I hope you’ve had the chance to experience it or one of the many other classic taco vendors in the cities, or that you do so soon.

Tatanka Truck

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http://www.tatankatruck.com/
https://twitter.com/tatankatruck
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

The first of two long-awaited and highly-anticipated food trucks to hit the Twin Cities in the latter part of the summer, with articles and interviews and lots of retweeting about them both in the past few months, Tatanka Truck now hits the Minneapolis streets to serve the very anxious street lunch crowd. Brainchild of Sean Sherman, an Oglala Lakota Sioux and owner of the Sioux Chef catering and culinary educational business, he yet continues his journey to spread the true native Ojibwe and Dakota food traditions to as many people as possible. With the recent partnership with Little Earth, he finally got to add a Food Truck to his arsenal, bringing some of these natural dishes developed over the land back to our sight. You can see the truck around Minneapolis rather often, but its mobile nature allows Sean to take his business to various Native American events, businesses, and celebrations in Minnesota.

There’s more that could definitely be said about the owner and business itself, but it seems plenty of other places have been doing enough of that well before the truck even opened, like This and These Guys, so if you’re one of the few who still have yet to get bombarded with that information, those links have some rather intriguing informativeness behind them! (Sean really has been doing some great things, this is definitely the kind of thing I know we all love to see spread)

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Offerings focus on, of course, menu items made with indigenous ingredients and cooking methods developed in the Native American cultures, transformed to best enjoy on the street. The main features are the Indigenous ‘Tacos,’ a corn and bean ‘Bread’ round piled high with Heirloom Beans, Wojapi (a native berry sauce), and your chosen cooked meat topping. Cedar-Braised Bison (Tatanka) with Sunchoke, Smoked Turkey (Mizise-Wiiyaas) and Forest Mushrooms, Sumac-seared Walleye (Ogaawag), and Squash (Wagmu) are the options. Or one can choose similar protein toppings (or not) and pop it on a Manoomin Salad, chocked full of wild rice, seeds, cracked corn, and veggies. On the side one can grab some grilled Corn Cob (Wahuwapa) with Pesto (or not), Cedar Maple Iced Tea, or some Energy Bars: their own Native Granola and Seed Bars or Bison-Fruit Jerky which they get from native Tanka Bars.

Oh! And you can get a ‘hot sauce’ on the side with the tacos. I should have asked what they used, darn those busy lunch periods…

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A basket of Bison with that intriguingly pesto-covered corn

Food: 8.5

                Okay now this was a hard decision, figuring out which protein to get. I’m still playing the ‘what if’ card with the Walleye in my head, but I’m just gonna go with it! Luckily the two I was debating between, Bison and Turkey, had the former bowing out as the guy ahead of me bought the last portion, so I could pick the Mizise-Wiiyaas without guilt! The bison did look good though, especially mixed with sunchokes and, interestingly enough, DRIED bison alongside the braised.

Results of the turkey? Juicy, tender, a nice surprise as I expected the smoked bird to be firm as opposed to these juicy shreds, and seasoned well. The ‘bread’ underneath is really more like a Corn and Bean Cake, soft and moist as one pulls pieces off with your fork (can’t really pick it up). As you pull and mix and scramble everything together, a messy-looking hash of flavors you feel came right out of the backyard, one worries that the soft nature of all the items will lead to a textural wasteland devoid of anything besides mush, but thankfully the shredded greens on the side actually help to contribute, giving just that scoche (yes I used the term scoche, I’m watching Sideways and feeling a bit snooty, but not enough to actually elevate the grammer and writing skills of the review as a whole) of a bite to contrast. I will say I’m glad I got the Hot Sauce, one because it tastes pretty good (love a flavorful semi-hot sauce with a mass of starch an protein) and two because, as good as the ‘taco’ is, there feels to be an overall ‘blandness’ to it (not unseasoned, it’s salted and peppered well). One could say the flavors are all in the same realm, and I wish there was ONE other element, whether it’s a fresh and bright vegetable, that other flavorful sauce, dusting of spices, etc.

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Which, in hindsight, the berry sauce alone SHOULD have taken care of, so either I just skipped over it in my head and didn’t let it shine on the tongue, or it sadly just wasn’t sharp enough, or needed more OF it on top… perhaps the issue was that it blended with all the other tastes TOO much for the good of the dish as a whole.

The Corn was tasty, fully enjoyed the Pesto topping with the distinct herbal-garlic punch, though it did clearly feel like it hadn’t reached the true promise that good, fresh grille sweet corn should get to. Basically, one can tell that it’s grilled ahead of time, as it should be in order to achieve that full color and flavor on the kernels for service, and then kept warm and waiting on the side. Again I don’t hate it or anything, I actually love getting grilled fresh corn as a side like this, just pointing out it’s not heavenly; which is what we’re used to in sweet corn season like now right?

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The Granola, which I got to snack on from a free sample tray, was good; I could totally see getting bars of this for work snacks and lunch! Nothing better than a great one made by hand instead of machine. As for that ‘Cedar Maple Tea,’ it offers a clean, lighter version of your desired sweet tea, very refreshing. The maple and cedar notes ARE there, but one does have to search for them, quite subtle; something I was looking forward to trying, it satisfies my initial craving to grab though isn’t EVERYTHING that I hoped and wished for, sort of like the rest of the food and truck as a whole. Don’t take my thoughts harshly on that however.

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Holdability: 7

               So, here’s the thing. I don’t mind if a food truck uses the term ‘taco’ for something that isn’t really a taco; I understand, it’s a cool and easy way to let people connect to a different food, not to mention emphasizing the street food idea of it. That said, if you’re GOING to use the moniker, I expect to be able to actually pick it up in one way or another, and not only do these little ‘cakes’ not hold in any of the toppings, I doubt one could even lift them on their own without parts of them falling off. As such, I’m gonna have to knock a point or so off, seriously.

That aside, the side items on their own are easily consumable by hand, while the mains really do require a fork for consuming, mixing-and-matching can certainly razz things up depending.

Price: 8.5

                $9-11 for the protein tacos, $8 on the Squash, $5 for the Salad with a $3 upcharge to add your meat of choice. The whole menu has a great range, with the ability to get that side of Corn for only $2, the energy bars for $2-4 depending on type and size, and $4 for the Tea. Though it can definitely add up to a decent total, since it seems hard to get JUST the ‘taco’ bowl.
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Speed: 9

 

It didn’t take too long at all; a quick run across the street to take a picture and feed the meter, and when I got back a couple minutes later (if that) the basket was waiting in the window.

The TOE: 9.5

                Whatever lingering effects from media attention aside, the fact remains that not only is this a unique truck serving distinctive offerings, the goal and focus of it all comes through very clearly. Not to mention it’s colorful, felt surprising and hollow but one has to appreciate a good design at the end of the day.

The Cedar Maple Tea feels almost a Toe Ring, though I myself wish there was some more impact to it; either more distinct maple flavor, a spice mixed in, or just something to really ‘feel’ that clean and natural sweetness. Still good though, don’t get me wrong.

Tally: 42.5/50

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Final Thoughts

For the ideal experience, head over when they’re at the park near the Minneapolis Government center on a beautiful day, grab a the Bison, Fish, or whatever ‘taco’ you might be craving, and sit down to relax and enjoy your meal completely. Also a great stop to pick-up a Grab and Go snack, the Granola or Tanka Bars, or when craving an interesting drink, either to complete some truck lunch thing or just when needing refreshment, whereas the Cedar Maple Tea should be tried at least once if one ever gets the chance.

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.

Hot Dish “100 Favorites” for 2014-15

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

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

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#77: Taco Cat with “The Larry”

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

#62: The Curious Goat with Goat Cheese Curds

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

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#55: Smack Shack’s Shrimp and Grits

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

#54: World Street Kitchen and The South Side

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

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

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

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

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

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#7: Hola Arepa and the Beef & Plantain Arepa

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

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

The Sizzling Wagon

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https://www.facebook.com/sizzlingwagontr/info
https://twitter.com/sizzlingwagon
Main Location: St Paul, Etc

With a long winter come and gone, having issued itself as a large dry spot in my own personal culinary adventures, the transition into the 2015 truck season couldn’t have come sooner. Though my work schedule still keeps me from almost every good brewery night visit, the rare and good occurrence for a lunchtime adventure is still there when the weather is good and the recent newcomers are out.

And so it was a week ago, on a sunny day with plenty of time to kill, that I found myself driving down to Region’s Hospital (which, btw, so not parking friendly to outsiders trying to seek the truck out… mainly for those already in the area, but oh well that’s the truck business) to visit the Sizzling Wagon, thus well and truly kicking off my 2015 food truck year. I should technically feel guilty for not getting down to the truck last summer after they actually opened, but it seems I’ve lost that feeling of shame for my blog lateness a looonnggg time ago.

Besides, why feel shame when I can simply delve into the delicious pit that is a new food truck menu? And this one offered up quite an interest as I attempt to figure out the best description for its ‘theme.’ Serving up a small variety in different griddled and fried foods, each familiar in the street food and bar scene with certain kicks to bring it up a level, making my mind finally settle on a typical gastro pub feeling with some BBQ interest. To be more detailed, one could also claim they offer similar styled options as today’s Gastrotruck, but with a more deep-fried bar-ish feeling.

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This of course includes Onion Rings, a couple Burgers, a classic Cheese and the “Sizzling” (fried onions, jalapeno, sirachi bbq and coleslaw), and a Pulled Pork Sammy, but no doubt the most popular (and signature) items revolve around the Beef Brisket Sandwich and seasonal Shrimp Tacos. Sides, besides the onion rings, of course contain simple Fries and Pico de Gallo w/ Tortilla Chips. New and changing items are expected, all to be likely revolved around the similar requirements of being slow-cooked, griddled, and/or deep fried and served with their signature bbq and/or slaw.

Now, to make it short (because I’m probably getting rusty at this), let’s get into 2015’s first full review!

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Food: 8.5

                A Brisket, a Basket, a HOLY F@#%ING GOD LOOK AT THAT MONSTER!! That is a big, thick slice of braised beef! Now THAT is how you make a proper sandwich, and oh god was it good; rich, juicy, and covered in their special BBQ Sauce featuring Sirachi, the final result being something more bright and tangy with that unique, almost fruity (but not really) edge to it. With the Slaw on top (which is optional, but really why would you say no if it doesn’t cost more?) it creates an experience rivaling some of the best pork belly sandwiches that I’m hoping all those reading have had at least once. I WILL say, there is a very noticeable, thick layer of fat in here; which I myself have no problem with, I’ll delight in something bad for me, but even I admit that it might be on the ‘too much’ side, and can easily understand why it may turn some people off.

I didn’t get this alone, having ordered a side of Onions Rings because 1: I’ve become almost obsessed with them now when I go someplace new, and 2: in debating a second item, it was between this or a whole $10 for another entrée… what can I say, sometimes I’m cheap. And I’m glad I did, for I can’t help but love an absolutely perfect onion ring, and these are almost there! Good crispy batter, soft tender onion inside that doesn’t completely pull away with a bite (a couple sorta did, but not like those bad rings do), a clean cut through, and even a seasoned salt on the outside for extra flavor. Though, it did feel a BIT greasy, making it hard to eat the whole thing; definitely something that either needs a good beer next to it or a group of people to share.

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Speaking of fried things, the actual Fries coming with the Brisket… meh. Typical fried potato strips, similar to those found in an in-n-out but without the character, not bed but not exciting or exceptional, just something to have on the side.

Now, Let’s talk about what I DIDN’T have. I did get a chance to snap a pic of the Shrimp Taco, covered in fresh slaw and veggie goodness; it looks enjoyable, especially considering the shrimp, a-la Fish Tacos, come in as crispy deep-fried nuggets. I would imagine why this is popular, my only worry is whether or not it offers itself as more than just good fried shrimp and coleslaw in a flour tortilla (I’m sure it does, it looks good). The Chips and Pico on the side look on the same level as the fries, basic and tasty with everything done how it’s supposed to be but nothing exciting.

Oh, and considering how the brisket turned out, I would imagine the Burgers probably don’t suck, especially the one with the onion ring. At all. Gimme?

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Holdability: 6.5

                 Individually speaking, items like Onion Rings and Tacos seem to hold up tightly in their basket, with the Burger and BBQ Sandwich options offering up the typical extra delicious saucy drips along the fingers. And of course the automatic transition of these single items into combos with fries or chips-and-salsa create the extra bits of attention and effort in the matter (besides the tacos and, perhaps, pulled pork and simple cheeseburger, a few of these eat best when seated).

Price: 6

                  All main items come in at $9 or $10 (for both Shrimp, which I understand the added cost of seafood, but I really wonder if this fried shrimp REALLY comes in at the noted high cost), the main exception being the Cheeseburger which offers itself up at $8, and though it’s obvious this noted extra step up in cost (compared to other trucks) is due to the automatic add-on of certain sides per item, the lack of interest I myself found in these makes me sorely wish for the option for grabbing the single main sandwich/taco for less (why can’t we just keep the combo option separate with most of these trucks?). Currently I also wonder if I could have switched out the fries for onion rings for only $1-2 additional instead of having to pay a whole $5 for the basket… something that I should have asked (darn me), but I did need to see the quality of their fries anyways I guess. Getting a basket solely of Fries or Chips+Pico comes in at $4 and $3 respectively.
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Speed: 7.5

Average expected wait for the items served, seemed to have been handled quite smoothly, though with little to no line at the time for proper reference when busy.

The TOE: 6.5

                  The street-ish faire food, sirachi bbq sauce, and almost exceptional onion rings and brisket sandwich offer noted points of intrigue amongst the foundation built from the personality of the worker’s and business (name, design, etc), but so far as I’ve experienced nothing else sticks out after that. I am so far quite happy at the quality of the food, but my drive to visit it as a truck has yet to rage bright and hot, even with my curiosity for their other items. Maybe it’s the similarity in style with today’s bar food, maybe it’s nothing, or maybe the salt containers aren’t lined up (old college reference, best to just pretend I’m speaking gibberish), but either way it’s only gotten this far for me.
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Tally: 35/50

Final Thoughts

A striking red truck serving idealistic Gastropub BBQ faire, Sizzling Wagon ironically sees itself rarely close to a local beer source. But if you ever spot it outside a taproom, that’s the time to head on over with friends to share some grub, alcohol, and good times. This is the kind of truck ideally visited when really making a day/night out of it.

For the best experience, get the Brisket Sandwich or Sizzling Burger, and see if you can answer the question on swapping out for those Onion Rings (if you can’t, get a basket for a few people to share… heck, maybe you can even ask to NOT have fries for $1-2 less, who knows?). Of course other options are surely not to disappoint, the Shrimp Tacos offering a much better pursuit while trolling the streets.

Vellee in the Skyway with Burritos

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You know what the sorta funny thing is? There’s at least… what, 5 (likely much more) food truck restaurants and other standing operations that have opened up in the past two years that I STILL have yet to get to in the Twin Cities, and yet I literally only found out on Twitter about Vellee Deli’s Skyway place, located in the Baker Building off 8th and Marquette, on day 2 of their opening and I’m able to make it out there a week later! Well, guess it was the straw that broke this camel’s back, thank god I’ve finally broken down and accepted the need for using Twitter (shudders); I mean, I can’t miss out on my favorite truck’s new operation can I?

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And I’m not the only one apparently; whether it’s die-hard truck fans, other hipster-like foodies glued to twitter, or simply skyway workers really looking forward to the different, delicious fair, the line out the opening was well and long! Let’s hope it stays like that, as it should; if there’s any skyway food business that should stay successful for a long time, I think Vellee deserves it (who cares about the boring fast food companies?).

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An open-air kitchen filled with more than double the number of people that worked in the truck dealt with this line rather fast, serving out the large menu drawn in chalk, the same as on the truck but with a few extra, tasty items. I of course had to try one of these newer items myself, grabbing the Tofu Burritio (made with curry, zingy cream sauce, and some mushrooms and lettuce) and Chips w/ Pineapple Salsa.

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Yeah yeah, the guy who complains about the logic of ordering chips and guac from a truck got some here. Well it’s a sit-down restaurant so I have the right! And it was quite tasty… was a bit surprised seeing the tomato base, figured it’d be more ike the typical Caribbean, all-pineapple with some mix-in salsas, was very much worried about the flavors being too muddy/mixed… but it actually tasted really good. Fresh, tart and lightly sweet, tangy, not thick and very crunchable on the chips.

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Then there’s the burrito, I mean who can complain about their burritos? It’s practically an indulgent sin, but vegetarian… and after just coming out of a month of vegetarianism, I’ve found new appreciation for the product that is Tofu, along with other non-meat-based thingies. Safe to say, scrumptious and nummy, the only reason it took me 10 minutes to eat being because I had an 8-minute phone call after I started! Plus I can’t say no to a good dish of curry and rice… I’ll admit my nerves waned slightly at the notable inclusion of simple lettuce, but it fully heightened the experience (I need to stop doubting lettuce… I blame taco bell).

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Well, it’s no different than my other ravings on Vellee’s offerings. As always, I wish them luck and good fortune in all their ventures, and hope those reading get the chance to try their Minneapolis Skyway location sometime soon. Just remember it’s only open 10-3, like all the other locations up there (think they’ll start complaining about losing business to food trucks now? Haha). Now, what truck restaurant to visit next…

 

Oh, gotta love a fully stocked quality soda bottle section while you’re at it, no matter where you go.

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Eastlake Craft and Taco Cat Quasi Review

tchttp://www.tacocatmn.com/
https://twitter.com/tacocats

Sad to say, the past winter, in combination with the full-time job I’ve acquisitioned into, has bulldozed my daily schedules and habits to one which has fully kept me from my beloved food truck explorations for the longest of times. I worry that I won’t be able to make it out to try some of the new entrepreneurs, let alone catch up with ones I still have yet to reach after last year’s premier.

But this spring feels so revitalizing! Just recently finishing up a month-long vegetarian diet project (which I’m now regretting not featuring in my Other Blog), getting used to the new hours, my wallet not feeling as dry and stingy as before, and with the weather taking a noted turn for the better, that flexible sense of adventure and exploration finally re-set itself in my soul and fingers. Restrictions no longer seem to cling to me anymore, leaving my wandering tastes excited for the new possibilities as I make my plans to get back into the food scene of my much loved Twin Cities.

20150315_163237And with my first full day off of work after this amazing weather hit, I just had to go to a taproom, so I headed down to the Midtown Global Market to visit the newly-opened Eastlake Craft Brewery, a fun venture started 3 months ago that focuses on some Belgian, IPA, and unique styles, including a fully Vietnamese-flavored and styled beer called “Eye of the Tiger.” Besides beer, the place offers Dean’s Kombucha on tap, tasty on its own but even better when utilized in a “One Two Punch,” whereas they’ll do a half-and-half mix of your chosen beer and flavored kombucha (I tried the Tiger with some Blackberry, subtly spicy sassy sour super sipper, num). But that’s a review for another time, which I’ll probably hand over to Eat.Drink.Dish, what we really need to talk about is the food!

20150315_155139The reason I chose Eastlake, in the center of uptown as it is, was to finally achieve an experience I, and many other Minnesotans, have been telling myself I’d do for over a year without actually making a proper attempt: Taco Cat delivery. Yes, those gurus of the stuffed tortilla that started in the southern area of Minneapolis, solely relying on a bike delivery services and sarcasm. Despite being based out of a kitchen in the Global Market, TC still has no ‘proper’ pickup, requiring you to stand outside of the building to then have your tacos delivered by bike. Despite the simple requirement of having to be anywhere in uptown, the cliché of everyone talking and raving about Taco Cat without having actually tried it yet has still stood strong in our cities (well, at least I’m no longer part of those statistics).

I wanted to take a picture for the feature, but my guy wasn’t wearing his jersey today (the bearded bastard!!), and I couldn’t find any good ones online of their delivery guys wearing anything besides winter coats, so here’s a picture of a cat in a taco costume!

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D’awwwwww

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It certainly is yet another great taproom food, the guys offering a few basic and unique topping-laden tacos, along with options for Nachos and Burritos filled with choice meats. Going for two items today, I chose the Ruckus, a mint-chimichuri and pickled radish-topped steak, and the Outlaw, slow-cooked pork with kimchi and typical salsas. Each order comes with Three decent-sized tacos, great for sharing or just stuffing your face (and, of course I checked, no we cannot do mix-and-match orders… thus why I ended up having to buy 6 tacos just to try two menu items… at least my next home lunches aren’t gonna suck). Of which, both of these certainly displayed how Taco Cat has gotten its reputation for scrumptious street food.

Two quality, soft layered masa tortillas stuffed with juicy, tender meat, I mean come on. The pulled pork was easily one of the best, juiciest that I’ve had in the street food game so far, and a great base to build a taco with. Steak was nice and typical of most but, on the other hand, when I hear grilled steak, I want something… more. Give me some crust, texture, something more than cooked beef cubes (they’re good cooked beef cubes mind you). But my mouth was overall quite happy with what I put in it.

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Oh, and can’t forget the salsas! A green salsa verde with the steak, a chipotle-based number for the pork, both of them so devilishly good… especially the latter, so smoky and rich and indulgent, I just want to slather it all over the pork and just stick with that.

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They may not be an actual food truck, thus my choice to delegate them to the Quasi-review circuit, but they’re fully delved into the core of street food in our cities, and I’ve been wanting to try them anyway, so there.

                 Food: 8 – What I’ve already mentioned, I also found that the fun toppings I was so excited for, such as the kimchi and mint chimichurri, barely came out. When having it plain (no salsa), I was able to get a subtle mint on the steak, but that was the biggest personality inclusion. I really wish they stood out with a ‘POW’ like they should. Can assume similar meat and flavor qualities across options.

20150315_151142              Holdability: 8 – Tightly bundled tacos, easily transportable in their aluminum wrap (and doggy delivery bag)

Price: 5 – Certainly higher than typical taco trucks, even for the simpler offerings, and forcing us to buy 3 of the same at a time keeps bills higher, especially when sampling multiple items.

Speed: 4 – Great for bike delivery I’m sure, but even when ordering outside the kitchen makes a 10-minute wait. So, compared to food trucks, not the best.

Toe: 10 – What? I like the name… and it’s funny reading their website’s Q&A section

I don’t remember if I usually have a ‘final suggestion’ section in these Quasis anymore, but I certainly wanna say that, if you ever have the chance to hang in uptown and place an order, do this: Order as a Group, so you can try a few different meats, split the costs, and have a smorgasbord of fun to try. Don’t go for the ‘special’ tacos with the different toppings; instead, just get the plain (pork or chicken ideal) and smother in those amazing salsas… I mean seriously. I bet the nachos and burritos are pretty gangsta too (yes I just said that); and safe to say, these are best enjoyed at breweries, coffee shops, or other fun outdoorsy sit-downs in uptown.

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Well, that’s about it for now, I’m gearing up for some more brewery visits and other upcoming fun! Enjoy this amazing season all of you (unless for some reason you’re reading this in winter… in that case, so sorry… maybe build a snowman and watch Frozen?)!

Top 20 Food Trucks, 2014

2014-05-10 12.55.00

Thought I’d change up my “Top” post this year, since it’s become so difficult for new trucks to push into the ever-higher scores of the best 10, and with all the great trucks out there, I thought I’d offer a quick feature of the top 20 food trucks in the Twin Cities. This is again based purely off of the ratings developed through my reviews, and I admit that perception of the ‘best’ is very different for each person. Not to mention, sadly, there’ve been a few trucks that came later on in the season I never got a chance to get to, so who knows what it’ll look like when I get to them (hopefully we’ll find out next year!).

So, here they are!

20140501_175614Placing #20, tied at 44pts: Fro Yo Soul, Hot Indian Foods, Undead Frank’s Zombie Bites, and Hola Arepa

A veritable cornucopia of styles, two new kids and two veteran’s, one that pumps frozen dessert and another that sizzles masa dough sandwiches, Indian burritos to deep fried goodies a la Psycho Suzie’s. My favorite example of the metaphor that is the Food Truck community.

Sharing #18 with 44.5pts: B52 Slider Squad and Jake’s Street Grille

Two maestros of the mini burgers end up sharing the score, offering juicy, hand-sized meat patties for our cravings.

Three-way hit at #15th place, 45pts: Home Street Home, Rusty Tacos, and Cupcakes on the Go

A couple of my long favorites in dessert and variety along with a veritable army of taco offerings.

20140828_113746#12th place, another three-way (there’s gonna be a few, and yet this is still family friendly!?) at 45.5: O’Cheeze, SCRATCH!, and Bachelor Farmer’s Sausage Cart

Two newbies slide in as we FINALLY get the grilled cheese business that the Twin Cities has desperately needed, not to mention a craft hot dog stand sitting outside one of North Loop’s favorite institutions. But of course SCRATCH still stands strong as it always has and will be with their awesome sandwiches.

#11, one of the few solo spot participants nowadays with 46pts (yes, I should probably stop being so generous with points and give more demerits to spread truck ratings apart better… sue me): AZ Canteen

Though they got bumped out of the top 10 last year, Andrew Zimmern’s amazing mobile station still holds a strong spot, both on the street and in my hear (cue adorably cheesy music).

And for the Top 10! Once again the list belongs to:

csh4#7th Place, 4-way tie at 46.5pts: Chef Shack, MidNord Empanada, Tot Boss, and Café Racer

#4th Place, another 3-way split at 47.5pts (can’t believe I haven’t gotten a 47-pointer yet): Eli’s Donut Burgers, Moral Omnivore, Paulette Bakery

#3rd, 48pts: Vellee Deli

#2nd, 49pts: NateDogs

And as always, #1 at a whopping 50.5: Potter’s Pasties

With luck, this coming year will show some amazing new guys willing and able to shake up the rankings a bit more, and with even better luck I might be able to try them out! Otherwise I might have to simply ignore next year’s rankings.

Thanks for dealing with me as always, hope this year is culinarily amazing for you all! Good Luck and Good Eating!

The Curious Goat

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https://www.facebook.com/TheCuriousGoatMN
https://twitter.com/CuriousGoatMN
Main Location: Breweries, Etc

The Farm to Table movement has been pretty huge in the past decade and so years, and though many area trucks apply the practice of getting most or some of their product from local farms, it’s much fewer that use the practice as their focal point and theme like many restaurants have. Enter in The Curious Goat, a big orange catering trailer that came onto the scene of Fall 2014.

Curious myself to try it, this feeling of interest only grew as I found their facebook and twitter page lacking in detail on their particular menu choices (at first, it is of course possible more info has been updated after writing this). All I could gleam at the time was a connection to a dairy farm, as well as a picture of the owner holding the most adorable kid (baby goat) ever, likely his own. Rarely out on the street, Goat has also stated that they mainly stick with a few certain breweries to cater at, leaving me to find the right weekend for a beer and lunch. Lo and behold, a wild Sunday opportunity appeared at Sociable Cider Werks, bringing me back to try and sampler and habanero-infused apple booze to pair with the new food discovery.

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My thoughts confirmed, Goat truly focuses on simple foods highlighting local Farm ingredients, working with multiple nearby growers and raisers. Menu is likely to change VERY often, using dishes that highlight a couple ingredients, like their vegetable dishes consisting of just a Cabbage Salad or Brussel Sprouts and Peppers. They usually carry at least a few Vegan-friendly fairs, as I found with the Caramel Apple, though of course protein will always be available. As with their namesake, they currently offer Goat in two forms: a Taco, and a grilled Crostini paired with fresh, local Chevre (probably the only item one can guarantee seeing year-round).

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Goat seems to practice the use of finding multiple forms of delivering these organic products to our mouth, from basket-based piles to different carb-wrapped hand grippers. Besides the taco, my visit also found bun-based Sloppy Joes and a Cauliflower Pita available. The limit of what kinds of food they may feature throughout the year is constrained only by which foods they can get their hands on and what they feel like making.

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Food: 9

                I was lucky enough to be able to try a few things on my first trip round, and here they are!

Considering the name, I just had to focus on goat-themed items, first up being the Chevre Crostini from Freewheeler farms; and let me start off saying I really have no complaints with this dish whatsoever. The baguettes were grilled beautifully, nice and crunchy and flavorful, and the cheese was able to shine its delicious and creamy freshness just as it was meant to. Garnished with fresh apple slices and lightly pickled onions, it made for a tasty, refreshing bite on a fine summer’s day.

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Following this with a warm Goat Taco isn’t a bad move, and as tacos go this one is very well put together. Good masa tortilla (not double layered, which at first I was upset about but there was literally no spillage besides 1-2 drops of juice, so it’s alright this time) and fresh herbs and veggies compliment a lightly-spiced, juicy shredded meat. I’d like to say how impressed I am at what first looked to be too much vegetation topping (a la Tiki Tim’s fish tacos in the early periods) actually contributed a much lighter element at good balance to the protein. The protein itself, which carried a good flavor through marinade and/or sauce, I found disappointment in lack of its OWN flavor. Or, put simply, there wasn’t much there in the palette that told it was GOAT as opposed to pork or some cuts of shredded beef. Wish that grassy quality was able to come through.

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After what was originally going to be my only two options, I couldn’t help but go back and try something that just seemed too fun not to get: the Caramel Apple, made completely Vegan (since caramel usually needs cream and/or butter to complete itself). Sadly not on a stick, the local fruit is cut into wedges and served alongside a container of cooked sugar thus mixed with coconut cream and other vegan substitutes, along with a few choice spices (not the regular cinnamon-nutmeg-allspice thing). When all is set and done, and the apple dipped, the dish thankfully avoids the feeling of an ‘inferior version to the originally,’ which many vegan recipes can do if not made well. The coconut added a tasty fusion to the flavor, the sauce’s texture was smooth, and the spices light and floral, overall tasting really nice with the apple; I’d love to have this sauce on top of some pie or ice cream!

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Holdability: 7.5

               Pretty variable among options, but nonetheless the intention behind these food creations is to have them enjoyed at the table of a local brewery, thus quite a few are designed to be much more comfortable eaten sitting down. That said, the tacos, pitas, and potentially sloppy joe eat a little more mobile, and the other items are still presented very clean, with little to no risk of mess. I will say I was hoping the ‘caramel apple’ would have come on a stick somehow, but the sauce was indeed very loose…
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Price: 6

                Very static; on my particular visit, the highest item was a spicy Fried Chicken at $12 while the cheapest was a $5 cabbage salad and the $4 caramel apple. The mobile protein entrees were $9 and $10, with other veggies hanging around $7-8. This is all of course BEFORE tax.
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There is something else I’d like to bring up. Apparently, on the particular day of my experience, there seemed to be some issue with the coin change; either they couldn’t get to it, or didn’t have any, or whatever it was, despite tacking on an additional 30-80 cents to orders due to tax. As a result, one was handed back purely all of the paper change and nothing else; in a sense, all menu items cost a dollar more than what was listed unless you paid with a credit card. Now, of course, I don’t expect or assume this is a constant problem, but I’m a bit upset at how they chose to handle it; in a situation like this, customer service would dictate it much more favorable and kinder to simply give out an extra dollar in change instead of unknowingly forcing people to pay more. It’s not much, but it’s one of the many little things in the business that helps to keep the experience for a customer, like a simple smile when taking orders.

Speed: 6

I felt like I had to wait a bit longer for the tacos and chevre than what it should have taken, especially with only one order in front (and that was out soon after I placed my own). I mean all the chevre required was toasted the baguette, everything else is pre-made; and one can clearly see the goat is shredded, thus pre-cooked, and would only need warming while the tortilla toasted. With a brewery experience, this probably works well though; you make your order, go and grab the beer selection, and then head to a table for them to bring out to you (they even give you those little number cards for delivery! Fun).

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The TOE: 9.5

                Focusing a menu and truck purely on Farm-to-Table and good, local products is always a great idea, but it’s not always expressive in the mobile game; which is why I absolutely love Goat’s ability to really make me ‘feel’ like I’m eating these ingredients through their menu of simple, produce-based dishes. Of course the name and display is quite interesting and unique and helps facilitate this along, next to its good-tasting food.

As the wave of excitement and ambiance leads me through, though, it makes me feel even the worse for not hitting that absolute peak which I wish they could get to. The menu and food has a noted feeling and soul to it, but it just doesn’t come together perfectly for a food truck; I’d say it’s missing something TRULY central and eye-catching, a focal point besides goat cheese crostinis… it needs a TOE Ring. My hope was that this would be the caramel apple dish, but cut up fruit with sauce on the side, no matter how good, won’t cut it; I wish they actually had taken a really small apple (and it was a small apple they used), or like a section of it (maybe gouge out little balls) and actually make caramel-coated local apples on a stick/skewer, and with those added spices they had it’d make a perfect fit, so long as they could get the coating set. Or something… it really FEELS like they could make something worthy of TOE Ring quality or something similar, and that’s why I’m missing it a bit more than usual (nonetheless, what they did accomplish here was still really good, so I think they deserve a very high score).

Tally: 38/50

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Final Thoughts

Truly one of the ideal mobile kitchens to order from at a brewery, on a beautiful blue sky day with outside seating and your favorite glass of local draught. Not to mention Goat also provides some of the better, tastier street options for Vegans (shame on you, SHAME!).

Though if you’re more protein-inclined, they include some great Minnesota-raised animals to chew. Sadly, though the Chevre Crostinis are a certain positive experience, the other goat-based item of tacos doesn’t feel too worth a visit. The Sloppy Joe and Fried Chicken, on the other hand, should offer fun options for those willing to pay more than usual.

I expect most any vegetable dish to be prepare well and proper, and put high suggestion on those like the Cauliflower Pita. As for the Caramel Apple and other desserts they may put out, not a bad experience if one has the urge for a little sweet in their day, but one shouldn’t be too upset if they decide not to get it.

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