Red River Kitchen

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https://twitter.com/RedRiverKitchen

Main Location: Breweries, Markets, Etc

            Have you ever been in that situation where you visit a restaurant, maybe one that had recently opened, been totally not impressed by the food for very obvious reasons, and then half a year or so later you see these articles or posts from people saying how great and fantastic it is? Did they improve their food? Have we ordered the wrong menu items at the time? Are they talking about a different location that’s better than the one you went too? Is everybody else taste-deaf? Or am I just too cynical an @$$hole in this particular occasion to give proper credit?

            That was my experience with Republic, a new bar which popped into the Cedar and Riverside intersection (also known as 7 Corners) during my last year of College Student Housing, replacing one of the main corner bars that sadly couldn’t last. The beer selection is great, but my food experience was quite… bleh. It’s left me quite confused after the more recent accolades.

            So when I found the excuse spend money on and try them again through the introduction of their new “Menu Testing” based Food Truck, Red River Kitchen, I jumped at it eagerly, heading out as soon as they parked at one of the breweries near me. They aren’t ever really out on “the streets,” mostly sticking to specific farmer’s Markets and Breweries; Excelsior seems to be a favorite, along with many other ones not-that-close to the Twin Cities.

            Using the mobile eatery as a way to round out and experiment with possible new restaurant foods, options change quite frequently, so it can be tricky to narrow down what one should expect going in. I think I CAN safely say, though, that one will very likely find at least one burger and/or Sandwich on the menu; a simple Bacon Cheeseburger seems to be a standby for customers not interested in experimenting. Another standby, likely to satisfy those brewery go-ers craving a fatty, salty food snack, is the restaurant’s classic Cheese Curds.

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            Other items on my visit were Barbacoa Tacos, Handmade Jerk Chicken Sausage, and a Quinoa-Mushroom Burger(pictured). Their own versions of typical Modern Day Bar Food, at least those better suited to the Food Truck Menu concept, is ultimately what one will find. Now if only they had their famous beer tap attached on the side.

Food: 8.5

             It was hard to choose between the Tacos and Chicken Sausage Sandwich (the burgers, though probably good, didn’t look THAT special to me), but after a bit I settled on seeing how well they got the Barbacoa, supplemented with some Cheese Curds, which seemed to be quite the popular item that day. Can’t imagine why, they were practically awful.

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            Well, I guess that’s a little harsh. To have their own little “personality,” I guess, River swayed from the classic batter for a drier dredge before frying, possibly cornmeal based. They were actually pretty good for a couple minutes after receiving it, still hot from the frier; a little gooey, an ‘interesting’ crust, and that “Yum Yum” sauce (from what I can tell, a simple aioli of lemon, cayenne, and possibly other simple spices) was quite good with it. After those two minutes though, as soon as it cools down… just rubbery, chewy, bland starch-coated cheese that makes you put effort into eating the rest of it, even with the delicious mayo.

           Which is a shame, because that Taco was damn good. The meat was tender, juicy, and tasted like the grill from which they were cooked on (in a good way), carrying that slightly smoky characteristic that good Barbacoa demands. The white corn (I do believe it’s masa, but it’s hard to tell with only the one wrap and all the food on top) tortilla is lightly grilled to amplify this experience, and filled to the brim with meat and typical accompaniments, which are quite poignant on their own, lending a strong flavor to the whole taco. I loved it, for the sole reason that everything tasted exactly like how you expect a proper Barbacoa Taco should, with every flavor present.

            I would like to say, if I was basing this solely on the execution of the Taco, I would gladly have scored Red River a whopping 9.5-10 points easy. But taking other dishes into account, not to mention the variable factors with changing dishes, lowering it somewhat seems the more prudent choice.

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Holdability: 6.5

             Outside getting a sole basket of Curds or Fries, every food item (on their own, not counting container) is a pure two-handed affair, with wide burgers and tacos which, though conveniently wrapped, made quite the little mess while eating (they are quite stuffed with toppings, very delicious but not condescend to portability, especially since they didn’t provide any napkins). A shame they didn’t sell them with the proper double-tortilla wrapping to sop up the fallen garnishes and juice.

Price: 6.5

              Restaurant-influenced pricing is pretty obvious, with $8 and $9 for all mains despite their simplicity. Not as crazy and psycho pricing as certain other places I’ve been, but there’s not as much range and variation either outside the $4-5 Fried Sides.

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Speed: 7

              Well, I had just enough of a wait time to head back in the brewery, stand behind two people taking their sweet ass time just to order a glass of beer, and head out just as they were calling my name. It can feel slow if there are multiple orders in front of you, but it’s not a bad speed if you consider the individual orders.

The TOE: 6

             They feel solid, with a bar-like sense of “place” that I’m sure those familiar with Republic could probably work out even better, with a nice design and set theme. Not to mention a bit of fun in the understanding that there should be often menu changing, all of it being part of the Testing period to see what may make the old restaurant menu. I never did feel much of an “impact” when I was there though, overall the place doesn’t seem to want to stand out in my mind, not much that makes me want to drag myself back.

                      Tally: 34.5/50

                       

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Final Thoughts

            Though my overall opinion of Republic’s kitchen offerings has certainly improved compared to my first visit, I can’t see their mobile operation as being a particular favorite of mine on the streets. At a Brewery and Event, however, with choice seating and a predication to not mind spending an extra couple bucks on my meal, I’d have little problem popping in for a choice edible. Due to the supposed ever-changing offerings, suggestions towards what this should be end up difficult.

            What I can probably say is, first off, if one desires Curds of Fried Cheese, their best bet would be to get it “as a group” so that it’s all eaten quickly while still hot and delicious. Otherwise, don’t bother. Similarly, if one is looking for a quality burger, I would strongly bet there are much better options on other trucks; I’m sure they’re still good here, but the quality of other Trucks like Melch’s and Neato’s should easily trump what I’ve seen so far (though I will go on record saying that I could easily be wrong, I do have yet to actually try one, but appearances CAN convey a lot if you know what to look for).

            Thus, one’s best finds are likely to be any newer items, look for things that are “Homemade” or, at the end of the day, just sound really good on the menu. It sounds lazy to say it like that, but those Tacos sounded like the most appetizing thing on there that day, and they definitely did NOT disappoint. Maybe it’d be good to say that anything “Grilled” will go best for your nearest beer source?

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Flavor Wagon

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https://twitter.com/Flavor_Wagon

Main Location: Minneapolis

            Ideally I prefer to wait some time after the opening before I visit and review a truck, say give them over a month or so to get in a rhythm and focus what they’re doing (you know what they say about a place on their opening day). Sometimes, though, circumstance leads me towards a business still fresh after their arrival on the scene.

            Opening in the early weeks of May 2014, my visit to Flavor Wagoncame less than a month later, when they still had yet to set up anything besides a Twitter account. Be that as it may, their menu had luckily gone through a bit of updating, and the food I was able to sample seemed pretty focused and solid for what they were trying to get out.

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            Cuisine is Middle-Easternin style, the top of the Menu portraying (at least for now) an intriguing dish from Egypt called Koshary(see Food section for description). Other items take the regional flavors, with a protein focus on spiced Beef or Chicken, and wrap it up as “Flavor” Burritos, Tacos, or at times Sandwiches. They also offer the oft-typical Tabouleh Salad, Hummus, and Baklava. They used to have a Rice Pudding too, which I was quite excited to try, though after querying the owners found out that it apparently had issues working out in a truck (something about it separating). Which, though I missed it, I’m much happier to see them making a good, level-headed decision not to display an under-par dish.

            I’m curious to see if any of this may change in the coming months.

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Food: 9

            Holy Sinister Starch Bomb Batman!!

            That was my first impression when I was finally handed the Egyptian Koshary, basically just a big pile of Rice, Lentils, and Pasta (traditionally all macaroni, they mix in some spaghetti amongst the masses), “garnished” with Chickpeas and Fried Onions. Soooo starch, starch, and more starch. Then we get a glob of bright red tomato sauce which, on first sight, you think “this can’t possibly accommodate all this pasta and rice… just not enough…”. Then you decide to take a small bite of chickpea with a half-teaspoon scoop of the sauce and actually realize, with a mix of joy and self-loathing, the spicy, pepper-based nature of the red-hot condiment.

            Your fork dives in, now eager to blend all that sauce in with its carbohydrate base, covering everything in a thin layer of reddish-pink; not enough for any other tomato sauce, but just perfect for this Egyptian-style hot sauce. Consumption begins, and satisfaction soon follows. After getting it, I so did NOT think I’d actually like it as much as I did; I mean it’s just rice and pasta and other different starch things. But there was something surprising to it, the flavors weren’t that heavy, the spiciness helped you to keep coming back… it was good. And filling, very very filling! Don’t doubt that. Certainly I don’t need anything else with it; though some other additions in the lines of protein, veggies, and/or crunchy texture could easily launch the completion even higher.

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            The Burrito was similarly a nice surprise. A first bite of lightly flavored Tomato rice gave me doubts, but I soon got down to the good stuff. Ground, Cumin-based Spice Beef, tangy fresh White Cheese, Lentils and Cilantro all create a flavor that’s distinctly Middle Eastern and definitely not as heavy as the typical Burrito. Large chunks of hot, spicy raw onion invade the mass with its crunchy texture and a flavor that, usually, I detest on its own, but actually lovedwith the rest of it. Again, a happy surprise which I fully enjoyed.

            Sadly didn’t have the chance to try their Baklava, but it looks pretty darn good (I’ve seen “meh” baklava before at the Festival of Nations, I can tell Flavor’s is notably better).

Holdability: 7

             Rice/Pasta Bowl, a Salad, Hummus, multiple two-handed hold-and-scoop foods. Even the Burrito, wrapped tight in its foil, finds a thankful relief in having a cardboard basket underneath; it’s still a bit messy apparently, not everything wants to stay in!

Price: 9.5

             $7 for most of the Taco/Burrito entrees, $4and $3 for Sides and Dessert, a very good and decent range of price options. The $6 Koshary comes in at a great deal, giving you a lot of filling food for the cost; though so do other items, but the starch-centric bowl really highlights this.

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Speed: 5.5

            I feel like the wait was longer than it should have considering the simplistic preparation dishes than it should have; though I don’t know, maybe they were cooking some things to-order, but that’s not the impression.

The TOE: 7.5

             The Truck itself doesn’t have much personality to it (the name’s a bit generic and doesn’t have any relation to the theme), but the food easily brings plenty enough to spare. Singular, niche-fitting, with a light enough twist to push it onto the street. There’s a decent gap that needs filling, but it’s a pretty good start.

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                      Tally: 38.5/50          

Final Thoughts

               Probably one of, if not the, best places to completely fill your stomach for a good price; or, you know, if you wanna Carbo-load. For either of these, the Kosharyis the obvious item of highlight, especially considering it’s their signature dish.

               For the more mobile-inclined, or those who don’t want to JUST eat starch for lunch, the tortilla-centered options they provide are the other must-haves. The Burritois my favorite, though the Tacosdon’t look too bad either (expect them to be a bit messier of course); as for Beef or Chicken the choice is up to you.

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               Final suggestions; though it hasn’t reached Toe Ring status, I would definitely get the Baklavaas a lunch or food truck day dessert over the generic brownie/cookie anyday. Though I would NOT get this naturally, if you’re the kind of Truck eater who enjoys getting Chips and Guac on the go, the Hummusoption would be a fun and different change (from what I’ve seen so far, I bet it’s quite well made).

Citypage’s 100 Favorite Dishes, 2013-14 Food Truck Breakdown

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                It’s safe to say the press and attention our Food Trucks have been getting through local news, papers, and blogs has yielded a wide breadth of coverage, strong reviews, and some pretty fun and interesting online articles. For the past… well I guess it’s actually been half a year, I’ve been occasionally following one of these yearly “projects” posted in Citypages: they’re “100 Favorite Dishes” (of the previous year I’m assuming… and the beginning of 2014).

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/100_favorite_di/

                I took notice a few weeks into their beginning of this year’s list after seeing a certain Food Truck’s mobile options as one of their favorite. After reading the article, considering things, I thought it would be fun to stick around and see who all else they might raise to inspired cravings. And let me say, our meals on wheels brethrens have racked up quite a few spots in the limited selection; not huge, but certainly not a puny few.

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                The first pic, coming in rated at #94, is World Street Kitchen’s Kimchi(and blue cheese) Scones. Though, yes, this particular Brunch item is only available through the RESTAURANT, I do believe the originally street-savvy business deserves the credit. Especially since this would make an AWESOME item on the Truck; god, I would hunt their truck down in a SECOND if I knew they had this guy on its menu, total Toe Ring material. Baked in house, this soft and yummy pastry is twisted with an interestingly funky mix of fermented cabbage and the moldy cheese. They have other scones too, which all sound quite yummy as well, but I gotsa love me some Kimchi all the time.

 http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2013/12/asian_invasion_bulgogi_tacos.php

                Asian Invasion comes in at #90with their oh-so-signatory Bulgogi Tacos, as I made some mention in their review. Kimchi makes its second appearance in this list, joined by jalapenos and the sizzling beef. I still have yet to get my hands on this soft and delicious package, but soon… soon…

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http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2013/12/100_favorite_dishes_no_78_potters_coconut_curry_veggie_pasty.php

                #78was taken up by my own favorite, Potter’s Pasties, and the much agreed-upon choice in what’s likely the best of the classic opions (or at least in the running), the Thai Veggie. Don’t think I need to express any further opinions on this item, those who read know my love of the savory pastry cart. Though I will say, so far, these favorite selections are really quite Asian aren’t they?

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/01/100_favorite_di_54.php

                One of last year’s summer newcomers, Paulette’s quickly scores itself up to #61in Citypage’s highlights with their Chocolate Croissant.Though really they could have picked any the croissants they offered, what with their mutual use of that buttery, flaky handmade and folded pastry. Can’t blame them though, a good chocolate croissant almost being a work of art, and this really is a good chocolate croissant. I’ll have to write myself a note to have it again sometime soon.

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http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/02/100_favorite_dishes_moral_omnivore.php

                Not a surprise, Moral Omnivore comes into the ratings, and quite high at #48, easily edging itself into the upper half of this list with their BLTwhere the T stands for Terrifically-Fried-Tomato. There’s a reason both these guys and Paulette’s made it into my own Top 10 Truck list, and the items responsible are both featured here as well. Just simple, beatifull, and perfectly fun and street worthy. If one still has yet to visit them, you should, they were probably THE stand-out truck for me of 2013, if there ever was any (hold on, did Motley’s premier in 2013? If so than MO is #2).

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/03/100_favorite_dishes_foxy_falafel_cheese_curds.php

                Foxy Falafel made it in at #28, but it was for the restaurant’s Cheese Curds, which I just found out typing this… it makes my feelings confused. On the one hand yes, it’s quite the accolade to get so high up on the list, and those local, cornstarch and dill-breaded curds look perfectly crisp and delicious… but come on, you have Foxy FALAFEL on a top 100 list for CHEESE CURDS!? I guess I should be happy it’s still a classic street fair food, but… but… falafel… please…

                -cough- Anyways. Drumroll please! The final Food Truck, which reached in all the way up to spot #23is….

–dadadadadadadada–(… in case you can’t tell, that’s a drumroll)

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http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/03/100_favorite_dish_world_street_kitchen_yum_yum_bowl_sameh_wadi_delivery.php

                -Gasp- World Street Kitchenagain! And it all comes full circle, and with the menu item that many could say launched their popularity: the BBQ Beef Yum Yum Rice Bowl! I still remember the many times I walked past them in the summer of our first Food Truck year. Even now, it’s still never an item that initially stood out to me that much, but when I finally had it one lone night did I get to experience the balanced beauty of this asian mixed bowl delight. Though not the most mobile, its origins hark back to the days of weary travelers getting sustenance from small roadside “cafes.” And the heart and soul has translated well throughout all these years.

                And with that ends this year’s iteration of the 100 best, my response posted notably later then I wanted it to be (they snuck the last one under my nose without me noticing for over a week, darn them!). A big congratulations to EVERYONE who made the list, this is truly quite the gathering of delicious food offerings. Maybe I should start another One Craving Project around trying each one of them? Let’s hope next year yields a similar level of Food Truck involvement. But until then, enjoy all your culinary adventures, whether they’re mobile or stuck in the ground. Good Luck and Good Eating!

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                Honorable mention towards Indeed’s LSD Alereaching #70, much love to our business brothers in the local Breweries, and Chef Shack Ranch’s Chicken Wingsat #37 (god I still need to go there… and other restaurants).

 

Asian Invasian

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http://asianinvasiontruck.com/

https://twitter.com/AsianInvasionTr

Main Location:St. Paul, Etc

            I’ve somewhat discussed the idea of trucks coming into business during the fall season, right after the busy summer has ended and gliding into the hard, hard winter months. How some of them make the decision is a mystery to me; how they actually survive to the warm weather is spectacular (we do make ‘em hardy in Minnesota don’t we?). So it’s interesting to see if and when anything happens during this season, to both the old and new guys, and any evolution that may happen as the snow falls and melts as it does.

            Coming into the fall of 2013, Asian Invasianhas easily survived the harsh winter with high popularity. Before year’s end, their bulgogi taco had already earned a spot in Citypage’s Top 100 Foods of 2013. Whether this is a result of, or one of the main factors in, their late-season survival I am not sure, but it certainly is something to say isn’t it?

            As the name suggests, Invasian deals in all items Asian-themed, mainly the more “well known” (or cliché) dishes from the big mainland countries. Dining options vary from rice bowls of Chinese Sesameor Lemongrass Chicken, Indian Pork Curry, and Chicken Fried Rice to Korean Bulgogi(short ribs) wrapped in Tacos. Vietnamese Pulled Pork Bahn Mialso makes its appearance, alongside with those iconic fried Egg Rolls and Wantons. My particular travel also saw a couple Hot Dog based “specials;” whether they often offer asian-flavored wieners is as yet unsure, but it’s a consideration.

            In reality I have yet to finish my travels to this particular mobile operation, as the main object of my desire had been unknowingly snatched away from me after ordering. That said I figure I have enough of an idea of them so far, and I will surely update if needed once I wrap my fingers around that beefy goodness.

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Food: 8.5

                My pursuit to get the Bulgogi Tacos was put to a quick halt as I later found out (a while after the order got accepted) that they had run out, so I grabbed the Bahn Miinstead. Similarly, they had run out of Pork Katsu Curry, but had a Chickenversion to try instead.

                Both items had noted ups and downs in my view. The curry itself was nicely flavored, and the meat and veggies cooked well, not quite amazing but better than one made with generic curry powder. Though then again I’ve always found that this particular style of yellow-spiced-curry is hard to identify high quality versions… sort of like root beer. Either way, I liked it. What I didn’t like was the giant mound of rice beneath it… or perhaps just the notable lack of curry that went on top of it. I understand potential cultural relevancies behind it, the habit of having a lot of rice to just chew on plain next to the meal, but we’re not in India or Japan. I want to be able to actually mix the sauce into all the rice without its flavors practically disappearing under the starch mass. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only local who wants to taste the already subdued flavors.

                There’s not much I can say about the Bahn Mi. They used a different bread than they should have, but they got a flat crunch on the outside which was nice (no inside crunch, but I don’t mind it sopping up stuff so long as there’s texture somewhere). The pork itself, though cooked well at least, was somewhat boring… it just reminded me of another pulled pork sandwich but without any sauce. I really wish they had a sauce. Or a different kind of pork, like something grilled and glazed or a pate, like is pretty proper. I guess the pickles were nicely acidic and tart, but that’s about it… still wondering if the jalapenos were cut a bit too big in mine. It’s part of the experience but I feel like I’ve had them thinner in other bahn mi’s.

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                I will say though… they’re really good at frying things. Don’t think this is me being passive-aggressive and snotty, I’m serious. The Sweet Potato Frieswhich automatically came with the sandwich had that perfectly thin layer of crispness on the outside with a tenderly soft inside; not the easiest thing to do (I doubt it’d last long, but no sweet potato fry ever does). And the chicken in the curry (also used in their Sesame), which was also deep fried, had that really nice tempura-ish crust, which stood up very well through the sauce, without overcooking the bird. Could tell it was an actual scratch-made batter too, not the generic thick sweet-and-sour batter used in almost every Chinese buffet or to-go restaurant. Either way, I was excited to eat it; and something about the texture reminded me of pork cracklings.

                That said, one can expect that the wontonsand egg rollsare to be cooked well; I’m also giving them the benefit of the doubt with the Bulgogi and the Pork Katsu (sounds like they’re deep-fried meatballs) that I was not able to sample at this time. So I’m giving them a little higher score than I normally would have. Hopefully I’ll be able to try the Tacos soon to properly update the blog with.

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Holdability:7.5

               So far, every item seen has been giving in some form of “bowl” (to-go aluminum version) or basket of plastic or regular composure. Everything requires two handedness, many require a fork, fried “apps” have a dipping sauce one needs to take into consideration (non-covered), and even potentially high-mobile sandwich is grounded by a side of fries. The Tacos and Hot Dog Specials are probably the only truly mobile options, with the latter possibly only needing one-handedness depending on how much topping it’s given (though I’m sure it’s served in a basket, one can just readjust on their own).

Price:7.5

                Basically the same pricing structure as the recently-visited Butcher Salt, with all main items at $8 and smaller onesat $5, but I feel the quality for cost is very divergent among them. As for the cheaper things, the Hot Dog Specials (at $5) may be a good deal, though that also depends on the dog used and how much they’re garnished. On Fried, I’m a touch uneasy; the Pork Wonton/Fried Dumpling yield a good option, but one only gets two okay-sized Egg Rolls (they look tasty, but not much there; at least with Vellee they gave 5 finger sized ones, it seems more bountiful), and Cream Cheese Wontons are always just that.

                As I mentioned previously, with the bulk of the rice dishes being quite obviously the, well, rice, it’s difficult to contemplate the price justification. Though the Sesame seemed quite loaded in comparison, and the Pork Katsu meatballs do seem like they could lift the dish nicely; if only they hadn’t run out. The Bahn Mi is, as one can see, quite small compared to other Bahn Mi’s, and should probably be served for a couple dollars less, though they use the automatic inclusion of Sweet Potato fries to justify. Bulgogi is quite likely to be the one item that stands at the peak of price quality though.

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                Of course this little session of me whining over whether prices are worth it should be taken in a sense of minute quantities, one dish vs the next, and not in too major a fashion (maybe next to other trucks though). Obviously these prices are still much better than lots of restaurants.

Speed:8.5

             It’s pretty hard to judge this properly, as though my Curry came out rather quickly (a couple minutes, and there were other tickets in the window), I actually had to wait at least 5 or more minutes before the guy leaned out the window to inform me that they were out of my Bulgogi Taco order. After that, though, I don’t believe I had to wait too long for the Bahn Mi. Others around me weren’t waiting more than a couple minutes between orders, ish. Certain items come out faster than others. Overall not too bad seemingly.

The TOE:8.5

                There’s a great “theme” to this place. It’s a great idea, has a fun decoration and logo and feel to it, and there’s been something about it during the chase that really made me quite excited at the prospect of finally getting to it. However, I will say that in hindsight, the fact that many of their items are based on the most cliché Asian items sort of takes a decent chunk of the experience away for me. Now they’re good versions of each, I will definitely give them that (it’s one of my big highlights), so props in not sticking to the crappy take-out recipes or whatever they all get for that. But it’d be nice to have seen either some more in depth, non-everyday regional Asian dishes, or Twist their applications some more (like putting the bulgogi in tacos and the curry-topped hot dogs). Overall, Strong showing in “ambiance,” pretty good in Technique (with some noted exceptions), lacking in creativity/interest.

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Service:-2

                Alright, so… they ran out of things a lot. Which sounds douchey to use for a deduction, and normally I wouldn’t; shit happens, sometimes things run out, even bacon (-gasp-). But these guys ran out of quite a few things on their menu, pretty vital and simple things too: Chicken Fried Rice, Pork for Curry, possibly a wonton, and worst of all the Bulgogi Taco, their mainstay item. Thing is, by the time I got there they hadn’t been on the street that long, good chance of only an hour’s worth of service. I doubt they had that much traffic, there was one moment of a little crowd when I got there but that’s it, since it was pretty gray and chilly out. There’s not much reason I can find for the lack of, besides highly insignificant prep.

                Though, in itself that’s not too bad at all, I’m not really upset or feel too lacking for that in itself; though it does make a point that they probably shouldn’t have that many items on the menu, if they prep so little of some that they run out easy. What gets it for me is the fact that I wasn’t informed of the bulgogi loss until 5-10 minutes after ordering and waiting for my food. Not to mention the fact that not once did they offer to comp the meal, add an order of free wontons, or anything of that matter, which most establishments do (or should do) after such annoying circumstances come up. Either way it’s something to think about.

                       Tally:38.5/50

                       

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Final Thoughts

            I find there are a couple needs this could place could satisfy, one just needs to choose carefully for each. For the basic Street Food delighter on-the-go, Bulgogi Tacosare the way to go, than and possibly a Curry Hot Dog(or other fun hot dog specials). These can also be used to satisfy “snack stops” for Truck samplings or when one just needs the small stuff; I would also lead towards the Fried Pork Wontons/Dumplings(the Cream Cheese ones are good I’m sure, but they can only get so exciting in my opinion).

            As for those in the mood for a sit-down, something to take back to the office, or just needing a replacement for skyway Chinese food, the Sesame Chickenand Pork Katsu Curry are your destination. Maybe see if you can get more sauce though…

 

Taco Cat and Other News

tacocat

                   Recent texts with friends and the spying of a certain CityPages article today has made me aware of what seems to be quite the exploding topic at the moment. Articles, press comments, and many a hipster are doing what seems to be their very best attempt to bog down the company from being able to actually perform their “soft opening” which they so wished for tomorrow. Though considering this particular business to be… two years in the making (? they trademarked the particular kitty logo in 2012), one can’t blame a bit of excitement among those aware of this upcoming venture for quite a while. Taco Cat is Here.

http://www.tacocatmn.com/

                   Their slogan, much like their website and view on life (life meaning tacos), is simple: Call Number, Get Tacos. By bike, in the uptown area, no going to a café or shop to get them (they don’t want company). You are to wait for their delivery persons to bike over to where you are and deliver the crunchy, awesome packages of handheld tortilla goodness. I would have said “Mexican goodness,” though they only seem to have two Mexican tacos… the others use things like Bulgogi Steak, Mock Duck for a Bahn mi enspired creation, and a Pork with Caribbean Mojo sauce.

http://blogs.citypages.com/food/2014/04/taco_cat_call_n.php

                   Again, as I’m probably one of the later news-bringers for this particular business, everything’s already been said via other greedy, non-lazy publications and bloggers (blegh). So my attempts at making really bad, cheesy, snappy comments have already been null and void by those who have already gotten there before me. Oh, and they probably have more information on the company or whatnot…. so feel free to leave me forever and get all your hot, sweaty news needs fulfilled by other better-endowed keyboard typers. Besides, this may not be my last word on them… I’m debating getting myself to the uptown area and hitting up their number for an interesting Quasi-Review experience. Not a food truck, but they are quite mobile aren’t they?

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                  I definitely suggest going to the website, just to read their hilarious QnA section.

                  In Other News, our awesome MNFoodTruckAssociation has updated and changed the format of their website! It looks very pretty, much easier to navigate, and actually makes you believe they’re a proper organization (not like I didn’t before…. though it’s nice to see they’re still doing stuff). Best of all, though, is an actual event schedule page! Which not only reveals the date of the next, very long awaited Spring Truck Festival (I tought they were doing something in the winter… maybe I was wrong… coulda been someone else), but the dates of every Festival and any other event they do the whole year. Thus making it official, each Harriet Festival is a seasonal thing (little different than what they first advertised for it, but at least it’ll keep happening), every one filled with the awesome music, beer, and crowd of trucks that we’re already used to. I know I already can’t wait and hope to be able to go to the next one on Saturday, May 10th. Will see you there after my Tortilla Kitty!

Proper CBS Spotlight

Obviously I’ve proven pretty slow in the uptake and reaction for many things that go down, and now that I’m working nights I happen to miss many of my preferred shows by a bit of time, so I may pile on my online catching up of a few episodes all at once. For example today I just remembered to look over the recently missed couple weeks of “The Taste.” And can I now just please please say, even delayed, how much I loved their Street Food episode!

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Oh, they had almost all the good points there, starting with Chef Marcus and Anthony’s “team demonstrations;” bringing one to a truck to discuss the epitome of what bahn mi and sandwiches really are, the other philosophizing around the soul in a meatball wrap. Then bringing in the Godfather of the Food Truck movement, Roy Choy himself, for the initial judging and team assistance. Being able to actually just sit back and listen to him wax about street food, its connections to family and soul, what it means… just beautiful. It’s the sort of moment that makes me depressed in my inability to express those similar feelings myself, but excited simply knowing that so many can hear what it is I feel about this truly global culture. Then of course he made an Enchilada with awesome Marinated Short-Ribs, who doesn’t love that?

And last but not least, two gold stars (basically winning the individual challenge) for our own Hometown Chef Sarah Master of Barbette! So happy and proud! Not to mention the irony of doing it with the dish that simply destroyed Nigella’s team, the whole Hot Mess of the entire episode… which I really shouldn’t get into, so much.

Though let me say, I did find it hilariously sad that during the team challenge “elimination decision”, where Nigella’s constantly talking about how her team wasn’t listening and didn’t cook things well enough (which IS true enough, plenty of that there), she completely glossed over the fact that the only actual Criticisms Roy Choy gave on the dish was the problem with “construction” (he had to pick up a fried fish and chip together with bare hands, no wrapping or toothpick) and the fact that the pairing went oddly together. Both of which is an issue with the fact that it’s Fish and Chips, not how well they were cooked. Put simply, the main reason he hated the dish is because it was Fish and Chips, which is what Nigella Made her team cook; but do you even hear her admit responsibility on it for even a brief second? Of course not.

Well, that aside, I still loved the episode, and think we need more cooking shows highlighting the subject LIKE THIS (some just do it “alright”). Let’s see what’s cookin’ in tv land in the coming months.

Vellee Deli at Crema Cafe: the Visit

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                It’s been so long, I had actually forgotten how much I missed Vellee Deli. But with their recent Pop up venture at the Crema Café (home of the local Sonny’s Ice Cream), I had a chance to visit them once more in the cold months and experience one of my favorite street food ventures once more.

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                Though still keeping their Breakfast/Lunch Menu, the popular neighborhood café now swaps its Dinner dining options for Vellee’s starting at 5pm, Thursdays through Sundays. The menu, unlike many other truck-turned-sit-down-affair businesses, still sticks purely with what is offered on the truck without anything new, though now we can get all three burritos that have been offered (if I’m correct they usually only do two of which at a time from the truck).

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                Which ended up great for me, since I was able to go along with a couple other people and grab a bevy of items, those yet unexperienced and a certain favorite. And unlike at the truck, one’s able to take advantage of Crema’s still-operating full drink offerings to grab something special, like say a couple nice beers or…

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                … a warm, fluffy, steamed-milk topped cup of their Homemade Chai Tea. Mmmmm, that was good on the snowy night we went. Let me say, I love my Chai, and though I’m no expert it’s certainly the best version of it that I’ve had so far (though Namaste Café comes in a close second, they certainly have the advantage in variety options); not to mention it sorta works nicely with the Korean/Asian cuisine.

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                Speaking of the cuisine, I finally got my hands on their Dragon Enchilada. Which, certainly, had a nice crispy crust and some tasty, gooey cheese-meat insides, though it ultimately didn’t wow me as much as some of their other options. I’ve certainly had much worse versions of it though, and if you’re an enchilada junky it’s a solid one to buy.

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                Now, the Chicken Currito (-cough- curry burrito), that’s back on the Vellee Deli tracks. Very distinct, delicious, and well-rounded, with that nice combo of mouthfuls of soft rice paired alongside tender, delicately yellow-flavored curry chicken, a creamy bright sauce and properly used crispy lettuce. Basically hitting that burrito perfection reminiscent of the better trips to Chipotle (cuz we all know there are the “good” Chipotle stores and the not so good), but of course with a very well-put ethnic flavor twist.

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                Of course, with it being my colleague’s first visit, we had to get the Bahn Mi. I feel there’s nothing I need to say about this than what I’ve said before; still the best bahn mi that I’ve had, truck or otherwise.

                The Café itself is pretty small, so it can be tricky finding seats during one of the “rush” periods, especially with a group, so if planning on visiting for a sit-down affair then it’s best to time things properly. But one doesn’t have to just come for Vellee, as my little group can attest; we had to end the night with some of their ice cream.

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                Yep, that’s a nice little display of flavors. We decided to grab a scoop each of Raspberry-Chocolate-Truffle, Butter-Toffee, and Chocolate-Almond. Delicious as always, though I say that about most ice cream…

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                Overall, a very fun and successful co-op venture into temporary mobile housing (yes, I could have said that in a much simpler way, but I chose not to! Ha!), it almost makes me feel sad that it shall only last 5 months. Then again, I want Vellee back on the street, so I guess I shouldn’t really complain. For those feeling the craving for their fare, or any Korean/Pan-Asian kind of meal, do take the chance to head on down for a bite, a drink, and/or a cool frozen snack. And until the season is over, I wish both the businesses luck and success in this slow-season strategy, and good eatings to all those traveling their way.

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

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

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

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Preserved Lemons

8 (ish) Lemons (ideally small)

Coarse Kosher or Sea Salt

Juice of 4 Lemons

½ cup EV Olive Oil

Bay Leaves, Cloves, Other Whole Spices (Optional)

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

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

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

                From here we can start stacking in the sterilized jars…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preserved Lemon Shrimp Scampi (after adjustments)

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

½ Head of Garlic (5-6 large Cloves)

1 Small Onion

½ Preserved Lemon Peel

1-3 Tb (depending) Fresh Herbs, chopped

Ground Black Pepper

1 Package, 24-32 Large Shrimp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those Lost, 2013

                Another year has come and gone, filled with many exciting adventures, relationships, new discoveries, and for this blog of course Food Trucks. But with many new ventures rolling onto the street, we have inevitably lost quite a few along the way. A made a small memento post about a few of these missing businesses shortly after starting this blog, and I think it’s only fair to Update and Continue this list in the years to come.

                So please join me in a moment of silent respect and remembrance as I take a brief look back into those no longer with us, starting with our more recent losses.

 

Barrio Taco Truck

Link to Review

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                Though my disdain for their prices was heavily known, I was very surprised to see this highly popular truck no longer roaming Downtown. Truly they did offer the best quality and technically executed Tacos from any of our trucks, and I’m sad to see them go.

Aussie’s Kebabs

Link to Review

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                 A real shame, as they pedaled out one of the most unique and idealistic Street Food item that I’ve found in my travels. A traditional “kebab,” not the one you’re thinking of, made by slicing of gyro (or gyro-style) meat, wrapping it with veggies and sauce in a pita bread “tortilla,” and then pressing like a Panini. Maybe the size of their cart never truly stood out amongst the rest, but their food and idea reached high to a potential which I sorely miss.

Trinh Food Truck

Link to Review

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               Serving up very simple and traditional Bahn Mi’s, they were the only truck one could find Boba Tea, which was an odd but very effective highlight for me. I’m not that surprised to see them go, but I don’t think it should have been an inevitable end for them. Hopefully they’ve found success in whatever catering/food career they’re at outside of the mobile.

Untamed Cart

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                A True Culinarian’s Delight, the small cart was operated by two professional chefs (I forget which kitchen it was out of) who served a small variety of easy-to-assemble but complex-to-prep sandwiches, along with some good quality chips. I was SO depressed when I found out they were gone, they had some really good food. My very first taste was a homemade Porketta (if you don’t know what that it, look it up and watch your mouth salivate and get excited) sandwich, probably one of my favorite food items I’ve had from a Truck so far (which makes me think, I should do a list of my favorites…). What makes me even sadder is knowing many that now no longer have a chance to try their food.

Taqueria La Hacienda

Link to Review  

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               Serving out of a large, long yellow Truck with an up-front ice tray filled to the brim full of Mexican sodas, Hacienda was the Downtown’s access to delicious traditional tacos, which we are sorely in more need of (we have other trucks that do that, but they seem to stay away from the Downtown Cities). Technically I am still unsure as to whether they are truly off the street, but there has been no word on Twitter for over a year and it seems the website is down. Possibly they are just keeping the Truck down in the Latin district of Minneapolis, near the Mercado Central, but either way I will miss you Hacienda.

Yummi

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                A bahn mi-based cart. Previously discussed in 2013 Article.

Origins Coffee and Tea

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                A drink-only specialization cart for the morning runner. Previously discussed in 2013 Article.

Magic Bus

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                A big Purple Bus shoveling out amazing Hot Dogs, which sadly moved their business to Colorado. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

Cook n Wheels

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                A food truck I hadn’t had a chance to visit (and know nothing about), has appeared to be off the streets for quite a long while. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

The Brothers Deli

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                A small cart serving awesome Deli Sandwiches and knish based out of their store. Previously discussed in the 2013 Article.

 

Honorable Absentees

                Sort of weird to have an “Honorable Mentions” type section in a post like this, however there are, without a doubt, some trucks that seem to have made a noticeable absence in the past summer/s yet have still left doubt as to whether or not they’re really gone, or are still operating out of a different kitchen (or some other thing). So I wanted to put these guys here, at least for now.

Awesome Eats

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                A big green catering truck that started serving tacos and then switched things up on people, AE moved into the NE Palace kitchens during the last winter and, as far as I can tell, have yet to move out of it. Though I haven’t seen any update post on their facebook since summer, so I’m not sure if they’re even still there.

Cruzn Café

Link to Review  

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              After seeming to come back on the scene with new menu additions a couple summers ago, and still having a fully operating and detailed website, I have yet to see Cruzn on the street since the first “Annual Food Truck Event” in downtown, nor any updates to their Twitter. My guess and hope is that they’re keeping themselves to catering, as it would disappoint me to see them completely done with such a fun Business.

Smack Shack

Link to Review  

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               With their recent new, very Big Restaurant, Smack Shack basically backed away from the streets in the summer of 2013. Whether they’ll be returning or not is anyone’s guess at this point.

The Cave Café

Link to Review  

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                 A big White “Truck” serving African cuisine, I haven’t heard much from cave since a twitter post exactly one year ago. Where they are is currently unclear, hopefully this will be remedied in the coming season.

 

                Already we miss all of you who visited and served our streets, and though your success may have been short lived I speak for us all when I say Thank You in your efforts and for including us in your journey. I wish all the people running these trucks good luck in their future, and perhaps chance that we may meet again in a revised future go-at-it.

                This is Andrew with Reviews on Wheels, wishing all my readers a Happy 2014 and all the Trucks, current, past, and upcoming, a great Year. I’ll be out to get you soon.

                Good Luck and Good Eating.

Fall Feast Food Truck Rally

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              Tonight (probably already started) is the much anticipated Zombie Pub Crawl, 9 years in the running and now featuring a “Food Truck Court” somewhere within the main Quarantine area (which I found out only yesterday since no other site has advertised or provided details on the Trucks taking part).

                But as far as I’m concerned, the real party comes in a week as the MN Food Truck Association launch the Second of their Food Truck Rallies, the “Fall Feast.”

                After a couple months of waiting, a swarm of trucks are returning once more to Harriet Brewery to stand guard and provide their beloved fares to the crowd. Set from Noon to 7pm, these will of course be joined by various bands in the Harriet Taproom, and a ready supply of their fan-favorite beers. The full schedule of Music can be found on their sites of course.

As opposed to last time, the number of Trucks has increased to 15 (though we’ll see how many of them show up this time), and will include: Lulu’s Street Food, Cafe Racer, Tiki Tims, AZ Canteen, Motley Crews, Stanley’s, Brava, Eat At Sandy’s, Hibachi Daruma, A Cupcake Social, Hot Indian Foods, The MidNord Empanada Truck, Moral Omnivore, Gastrotruck, and The Red Pig & Truffle. Though the trucks cost money, entrance is still free, unless one plans to go to the “afterparty” ($5) at Bigtree Bonsai at 8pm.

                I definitely plan on going again to see how this event fares compared to the last; I’ll admit I’m a bit surprised that they decided to do the Rally at the same location, especially with how long of a wait we’ve had since their first (maybe it’s more of a seasonal Rally than a quick yearly grouping…). I hope to see you there, and Good Luck and Good Eating until then!

http://mnfoodtruckassociation.org/events/

http://www.harrietbrewing.com/event/fall-feast-food-truck-rally/