Main Location: St. Paul, Etc
I’m not sure when it is they came onto the streets, but I first learned of the Wild Side Café’s presence during my trip to Twisted Fork in St. Paul. Though upon researching and learning that most of the spots (at least the ones they update about on facebook/other) they frequent come from various events in the farther-reached cities, it took me a while to find an opportunity to stop down. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I’d get to them this year, with their last noted event of the year being a half hour from the OTHER side of the Twin Cities that I have to drive to.
Luckily for me, they decided to make a visit to Pour Decisions Brewery before season’s end, giving me a great opportunity to try both establishments at once! (as for my thoughts on Pour Decisions… the beers are certainly interesting, fun, and tasty to a degree, but overall I share my fellow Blogger’s opinions). Not to mention I finally got to see if they had any connection to any of the Wilde Side restaurants/cafes in the cities… one never knows.
After separating from their previous job, owners Mary and Scott Sullivan decided to take their love of travelling and fair food to their next venture, opening up the truck alongside his parents, one operating the grill while the other preps the sides. After which they’ve taken the “wild side” name quite literally, focusing their entire approach on offering Game-based food items, being the only MN truck as of now to have both Buffalo and Venison on their menu. The main bulk and offering comes from Burgers, which are offered with one of two cheeses, different topping “combos,” and, most interestingly, the choice to have it in a bun or tortilla.
One can also get a Reindeer Dog, or find their game meat in the form of Jerky and Trail Sticks, which they get pre-made and packaged from a friend to sell. Chili comes in to provide topping on various items as well, particularly the Dog and Fries.
I was able to try a few things here, and of course I had to start with one of those burgers with a Tortilla; Venison, since I rarely get to have it in any form. I chose the “Works,” sautéed onions and mushrooms, which sadly weren’t that fully manipulated before being used… the fungus was almost reminiscent of something from a can, sadly, and the onions quite slippery and not too exciting.
Eating it from a tortilla is pretty fun though! It’s quite different, and has some great future potential for holding as well as standing as a unique Truck highlight… though that’s if the burger juices actually stay in, haha. A word of warning, do NOT eat these guys soon, they need at least a couple extra minutes for the juices to re-circulate and “settle” back in the meat (I’d go into the physical mechanics of it, but too lazy right now). I took a bite and soon at least half of the “blood” in the burger was out, with all the extra lean protein in the burger not helping to keep it in. It also didn’t help too much with flavor; despite what seemed to be a proper cooking temp (about medium), there wasn’t much to the actual palate. It just goes to prove what many still have yet to realize when it comes to burgers, Fat adds flavor: the higher the actual fat content of the ground meat, the more flavor is in there, along with its moisture content (highly lean burgers, though healthy, also have absolutely no flavor). Thus, though the idea of using Venison is much praiseworthy, it doesn’t really transfer over to a burger all that well unless given a LOT of special care and attention, which obviously isn’t done here. I do, though, expect that the Buffalo or Beef burgers are probably done better.
After a burger and some beer, I was ready to go for that Reindeer Dog as a little snack, topping some of it with offerings from their little condiment line-up. Overall the meat was tasty, of the typical hot dog flavor but a little different, spicier… bun isn’t toasted (if I’m correct, neither are the ones for the burgers).
Finally, and to my excited surprise for the purpose of reviewing, a group of people next to me at the bar ordered the Chili Fries, and on hearing my review all but forced a fork of it down my throat!! Not that they didn’t have any to spare, shit they give you a PILE of fries, cheese and that chili, it’s a great bar-food item. The chili itself is probably one of my actual day-highlights; very chunky and beefy, it could basically be used for delicious sloppy joes, so they definitely give you the meat. At the same time, though, the dish highlights the biggest disappointment of the venture: Crinkle-Cut Fries. So they basically just buy cheap, mass produced frozen fries like that at any boring bar.
As for the Jerky, I haven’t tried it but I expect it to be pretty good like most Jerky.
I’ll definitely praise them on using the tortilla to make a burger a little more handheld, however it didn’t completely eliminate the mess, particularly all the juices that bled out (apparently one needs to wait a few minutes before eating to let the juices settle and integrate back into the meat). The Reindeer Dog and Jerky is of course quite portable, but that’s about it; chili fries and similar items need bringing back to a bar to fully enjoy.
A very nice range of prices; alone, Burgers range between $6.50-$8 depending on toppings (no charge for different meat bases), an extra dollar with fries. The Dog stands at $5, same price as the Chili Fries, with an extra $1.50 to top IT with Chili. With these stats, I would normally expect to score a little higher; though with the noted average-ness in actual food quality, it feels less impressive (especially the $5 dog… I’ll let it slide since it’s Reindeer though).
Oh, and to finish, the Trail Sticks are $2 and the Jerky $5.
Ordering Jerky, the Dog, and Chili Fries come out quick as expected, however I found the wait for the burger seemingly a little longer than average.
The TOE: 6
I mostly do enjoy the focus on Game and variety of familiar products we can get through it, easily standing out from other Trucks in that sense. However I’m not sure if the vehicle itself actually makes that much of an impact on my psyche, most likely due to the very simplistic options for burger toppings; the olives were probably the most original of the bunch. And when the food backed up behind it shows very little of the visuals associated with many of the burgers of great worship (you may argue here, but let me tell you, when I have a GREAT burger I can tell just by looking at it), particularly those crinkle-cut fries, then the reason becomes a little more understandable.
Still, they have brought in the idea of a very unique, very “Food Truck-esque” item in the Tortilla-Wrapped Burgers, despite not being anywhere near their pinnacle. Hopefully I’ll be able to see them improve and perfect this concept, but until then their aura shall remain closer to what one would imagine if somebody’s backwoods game lodge contained a bar. Though that actually sounds like a fun idea…
An interesting truck, probably most suited to enjoy outside places like Pour Decisions. Though there are portable foods, I would not consider the Reindeer too much of a must-have highlight. The Jerky, however, could make a great snack-and-go item or something to grab and hold onto for something later in the day (like sneaking into a movie, or when mom makes meatloaf).
Of the Burgers, I would guess the only one worth ordering to be the Buffalo; sadly the Venison didn’t come out too much for flavor, and beef is just beef. Stick to the bun for now, they may need time before the Tortilla idea is better perfected, so best to only order the Mexican inspiration for when one requires more portability factoring. As for toppings, it’s ultimately your choice, but I would not do the grilled Mushroom-Onion, it’s just not executed properly (the Olive topping might be interesting… should probably ask what kind they are though).
And to end, just don’t get the fries, unless you’re REALLY in the mood for just a beer and very simple, heavy-fatty chili-cheese-fries bar food. Otherwise, it’s no highlight in the Truck scene.