Wild Side Cafe

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http://www.thewildsidecafe.com/

https://twitter.com/TheWildSideCafe

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.

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            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.

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            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.

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            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.

             

Food: 5

             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.

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             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.

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             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).

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             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.

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               As for the Jerky, I haven’t tried it but I expect it to be pretty good like most Jerky.

Holdability: 7

               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.

 Price: 8

               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).

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              Oh, and to finish, the Trail Sticks are $2 and the Jerky $5.

 Speed: 7.5

             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.

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  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…

                            Tally: 33.5/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            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.

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A La Plancha

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https://www.facebook.com/alaplanchatc  

https://twitter.com/aLaPlanchaMPLS  

Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

            Spanish cuisine isn’t something our Trucks have hit on too much; general Latin certainly, and an obvious influence of Mexican flavors and wrappings through the street-food regular tacos. True, traditional Spanish cuisine, on the other hand, is still rarely ever touched on this sense, despite the obviously popular Tapas trend in various restaurants.

            A La Plancha hopes to fix that; starting out in Catering, Plancha has opened this year as our first Tapa-based Food Truck. Big and red, with a Mexican Wrestler (or “Luchador”) Poster festooned on just about every side, along with a whole line of “tapas.”

            Though the actual options are highly seasonal, there ARE many solid standbys to be seen. They hold two large sandwiches, a Cecina (seared beef and pimento) and Cubano, the latter also coming in Slider form at times. A set Gazpacho is often seen, along with Guacamole and tortillas of course. Various other tapas can and often include Croquettes, some form/s of Salad, Potatoes Brava (fried/sautéed with paprika), Empanadas, and some sort of “Tortilla,” which is actually very much like a very fluffy, thick omelette or frittata (traditionally with potatoes).  All of these being very traditional or close to traditional style and options, giving customers a comfortable way to ease into the new Truck cuisine.

            Hard to figure out where to start with all of this, but I think my first trip went well enough.

 

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Food: 8

             A Cubano marked my first meal at this Truck of Tiny Tapas (alliterations galore, yay!), yielding and interesting exploration to this pressed pickle, pork, and swiss delight.

             Placing between a Ciabatta (or ciabatta-like) bun, no toasting is done on the inside, I mean it’s a cubano, there shouldn’t be; instead pressing  to crisp the outside, bringing a nice, complete texture out of the bread (as opposed to the underbaked doughy flavors of certain other Trucks). However, they have yet to achieve anything near to the full squished, almost Panini-like press of many successful, traditional cubanos (I might actually suggest they think about getting a few machines, or change the bread to better press). Which is probably why the Swiss has only the lightest of melt on it, lacking much of that “goo” factor we look for in any griddled sandwich with cheese. As for the pork aspect; the Ham tastes nice, as does the actual Pulled Pork, but the latter is noticeably lacking in moisture and any “wow” elements.

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             The star of the show comes in the Pickles, which are of course housemade (and kept in various jars throughout the kitchen). Completely PILED onto the top bun, their tangy, sharp vinegar bouncing off the acidic and intense seeded mustard on the bottom, cutting through and lifting the meat and cheese in their crunchy texture and rich flavors. Ultimately, though it’s not too impressive compared to the “true” cubanos, as an actual sandwich it all comes together very tasty.

             This was served with a side of tortilla chips; fried themselves from Masa tortillas (I can tell). If one has the craving for this particular Truck lunch, and/or has a few extra bucks, and/or is smart, you’ll get a side of their Guacamole. I haven’t actually tried it myself, but the one behind the register (the owner?) gave me a peak at what it looked like.

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            Mmmmmm, that is some sexy, chunky guacamole. I’m not one for all the mixings of tomatoes and onions, but even that looks good to me; keeping it minimal, fresh and rich. That would be a good guac I’m sure.

            And finally, they were kind enough to be handing out little sample containers of their Gazpacho to various people who enquired about it. Tomato based, they blend theirs with Honeydew and Peppadew; the tomato brought in richness and acid, the melon gave that fun little pureed-fleshy texture, and the pepper some zing and an extra note, not to mention the other little spices and such they added. A really tasty cold soup.

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Holdability: 8

             Highly dependent on what one gets. First off, I’d say the sandwiches are actually pretty darn easy to hold in one hand (with the basket under the other); sorta like Brava’s Lamb. Soup seems pretty simple, not sure what kinda container they use for the bigger guys, but could probably just drink it down like a smoothie. Most other items are sure to be similar two-handed, though things like Potatoes Bravas and various other seasonal possibilities may lead to things which need to sit down or stand still to consume comfortably.

Price: 8.5

              Bigger, sandwich entrée-like items hang around the $8-9.50 range, with cheaper eats like quac and gazpacho at $3-ish. I’m unsure of the various other seasonal items, though I don’t think it’d be too much of a stretch to envision other items around the $3 with things like empanadas or tortillas between the two extremes. Dependant on when one gets there, can possibly load up with a bunch of fun little fellas.

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Speed: 8.5

             Once again, depends on the item; soup and guac are instantaneous of course, I assume fried items like croquettes are a little faster than average, and sandwiches and others come in at average waiting periods.

The TOE: 8

             Not too much I think I can say at this point; they’re definitely on their way, they have a fun little truck with a new idea in our mobile scene. When going in those times which they have a fuller tapas menu, I think one can enter into quite the interesting experience, especially during special events and Food Truck Days. And it doesn’t hurt they have a big, colorful Luchador decorating the sides.

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                           Tally: 41/50

                       

Final Thoughts

            Certainly an interesting truck compared to others. Definitely a great stop for multi-truck snackings or if one wants to grab multiple items for cheap. Though it’s not too bad a place for the larger, sandwich-based lunches.

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            If you’re a stickler for a very traditional quality Cubano, this probably isn’t the one for you; though it’s still a good sandwich item in general, especially for pickle and mustard lovers. For those who love getting the Guac and Tortilla sides and various Trucks, I think this is the place for you; get your rear out of Hola’s line and grab this nice, chunky dip of goodness.

            And of course where is a suggestion here without the various small items? Definitely go for the Croquettes once they start frying, not to mention the Tortillas. Empanadas I’m unsure of, not having tried them yet… if the price is low enough, certainly give them a shot, though if you’re craving a meal of them and Midnord is out I wouldn’t put my money and risk on a place that only makes one.

            Don’t forget the Gazpacho when the day is hot; who needs soda when one can get a good cup of cold soup?

Topolo Tacos

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https://www.facebook.com/Topolotacos

https://twitter.com/TopoloTacos

Main Location: Minneapolis (so far)

             It seems we have our very first internationally-travelled Food Truck. Having just opened this first week of June, Topolo Tacos is based from the similarly named (and mascoted) “Topolo Wine Bar” located all the way in Matzatlan Mexico. A husband-wife team, one from Mazatlan and the other Minnesota, it seems the wife recently decided to come back to her home town to start up this mobile venture with their Son.

             Looking like the back of a sombrero, or something you hit with a stick to get candy, Topolo’s offerings are obvious even before viewing their name. Tacos, Tortillas and Salsa become the mainstays, filled with Pork, Steak, or Chicken, sharing the menu with Picadas (what they describe as “Mexican Sliders”) topped with the pork.

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Food: 6

             My first thought upon viewing was “Oh god, the tortillas are dry…” Lo-and-behold I was happily wrong! In fact they were GRILLED, with nice markings and a bit extra flavor to the MASA goodness. They only use one though, vs the traditional two-layered… but with tortillas on the side, one can easily use to pick up the BARE spillage. Before diving in, I of course had to top these little packages with a couple of their various hot-sauces, labeled via Chile used (as it should be… who cares about heat level, I wanna know the FLAVOR). And yes, unlike the insane person next to me, I stayed away from the Habanero (I don’t quite think he understood, as he put about a tablespoons worth or more on a single taco).

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             Any and all excitement brought on by their tortilla and flavorful salsas was lost, however, upon biting into the actual meat. Though it tasted good, the Steak slices which I had gotten were noticeably chewy, and recalled experiences of poor onion rings with 75% of the fried shell left behind. The pork on the Picada (I got one a-la-carte to see) was flavorful and had a nice texture at least, but it didn’t taste all that amazing or fantastic, or even “authentic;” just simple.

            When comparing these fillings to other Taco trucks/stands/etc, such as Taxi and Tacqueria, the difference is quite clear. Authentic tacos aren’t just meat with salsa on top; the protein is cooked IN the spices, IN this little sauce and marinade, coating it in its rich and tangy little glaze, each protein getting its own unique one. They get it so the only toppings needed are some simple chopped onions and cilantro (maybe tomato, raw). At the end, they create this almost ephemeral experience of meat and sauce and spices that, by purely separating them out, Topolo is notably lacking. They do at least seem to have some flavor/sauce mixed in the pork, considering it’s shredded, but it’s not much.

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             As for the Picada, it was a very interesting item, if small. However, I think they need to change its description; a Slider is sort of predicated on having both a bottom AND top bun. Picadas seem to be more like Mexican “Tarts” or “Crostinis” depending on the size (crostinis for these). But, this thick little patty of masa, a little pork, tomato, and queso on top, maybe some salsa… mmm, it was a nice little bite. Now they just need to make them bigger, improve the meat, and stop calling them sliders (don’t wanna confuse people, these are NOT Arepas… even if made with a similar dough).

             Oh, and the fire-roasted salsa with tortillas had a good flavor and spice to it, not too much and one gets the fire-roasting. I did find irregularly small and large chunks of cooked tomato… but I’m not sure if I actually like that or not. On the one hand, consistency obviously an issue, but on the other its sort of fun to get those random big pieces of tomato on a single tortilla (and it IS just a salsa, who cares?).

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Holdability: 8

            Easy to walk around and consume with both hands. I’m not really into getting a side of tortillas with my street food, but for those that do I find this place nice. Comes in the same basket as the food, can eat on the go with little issue. Despite its small stature and lack of a top, the Picada actually holds its pork surprisingly well; just like a good crostini should.

             I might bringing up the annoyance of the tough steak, but as it still enters your mouth or just falls back into the basket it becomes more an issue with the Food scoring.

 Price: 6

             $7 for the Chicken, $8 for the others and $8.50 for the Picadas (which, despite their uniqueness, seems a bit much considering how small they are, and how little meat is on top compared with the tacos). What’s nice is they offer Tacos and Picadas a-la-carte on the side, $3 per. Though, when one’s paying $7-8 for two of them and they cost lest sold single… I guess those tortilla chips are pricy huh?

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Speed: 7

             Average wait time, though one can’t help but wonder if it should have been sooner… I might quote time it takes to grill the tortillas, but I get the feeling those MIGHT have been done ahead of time. As far as I know, the steak might have been kept warm-n-ready too, especially judging by its texture. However those are all just theory and assumption, no detailed proof of the matter.

The TOE: 5

             When it comes to Taco Trucks, a place needs to be one of two things: either REALLY authentic, or REALLY contemporary/different (and good). Though the design is fun and the owners are nice, I find them reaching neither goal; they attempt for authenticity, and even bring in a new Menu item that I haven’t seen before (I learned something!), however they currently have not reached that point yet. Thus left hanging in the gray world of limbo, they find themselves doomed to wander the line of average taco stands… doooooooooooooooooommmeeeeeeedddd (… as one can see, I’ve been watching a bit of Futurama lately).

            Hopefully this designation is only a result of their highly-recent debut; nothing would make me happier than to see them improve come the next month or so.

                      Tally: 28/50

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Final Thoughts

            Definitely the stop for all those people who like getting that side of tortillas with their Hola Arepa or other Mexican Truck. Tortillas and salsa come in automatically and on the same plate, making eating and walking even easier.

            If one isn’t interested in Tortillas, and finds themselves unable to find the Taxi or Tacqueria, try getting the Tacos just a-la-carte. That way one can hopefully end up paying only $6 for two of them as opposed to $8. If I may, I suggest the wandering foodie get one of the Chicken Tacos (probably the only really enjoyable protein) and one of the Picadas; though not amazing, it’s a different and unique experience, so why not go for it on the first run?

            That’s my opinion so far, let’s see if it changes in the coming months.