Tatanka Truck

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

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

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

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

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

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A basket of Bison with that intriguingly pesto-covered corn

Food: 8.5

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

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

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

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

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

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Holdability: 7

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

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

Price: 8.5

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

 

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

The TOE: 9.5

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

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

Tally: 42.5/50

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Final Thoughts

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

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The Red Pig and Truffle

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https://www.facebook.com/TheRedPigAndTruffle

Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

            A few months after Lulu’s initial announcement and The Red Pig and Truffle is here! Starting at a couple breweries (I found my visit lead to the now-familiar Harriet Tap Room), they have already worked themselves down into the main Minneapolis scenes.

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            As its own, completely-separate mobile operation to its sister (as opposed to an “offshoot”), Red Pig chooses to turn its focus completely onto the Sandwich road. Splitting their menu (literally) between Cold and Hot/Panini, the Pig relies on a variety of the ever-familiar styles, adding in a little extra something now and then. Offerings can include a Turkey Pesto, Roast Beef w/ Horseradish n Pickled Onion, a hot and cold Caprese, Reuben, Grilled Cheese w/ Prosciutto, and most notably their BLT using a ½lb of Bacon (that’s a lotta red pig…).

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            And that’s about it for them really. Refreshments are as you see; a pretty staple glass-bottled variety steering away from the canned basics. Guess I just need to act like a pig and dive in.

 

Food: 9

            After much debate on the right option for overall reviewing, I feel quite happy in my choice of the Roasted Turkey with Pesto, one of the sandwiches on the cold side. Though I will say I wish I hadn’t eaten lunch an hour or so beforehand, cuz that fella was MUCH bigger than I thought it’d be, haha.

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            Set on a (slightly toasted/griddled) focaccia/ciabatta-reminiscent, soft and rich and chewy, rectangularly shaped bun, this sandwich is stuffed with all the staples in the turkey-pesto lineup. A nicely moist (or not dry… not sure what words to use for thin-sliced cold cuts) meat, slices of provolone, tomato, a mixed green salad on top of the herb paste, and of course BACON, which is able to come through nicely among the full flavors of the mix. Overall everything tasted pretty good, combining into a very bold, rich, and satisfying version of the modern deli classic. The only thing I have note of, and it’s probably just me, is just that… I sorta wish the cheese were melted a little. I know, it’s a cold sandwich, so I should expect it, but still… it feels weird just eating slices of cold cheese like that in a sandwich, at least from a Food Truck or Restaurant. I so just wish they’d just press the bread with the cheese in the Panini a bit before filling with everything else… but again, that’s my ideal, they’re making their style of cold sandwich and it’s still damn good.

            As for the rest of the menu, it’s all pure speculation. Considering the quality of the bacon, though, I can bet the BLT is as good as it sounds, and one can probably assume the other sandwiches are put together with the same care and richness as those reviewed.

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Holdability: 7.5

             For a big-ass, stuffed, non-pressed sandwich it held pretty damn well, so no requirement for sitting down. I predict various other sandwiches will allow similar walkability, needing only one hand to hold the basket and the other to munch.

Price: 8.5

             $8 for every sandwich, and for most there’s a LOT of sandwich to go with it, so it’s a pretty good bang after your buck; a bit sad that there’s no variably-priced offerings, but I guess that’s what Lulu is for.

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Speed: 7.5

              Regular, average speed.

The TOE: 8

               With a stand-out name and focused, sandwich-based menu, Lulu’s brother truck easily shares much of its poignant and stand-out properties in the ever-growing rally of our truck scene. The owner chef’s experience with his last two trucks is apparent, particularly in the food quality. My one noted drawback, however, comes in a lack of any one unique, signatory/stand-out  item; though the sandwich concept is set down very well, always great, I’m still finding myself searching for at least one menu item to hold up as a Food Truck Highlight. There’s nothing that feels exceptionally unique to them, or particularly “special;” nothing I’d immediately think of when asked about the best/funnest Foods in our truck line-up. The ½lb of bacon is certainly a start, but it’s on a BLT; it’s so hard to get excited when there are so many people doing them. I found it created a bit of a hazy aspect in my mind as I looked from the truck and over the menu, detracting the initial, strong aura slightly as I struggled to find something slightly signatory.

                          Tally: 40.5/50

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Final Thoughts

            A really good place if you want something portable and filling, or if you’re a grilled cheese addict looking for another hit (please don’t take it up the nose though… it just gets messy). It’s a pretty difficult menu for me to pick “must haves” from the others, overall it’ll depend on your own tastes, but if I WERE to narrow it down I would stick to 3 main options:

            3-Cheese Melt (or similar) for the grilled cheese buffs or those looking for something not-so-huge. Roasted Turkey/Beef sandwiches for the big, munchy, full lunch experiences (and for a VERY well-made cold cut sandwich). And the BLT (with all its smoky, salty, bacon glory) as somewhat of the main stand-out. Though I doubt one can ever go wrong with many of their other items; I find myself tempted to see how their Reuben is… does it stand up to the gooey, crispy slice of heaven that Home Street Home has created? (if I ever find out I’ll be sure to post my thoughts on it)

            Overall, if you’re looking to spend about $8-ish on a Truck Lunch, this certainly isn’t a bad stop to make.

SFC: That Old Dumpling Thing

                Alright, got those dumplings figured out and done; got them turned into a sandwich. I’d really love to fill them, however the dumpling itself has a tendency to expand noticeably during the boil. As such I’d just end up with a lot of dumpling and a tiny filling; would have to go really big to get a decent proportion, and by that point it’s no longer Food Truck-reminiscent.

                Here’s a quick, easy recipe for them:

Chicken Soup Dumplings

2 cups flour

2-3 tsp Baking Powder

½ tsp salt

2 eggs, beaten

2/3 c milk

Combine all

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                Pretty simple. Adjusting the baking powder will change the structure depending on preference; adding more will make it “fluffier,” but at the same time it’ll break up a lot more during the boil. I like keeping to lower amounts for Bun purposes. I also thought I’d try adding a little more egg on this batch, but it just ended up tasting like an egg. Would be really fun if you were making a breakfast sausage patty with melted cheese sorta thing, but otherwise don’t do it.

                Drop these into boiling liquid; whatever size is up to you. As I said though, these WILL expand noticeably when boiling, so think of desired size and hold back a little. If we were doing this for soup, I’d boil about 12 minutes; however, they get sticky, and I need to be able to hold them.

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               So I cook them about 4-6 minutes, let them get their size sort of set first. Take out, let drain, and transfer to a Parchment-lined sheet, covering them with some melted butter; can sprinkle on some salt, sesame, celery seed, etc if you want. Move them to a 375F oven for about 15-20 minutes; this will finish the cooking process while keeping the outside dry (well, except for the butter).

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                If you want them to be brown on top, you will have to flip them over halfway; they color more on pan contact than open-air. After taking out, we are ready to build. Lucky me, I happened to have some cooked Turkey Breast leftover for dinner, so I piled that on top of a bit of torn lettuce, a bacon-wrapped deli ham, and to finish a little bit of cranberries we had alongside it as well. Sort of a twist on a club, though the buns sorta remind me of those Asian Steamed Buns.

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              Since the ones I made were small, I just used two different pieces for a top and bottom; again, just make sure the bottom piece is bigger (see Beer Bread). Oh, and these dumplings don’t “grip” the food as well as others, so don’t stack things that one has troubles biting through cleanly; learned that with the turkey.

 

Do you have any other fun Make-shift sandwich Buns?

Simply Steve’s

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https://twitter.com/Simplysteves

www.facebook.com/SimplyStevesFoodTruck

Main Location: Minneapolis

            The second of our cities’ Burger trucks, Simply Steve’s offers a well-seasoned variety of options between buns. Offering very traditional and familiar combinations, they also offer sliders, burritos, and just recently Tator Tot Hotdish. One could say that on the days their blackboard isn’t filled with burgers, the style is warm, filling comfort food.

            Biggest highlight of Steve’s, in my opinion, is that fact that they are currently the ONLY Food Truck that serves breakfast with such attention, and all day too. Both burritos and sandwich items, these easily rival their lunch-mirrored selves with little effort.

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            Quite often parked near the Cupcake-to-Go car in the early days (sometimes still), the two often made quite the lunchtime combination. Now one might need to do a bit of searching for that sweet treat, as Steve’s doesn’t offer any sort on their menu.

            Not that they need to.

Food: 7

            Everything there is juicy and made properly. The sliders I had were full of that cheesy goodness reminiscent of the only reason one likes a Mcdonald’s Double-Cheeseburger, except the burger is good too. Breakfast burrito is flavorful and spicy from the red sauce, eggs are fluffy, all in all great in its simplicity.

            Probably the highlight of the menu, though, is the Cajun Turkey Burger. It is actually juicy and tender, while still being completely cooked. As those who have eaten turkey burgers at home will tell you, that is a really difficult thing to find. But there is no dryness, no feeling of “ehhh,” nothing like that; it is a properly cooked Turkey Burger in all sense of the world.

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            Now, here’s where I differ from loving them. Though everything is cooked properly, the flavors derived and added to them are all… average. Cajun spices on the Turkey was muted, the BBQ, though tasty, lacks anything really special. The highlight of the sliders was the fact they were juicy and cheesy, but that was the main craveability point. They aren’t doing anything WRONG at all, but at the same time they simply aren’t doing anything else.

Holdability: 7.5

            Many a two-handed item served, the easiest to walk with are the sliders. The burrito is served in foil wrapping, but the sauce and wet fillings tend to drip down QUITE noticeably (more so than the ideal “fun licking of the fingers”), so napkins are required.

Price: 9.5

              All items range from $4-$6, with a possible $7 on special additions (menu does change and switch now and then), so a great bang for your buck.

Speed: 7.5

             Average speed, good for burgers, nothing to complain about.

The TOE: 6.5

            They are a really good Food Truck, properly constructed, but much like their menu items I feel just “lacking” of that certain special something when I go there. Props are given for serving breakfast, and why the score isn’t lower, but more than that is needed to garner that special “feeling.” Ultimately I would pin this to a certain generality in the menu, as well as a failure to truly stand out amongst the many Pillars we already have. Maybe it has something to do with the fact it sort of reminds me of a Lays Potato Chip truck…

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            Again, don’t take this the wrong way. They are a good truck that makes great food, and should certainly be visited at least once. I myself just don’t have any plans to go back again and again.

                        Tally: 38/50

Final Thoughts

            For those on-the-go and looking for a small sample to get a “feel” for them, the sliders are a great choice. Turkey Burger should definitely be sought out and tried for those who haven’t had a REALLY good one yet.

            But the real gem here is when one is out late in the morning and haven’t had their breakfast yet. Grab the Burrito and a few napkins, and enjoy on the way to work; it can be scarfed down quick if in a rush, but has enough flavor to be enjoyed across a few minutes (that’s a long time for me with food… I do love it so).

Turkey To Go

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https://twitter.com/TurkeyToGo

www.turkeytogo.com/

 

Main Location: Minneapolis

            Everybody who grew up going to the State Fair in Minnesota knows of the turkey stand where you get the drumsticks and sandwiches. Unsurprisingly they hopped on the scene as one of, if not the, first Food Trucks after the law passed. Already having a transportable cart, ready business plan, experience, and readily available income source, hopping onto the street was a quick deal.

            One of the very few carts (still haven’t seen an actual TRUCK) on Nicollet, Turkey To Go focuses on two things, and two things only: Drumsticks and Pulled Meat Sandwiches. Barbecue sauce is an optional topping for both.

            Unlike most other trucks, Turkey To Go tends to get in a little early and stay out an hour or two later. Very much durable, it is quite likely for you to see them out in harsher weather and later on in the year as well.

Food: 6

             I’ll give them credit, they know how to cook a turkey; the meat is tender, and flavor is still there. The pulled turkey is juicy, there is just the right amount of pepper; soaks into the bun and makes it a good food between stops.

            On the other hand, as far as drumsticks go, I have had a lot better and more enjoyable ones at Renaissance and other Fairs. Though the sandwich is good for a pulled turkey, that is all it is. Just turkey on a bun, nothing else besides it; something like that can only get so good.

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Holdability: 7.5

            The sandwich holds easily in one hand, though the last one I tried had noticeable problems with drippage and soaked bun. Drumstick, surprisingly, is a sit-down fellah; cooked slowly in juices as opposed to the firm style of smoking.

Price: 9

            Very good deals, charging only $5.50 for a juicy, hunger-quenching sandwich.

Speed: 10

             Already cooked beforehand, serving is simple placing into a basket or a bun and there ya go.

The TOE: 4

             Normally, when a Food Truck decides to serve only 1-3 items that taste good, I tend to like them more; the act enhances the attitude and feeling of the Truck. This, however, isn’t really the case for TTG; for whatever reason they just feel FLAT as a stand for me. The fact is they’re a business, built off the one stand at the State fair and 3 other small stores throughout the Twin Cities area. You can tell when you go there, it just feels different than other places; the chef at the register is friendly and fun to talk to, but… maybe it’s a history thing.

                       Tally: 37.5/50

Final Thoughts

            When you’re on the go near Nicollet and need something to eat, grab a sandwich for a quick, well-priced and satisfying lunch. I might suggest doing it without the sauce; very rare to find a perfectly peppered, juicy cooked turkey, might as well appreciate it as-is.

             Avoid the drumstick, there are much better ones available at the Renaissance. Considering we all know you only have a Turkey Drumstick once a year anyways, you can wait until then.