Camp Cheesecake

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http://www.campcheesecake.com/
https://twitter.com/campcheesecake
Main Location: Outer Cities, Etc

With many a new Minnesota food truck operation popping up this year in outlying cities, I’ve had to make acception of the fact that there are certain trucks I’ll never be able to get to; which I do believe I have briefly talked about in another review. Then there are those which I simply have to wait for that ideal moment when they’ve strayed into my web of edible capture! I make it sound like a clever trap, though really it’s just whatever distance I let my laziness stretch to.

Such was my great luck in 2016’s latest dessert truck, which seems to hang around all the most outer edges south and west of Minneapolis. Started by the Muddy Paws Cheesecake in St Louis Park, this popular sweets business took their catering aspect into the adorable little camper trailer-esque vehicle that is Camp Cheesecake. Yet was this business another one I had no confidence in approaching, as it hadn’t even eased up to the uptown area, only to see them scheduled for an opening party on Bloomington Avenue! So I got to pop on down and enjoy the dense creamy treat.

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As one would expect, the little trailer is filled with what else but Cheesecake? The business sets itself to stock a group of 8-10 different varieties for each day. There’s definitely no set list, I could only say one is certain to find the classic New York Style plain cheesecake and the most popular, apparently, Raspberry Swirl. Otherwise one can expect to come into contact with items like different fruit or seasonally-flavored Swirls, Chocolate Chip/Candy-Bar studded creations, Chocolate or Caramel-based custard, Key Lime Pie [also seems a favorite], and many more. Definitely take a look at the site for the ‘whole’ list; of which who knows if and when they’ll make even more.

 

Food: 7.5

                Let’s start with the positives. Definitely that classic, dense and tangy-style cheesecake, very craveable and good. And I actually ate all of it! I ended up getting two slices: the fun S’mores, with a layer of tasty chocolate cheesecake on top of the original, and the seasonal Pumpkin Swirl. Now, when it comes to cheesecake, so often have I started on a single slice, and close to the end just wanted to stop because of how heavy and monotonous it is; so I’ve always valued the ability to fully enjoy the entire thing. It probably helped that flavors changed from one piece to the other, but still I found no edible fatigue. Classic, delicious cheesecake.

Individually, I found a distinct disappointment with the ‘flavors.’ Firstly, for the S’mores, they should either do some more work on it or just call it ‘chocolate layered cheesecake’ or something; through all of that, the graham cracker crust is nondistinct and tasteless, more just a base for texture as the flavor is overridden. And there’s nothing marshmallow, toasted or otherwise! There’s that tiny little mini on the end, but no, that doesn’t count; neither does the argument that ‘the cheesecake is like replacing the marshmallow,’ because it doesn’t! You say s’mores, I WANT MARSHMALLOW. So I expect either the batter is flavored with the melted gelatin-meringue, or a big topping of the soft confection, both versions ideally toasted. Also, though the Swirl technique is a really easy way to add a flavor to cheesecake in an attractive way, it also carries the risk of… well, you can see how thin that puree layer actually reaches. Unless you’re lucky enough to get some or most of it that falls deep, the flavor we so seek to find becomes extremely subtle. Which is a shame, I DID have half of it that dipped down, and it was a nice classic taste that works well with cheesecake, but the rest was more like seasoned cheesecake.

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That useless bitching aside, here’s my REAL complaint. The cheesecake was dense, and cold, not really a problem except for the fact that it was… also a touch ‘flaky’ in the middle of one of them, in a certain way. Basically put, these were stored in a freezer at one point or another. Now… why the HELL are these getting frozen? They make it themselves, by scratch, supposedly every day… that’s the whole idea of who they are! It’s already cold and dense enough when being stored in a regular fridge, one only risks accidentally serving an icy-ish product to customers, of which there was already a faint hint in mine. Not to mention I can only assume a custard like this that’s been frozen and thawed is going to be at least slightly inferior to one that’s only seen regular, brief cooling. But if, for whatever the odd reason is, that they HAVE to store it in a freezer at one point or another, truly you need to make sure to give it even MORE time to ensure proper thawing. Please.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Each slice is nice and compactly packaged, no mess as you eat it with a fork and carry it around. Though if you don’t even care of appearances, the dense ‘cream cheese pie’ is easy as heck to simply pick up with your hand and chow down. No falling apart with only the most minimal traces left on the fingertips. Though it does feel a shame they hadn’t tried to go the extra step and provide these beautiful wedges ‘on-a-stick’ or in some other fun, more portable form. Oh well.
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Price: 9.5

                  $4 for a slice, and what’s even better is it’s $7 if you buy two, though they don’t say that sadly! A great low-priced dessert option.

Speed: 10

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Every one of ‘em is ready to go on order, just gotta put them in the box and pay.

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The TOE: 8

                  A little trailer that hands out cheesecake? What’s not to love about that idea! And it’s an adorable, consistently unique and attractive design; even the truck that hauls it around got some graphic painting on it. Food quality aside, though the feeling of ‘simple, classic cheesecake business’ is strong, I really do wish they would try for some more unique creations. Either amp up the flavors, get them covered in big guilty-pleasure toppings, or work on even more ‘mobile’ versions like ‘mini pies’ or, as mentioned earlier, getting it on sticks. Why not do at least ONE chocolate-dipped slice, flavor rotating weekly, for that fun street food appeal? Or roll some baked cheesecake filling into balls and coat in a variety of crusts/toppings and in a bag to carry around for snacking? SOMETHING exciting it needs, otherwise, after a visit or two… it just feels a bit boring, in my opinion.

Tally: 43/50

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Final Thoughts

You may not find these guys at a big local truck rally anytime soon, but regard any event, occasion, or random day one can visit, this little edible camper trailer offers a noted possibility to grab a sweet snack for then or later. Great for those who want that ‘one extra thing’ for just a few bucks, especially if they enjoy cheesecake. Personally, I’m not really one for the ‘Swirls;’ they look pretty, but as I mentioned the puree is often mostly just on the surface with no penetration. I would say most joy would be in those items where the flavor is mixed throughout, or mixed with bigger chunks of things (ah-la Butterfinger and Chocolate Chip cheesecakes). But those are how I MYSELF lean in preferential cheesecake options. This is definitely a classic and typical flavor line-up; pick your personal favorites or whichever flavors excite your interest. The one thing I would say: DEFINITELY avoid New York style. It’s delicious I’m sure, but why go for the standard on this rare opportune visit when you could get something different and fun? It’s like going to a special ice cream shop with 50 flavors one can only find in an outside state and going for Vanilla. I don’t care what you say, you people that do that are freaks, FREAKS!!

Bark and the Bite

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http://www.barkandthebite.com/
https://twitter.com/BarkandtheBite
Main Location: Breweries, Minneapolis (Maybe?)

So I guess I need to pay more attention to CityPages on a frequent basis, since it made for quite the little ‘blind spot’ for me in not doing so. That said, it DID lead to a rather fun surprise near the start of a good night out, so maybe not so bad of a situation afterall.

Let me run you down what happened. Finally, after weeks of distraction or not having any reason to do so, I got the urge to force myself down to Tattersall Distilling; well that wasn’t so difficult, it was the finding someone to meet me there to make it an ‘occasion’ that took a while. Of course before I went I checked out their little event page, the place rather well known for nightly correspondences with Brooks High Batter and other food trucks; but just my luck that it was THAT Saturday that had no truck listed for nosh possibilities. Guess Brooks went elsewhere. But oh well, wasn’t necessarily even in the mood for food, but it’s fun to see options right?

So I drive there, finally find that little pain-in-the-ass alley-that-doesn’t-look-like-you-can-drive-through to get to the cocktail room and park, and what do I see as I’m driving by? Not just a food truck, but one that I’ve NEVER seen before, so the back of my brain starts thinking about the money I’ll have to lay down that night… then it notices that it’s a BBQ truck and that number rises a little more. It explains why the food truck spot was blank on the website…

After an Umeboshi Sour, but before a late night Baby Spice (both of them damn good by the way, I need to go back to try out more of their creations), I head out to my first visit of Bark and the Bite. Of course it’s just my luck that they are indeed a new Twin Cities truck and not someone from out of town, guess that means I have to eat their food. Oh darn. They’ve been on the streets since the start of September; or to be more accurate, on the doorsteps of various breweries. So it didn’t take me that long to find them, relative to plenty of other periods-of-ignorance you know I’ve had, and it makes sense considering I don’t get the chance to brewery it as much as I want… like, almost never.

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As a typical BBQ truck should, the forward-highlight of its menu is of course a basket of Ribs, theirs Dry-Rubbed and Memphis style. As opposed to others I’ve found, though, the rest of the menu is rather simple. One gets their pick of 3 ‘pulled proteins,’ such as the typical Pork, Chicken, and a vegetarian inclusion of ‘BBQ Jackfruit’ (oh I’m talking about this guy later), which can be gotten on small or big sandwiches and as a classic ‘pile of meat.’ One then picks their sauce: Cherry Bourbon, Vodka Chile, or ‘Bark’ Sauce (a mix of whole grain mustard, brown sugar, and I think chilies and/or other bbq things). We then of course get a list of typical, sort of, sides; Cider Vinegar-dressed Slaw, Baked Beans, Arugula Potato Salad, and of course Hush Puppies, ‘Honey Spiced.’

There’s even a cookie! Browned Butter Chocolate Chip (with Pecans). So I grabbed one of those, and a few other things, and got to chowing down, thankfully with help of friends! Thought I’d have to bring home leftovers…
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Food: 8

Okay, had to get the Ribs since it’s their purported favorite/specialty/focus, and for sandwiches that Pulled Pork and the intriguingly unique BBQ Jackfruit… though it was so hard not getting the Chicken, it apparently was coming right out of the smoker! But money… was spending enough as it was, especially with cocktails that night!

Also I was able to get a taste of a Hush Puppy! Oh and these are good ones, and very happy to say of a distinctly different ‘style’ compared to those found at Funfare, which were small, crispy and easy to munch. Comparably, these are big globes of moist cornbready denseness, in the good sense, and with a light honey sweetness just barely glazing the outside; enough to get your fingertips a touch sticky but not enough to even say they’re close to being ‘sauced.’ It offers an actual element to the fried bread, and there’s that happy guilty pleasure we get when eating cornbread and something deep fried.

I should mention here, before getting into the meat, that I actually got one of each Sauce; I asked them to assign as to what they think works best for each, but they instead just put them in cups so I could swap and choose at will! Not sure if that’s what they usually do anyways for sauce sides, but hey it was great here! They all tasted pretty darn good btw, I think I like the Bark as my favorite, but I’m a big fan of stoneground mustard; or just anything with that notably different texture and stronger, ‘pungent’ flavors.

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5 Ribs come out on top of a bed of Coleslaw (sounds like I should have a punchline for this doesn’t it?), of which didn’t stand out too much; just a basic Red Cabbage-based salad, good and decent but nothing exciting or standing out. The ribs on their own now, I actually prefer when they’re NOT on their own; with sauce, they are wonderful, tender and flavorful, a nice porkyness with that mixture of deep spices and wet tanginess. But unadorned, they’re good still, aren’t chewy, tender and sticks to the bone like smoked ribs should, but there is this little oddity in texture, almost a… I don’t want to say chalky, but maybe a slight off-dryness either from being smoked just a little too long or, I’m thinking, not nearly enough; I feel like the timing is probably good but the temperature and smoke level might need to be higher. That’s me spit-balling though, I’m no expert in BBQ problem-solving. Suffice to say they’re not perfect but still good.

I’ll admit, I’m not as excited to see pretzel buns today as I USED to be, before practically everyone did it and ruined the specialty of using the ‘right’ bun for the trendiness, but they are damn good here. Or should I say they make them damn good; THIS is why I advocate toasted buns in most situations, for that moment when you bite into a sandwich, you get that mouth full of meat, sauce, flavor, bread… and then that thin layer of toasty CRUNCH to add that extra textural element, which is so needed with ‘tender-fillinged’ sandwiches like pulled pork.

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As for the fillings themselves, tender, not dry, toothsome and flavorful; the pig had that great distinctive ‘porkyness’ to it, though for a BBQ item I wish there was more smoke or spice flavor, I really couldn’t taste any. But that JackfruitSO cool. I mean look at the picture; can you immediately even tell which one certainly is the vegetarian pulled sandwich and which one isn’t? The only thing that helps is that the ‘bbq jackfruit’ is already mixed with some marinade flavoring, thus the added color to it. And god it was fun to eat; it wasn’t a complete ‘meat substitute,’ but it was actually rather close; had a full texture to it, soft but with a bite… if I had to compare the distinctive feel to it, though, I’d say the closest thing that comes to mind is the meaty quality of a good artichoke heart, but more shreddable. Then it had this little, sorta-pickled tang in the background of it, which also reminds me of some bamboo shoot dish alongside the texture… it is just so interesting. But at the end of the day, GOOD, vegetarian-required and curious will both enjoy this. Now that I think of it, I’m not even sure if any other BBQ truck or local business has offered a full, proper vegetarian substitute for a main entrée, and to such a degree.

Oh, and then there’s the cookie! It cost a dollar and… tasted like it. Not that it was completely horrible, you get the chocolate chips and the pecans, a bit of the brown butter… but after being baked and wrapped in that film for who knows how long, it certainly developed a not-so-great texture, rather crumbly without being crisp. May need to develop a better recipe, that comes out thicker and softer, or perhaps it was just an effect of staling.

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Holdability: 7

I got mine in ‘to-go’ containers, mainly as I figured I’d have quite a bit to take home, but they do use the classic baskets too, which aren’t AS cumbersome. As for the food, a little typical compared to other bbq places, nothing extraordinarily helpful via sandwiches, though the pork held together rather well. The dry style of ribs helped… though I did have the sauce on the side, not sure if normally choosing a sauce would have it on top; it’s either that, making it stickier, or it’s on the side, meaning something extra to handle. But not an overall mess. Forgot to grab a fork for that coleslaw though, but that’s likely my fault! And then the hushpuppies had that little tacky stickiness from the honey; not really messy, but has one licking fingers… a yummy trait indeed, but it should be noted as far as this category is concerned. I also imagine getting a ‘pile of meat’ gets one further involved with needing a fork; and since I doubt anyone wants to get that on its own, added sides will add more components to handle. Okay, list done.

Price: 7.5

$12.50 for the Ribs, of which you get about 5 plus a mound of that slaw, not to mention the chanced to get a ‘Loaded Platter’ of 2 sides along with a big sandwich or meat pile, a nice little deal for those who want the more complete BBQ meal. Without the platter deal, each of those entrée-like items goes for $9.50, and one can get those smaller pulled sandwiches at $5 a-piece to get a better chance at sampling the different fillings; and they’re not particularly small, still have a good little heft, so the price on its own is reasonable for what one gets, but can add up fast. Sides generally range between $2-$3, with the Hush Puppies at $5; one gets 3, but as you can see they’re a good size, and tasty… I say judge their value for price for yourself, it could go either way depending on personal opinion. Finally, the cookie, as mentioned, is $1.

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Speed: 8.5

Most prep comes simply in tossing things together with the various needed sauces/seasonings, piling it on the toasted bun or basket, and off we go; a little faster than average, but not near instantaneous.

The TOE: 9.5

I love the feel and personality of the outside, the name and design finally gives me that feeling of the ‘modern bbq food truck’ that I’m familiar with seeing from other cities, as opposed to the old-school, plain-designed truck/trailer with the long classic options menu; nothing wrong with those, but it’s the difference between seeing an old Mexican Taco cart and a bright, colorful modern fusion taco truck. They hit it nicely in my opinion. And I mentioned menu, which is something I really appreciate here; the normal thing  is one has to go up to a BBQ truck and you have to choose… Ribs, Brisket, Pulled Pork, Chicken, maybe Wings, they got Sausage, and is-that-even-part-of-the-animal? Not to mention side listings. And when BBQ businesses are noted for having distinct personalities in each of their separate products, usually being ‘really good’ in 1-3 and ‘just okay’ in the rest, it makes that first choice hard… gotta hope you’re picking the right one. But here? Ribs, Pulled Pork and Chicken (and the Veggie of course, but you’re either doing that from the get-go or not); and one could get the pork AND chicken easily in two sammiches. It’s a lot more approachable, and nice to see a place that narrows down their focus, in my opinion. And with the names of different items, Memphis-style Ribs, Jackfruit, and particular options for sandwich/platter, the truck and menu does feel rather distinctive in personality compared to other BBQ trucks. Though we have been lucky in garnering BBQ food trucks in the past year that all set themselves apart from each other, but one knows what I mean still.

Tally: 40.5/50

Final Thoughts

The Pulled Meat is definitely where it’s at; whether it’s to grab a single mini for a low-priced lunchtime filler/snack (or a good way to sample BatB’s flavor cheaply during a food truck rally), or a bigger Sandwich/Pile to really load up on some BBQ goodness on whatever sauce style is your favorite. If you REALLY want the experience, and a nice loaded lunch, I say go for the Loaded Platter, Sandwich option (I’d really say any of the three, though you’ve got to try that Jackfruit at least once just cuz… I mean who else is selling something like it at the moment?), with the Honey-Spiced Hush Puppy and Potato Salad options… perhaps the Baked Beans too, though I haven’t tried it to confirm and I feel bean dishes REALLY need that confirmation.

(Whole) Sum Kitchen

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http://www.wholesumkitchen.com/
https://twitter.com/@wholesumkitchen/
Main Location: Minneapolis, Fairs, Etc

This has been quite the summer of simple, one-handed vending operations; popsicles, ice cream, coffee, hot dogs, you name it. And now, the juicing culture has invaded and pushed itself into our Minneapolis food truck scene! (Whole) Sum Kitchen is yet another new interesting addition and innovation to our mobile lineup, having entered a few months ago and grazing through various local fairs and festivals between downtown parking. Of impressive note, the truck actually braved our own State Fair (though I think they were parked OUTSIDE, not positive, but smart and it worked) in their first season! Strong move right out of the gate am I right?

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Owner Evan Tepper got the idea and drive after a year of international travel, where the constant indulgence into local, fresh, seasonal cuisine inspired the idea to produce a business that followed the same principles. So now he and his associate, who (if I’m identifying her right from facebook) has a dog named Smoothie, produce Smoothies and Juices from locally sourced, fresh, seasonally gotten fruits and veggies. The focus is mainly on the latter drink, made by running these things through a gigantic, high-powered dyson-like monster of a machine to squeeze out a tall glass of healthy, nutrient and carb-packed drink for thirsty travelers (though don’t forget, as we’re being reminded of nowadays, pure juice is HIGHLY concentrated so one only wants to consume at most, say, one a day to really get in most or all of your veggie/fruit requirements without overdosing on sugars and such. Hey, I’m rather health conscious, even if I do like stuffing my face with burgers, ice cream, and guzzling good soda… I don’t do it ALL the time…).

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The menu is likely to change its particular drink options rather often, especially as the seasons go and they do some more experimentation. On my visit, and a good sense of what they offer, they carried two smoothies: a Strawberry-Banana-Spinach and an Orange-Pineapple-Banana (no cooky names, for shame!). Juices currently offered were the Tahoe (pineapple-orange-basil), KoTao (apple-orange-carrot-ginger-lime),and El Nido (apple-cucumber-carrot-kale-beet).

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A few of them certainly sound interesting, though I’ll admit I’ve never actually gotten into the whole juicing ‘culture’ or consistent habit like other people, so I don’t have much to compare it to. So expect some haziness from my coming reviews, still can’t wait to take in some really fresh juice.

Food: 8.5

                As I said, I’m not really into the whole juicing thing myself, though I’d certainly make myself some more if I had a bomb-ass machine like that in my kitchen, so I’m not sure how EXACTLY these compare to other options that might be out there, but I do know I like fresh juice and these, overall, tasted good.

I ended up grabbing a cup each of the Tahoe and El Nido, the former of which certainly hit that craving spot filled only by a glass of cool, refreshing fresh squeezed orange juice. Not to mention you gotta love pineapple, though I really wish there was more of that basil, it made little to no presence in the final palate; and considering it’s the main twist and exciting flavor component, it shouldn’t be just a subtle little ‘accent.’ The flavors on the other one came in though; carrot, cucumber, bright apple and darker beet, even that bit of clorophylly bitterness from the kale that you know only comes from leafy things; it may also be subtle but one can still recognize AND there’s enough else going on you don’t require it to be bigger. It’s been a while since I’ve had vegetable juice, and I’ll say one thing; all those infomercials about juicing vegetables with fruit that say you don’t taste a thing, they’re liars. But I’m okay with that, because I LOVE the taste they bring; it’s like they’ve ditched all the earthy, savory components, yet still have that unique vegetable flavor in a super refreshing way. And then it’s mixed with some even brighter components, which the apple and cucumber fill nicely. And I love how those colors look when it’s being juiced!

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At the end of the day, I ended up sucking my drinks down rather faster than anticipated, so that has to say something right? No word on smoothies yet, but when are those bad?

Holdability: 10

                 One handed cup with a bendy straw? Check.

Price: 7

                 $4.50 for a 10oz and $7 for a 16oz of anything, noting that the smoothies can only be gotten in the bigger size. At the end of the day I feel I can buy the same amount of coffee, good coffee even, for a little less at the pint size, and decent meals from food trucks for the same or a dollar more, so I’m not sure how exactly I end up feeling about it here. I don’t think I mind so much for the smoothies, with the more substantial feeling aspect to them. I would say this is one where the score then MAYBE shouldn’t be taken to heart, it could be a good deal for juice lovers, just be aware of the prices going into it.
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Speed: 9

The best case is simply waiting on the vegetables to get pushed through that gigantic juice monster! That said, the server behind the window during my visit really ended up taking notably longer to simply cut the vegetables than it should have; obviously needs more practice getting used to holding a knife, that task itself should have really only taken bare seconds to make a few simple strokes. I’d say they should start doing some consideration on pre-cutting most of the ingredients to working portions; though maybe they do that for busy fair days. But I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt score-wise, as I’m sure when the owner himself is working behind, and when they’re both there during a busy period, that stuff gets done much faster at the ideal speed. But one should take note at the possibility of slower depending on situation.

The TOE: 8

                  It’s unique, it’s sort of fun, fresh and local, there’s clearly drive and focus towards their goal, the product is just as bright and refreshing as the air of the truck that serves them. I personally wish there was more options, I mean one only needs to rearrange some fruit+veggie combos, grab a few different citrus fruits or aromatics to spike up other possible drinks, etc. But it’s nice that they also, clearly, keep things seasonal and sticking to their vision. Again, I find myself a bit off-kilter from a full, large food truck that only offers juice, but that’s my issue, and I see the value in it as a whole. I wish them the best of luck, and hope I get the chance to try them again with some other food truck snackings!

Tally: 42.5/50

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Final Thoughts

I’m not sure if this fully fits my usual drink-based Truck suggestion to add onto a full ‘food truck meal’ as the liquid refreshment portion, considering the price and I can’t say veggie juice, even delicious like this, is my go-to ‘street food accompaniment.’ Though that’s me. Where this REALLY excels is a super refresher during our big fairs, on hot days, or when you just want a hit of something healthy for the day! I definitely know I have those days, especially at events, where I crave a special smoothie or something.

I personally enjoyed my El Nido, and would also suggest going for the KoTao or any other juice with fun ginger, limey, veggie, or other distinct ingredient additions. The other ones taste good, but the whole ‘pineapple-orange’ flavor just seems too basic and everyday; if you’re spending the money, why not have yourself try something more specialty and ‘complex?’ On the Smoothie side, neither of them really stood out to me, but if I was going to do one of the options that day, it’d be the Strawberry w/ Spinach.

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.

Frio Frio

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https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/friofriomn
Main Location: Minneapolis/Nordeast, Events

I’m at Open Streets Northeast last Sunday, a good occasion to get out and have a bit of fun and exploration on a day that turned out much less cloudy and rainy as forecasted, get some walking and sweating in, see some sights, stop off for a beer or snack occasionally, and near the end I turn a corner and see… god dammit, another frozen treat cart that I have to review. I mean there’s enough food trucks I need to get to already, why can’t these people just slow down and let me write!? Oh well, whatever, since it’s just the one small guy I can probably just do a quasi review out of them…

Well that idea has been shot to hell because I love these guys. I’m gonna just go right out and say it from the start, Frio Frio I believe is the best cold treat truck in the Twin Cities right now. I’m sorry Geno’s, Cranky’s, and Fro Yo, but these guys are just plain cool (unintended badum-ching), unique, delicious, and their product fits their setup perfectly (unlike a certain ice cream cart with a not-so-smooth product due to the non-traditional ‘refrigeration’).

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But here’s the deal. Taking note from similarly traditional frozen treats found on the street in Mexico, Frio Frio makes specialty popsicles out of (mostly) natural ingredients with delicious twisted flavor combos, both contemporary and sort of classic Latin-inspired. These include, but aren’t limited to, Avocado-Lime, Grapefruit-Carrot, Strawberry-Balsamic-Basil, Kiwi-Apple, and ‘Piñata’ (oh I’ll tell you about this later, be patient). Great treats for kids and adults alike, though I say stick to the adults cuz which kid is really going to appreciate anything more or less so long as it’s cold and has sugar? But I’m not going to try thinking of anything else to lengthen this intro any more, I just wanna dive right into the scoring!

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By the way, I ended up grabbing some popsicle pictures from their Facebook page because you NEED to see what the others look like.

Food: 10

                It was a bit tricky picking, but something told me I had to try the Avocado-Lime, really get that proper Mexican inspiration, and the Piñata. They were both so good, firm but not hard or particularly icy, they each licked up easy, I mean the texture was just ideal. The avocado was fantastic, actually making it smooth and creamy, almost between regular popsicles and those gelato ‘popsicles’ we see sometimes. And of course the flavor came out great (if you haven’t had avocado desserts yet, you need to try them, it actually works really well when held back by other ingredients; almost custardy with its richness, and with a smooth, round green flavor) and was balanced nicely with the lime.
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Now, the Piñata… Lemon and Coconut Water popsicle suspended with, and I’m not sh*^@ing you, Sprinkles and Gummy Bears. And it is GOOD. I swear, I never thought I’d love sprinkles and gummy bears so much, but these are sort of the perfect flavors to bring them out in, without just tasting like extra pieces of artificially flavored sugar. Not to mention you get some fun, childhood-like things to chew as you go through it. I can only imagine how tasty the other popsicles are.

Holdability: 10

                 What can I say, you walk down a hot street, licking and munching a delicious popsicle in one hand, the fingers of only one hand getting a little sticky from the bit that’s melting off the popsicle, but you don’t care, it’s not impeding you at all and it reminds you of summers who knows how long ago.
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Price: 10

                  It’s only $3 each, I mean come on! And they each certainly have a good amount to them, and flavor to make every dollar worth it.

Speed: 10

 Reach in the box, grab the popsicle, hand it to you, and off ya go (if you so desire to leave immediately).
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The TOE: 10

                  It just feels like the whole cart nails it for me; the box has a cool design, the colorful theme runs throughout (even on t-shirts), name is catchy and actually makes sense, personality is distinctly bright and bubbly, the product is simple but unique and delicious, and it actually has a tie-in to traditional street food elsewhere. They’ve totally got that ‘Adult Popsicle Cart’ feeling to it that brings you back just enough to when you were younger, slurping on a frozen lolly during a heatwave; I swear I half expected I would find that classic messy smear of popsicle on my lips and tongue when next I saw a mirror. And hey, if they have ME this excited and raving about it, they must be doing SOMETHING right. I mean heck, all their popsicles feel like a ‘Toe Ring’ to me (maybe not the kiwi-apple, but that’s me).

Service: +1.5

                Because I don’t think it’s fair for Potter’s Pasties to be the only truck ever to go over 50 points, and because there IS that really social, easy talkative feeling when you go there, likely an increased openness for random chat when the people shelling stuff out aren’t behind a window and above your head. Besides, the two shelling this stuff out are nice, hospital, and have fun personality, like a lot of people in the mobile vending service biz; just got to see it more today and here.

Tally: 51.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Frio Frio offers a product that is perfectly ideal to add on the tail end of any food truck luncheon day or just as a quick indulgent treat whenever one gets the chance. Though I’m not one for feeding kids really good products, it offers an actual strong possibility for anyone to go and find SOMETHING that fits their tastes and desires for cheap. And as for which ones to get, you can’t go wrong with anything I don’t think, but if I HAD to narrow down the ‘must-haves,’ at least for your first visit, I would definitely still go with my own choices of Avocado-Lime and Piñata. They’re both highly unique, indicative of the original influence, and come on they’re delicious.

Sassy Spoon Cafe Visit

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As many have been made aware of by now, in a rather loud fashion, Sassy Spoon (for those unaware, read my review to get an idea of their theme and what my opinion of them has been so far) got themselves a little café in South Minneapolis! I finally had the opportunity to visit on a recent Sunday with the folks, and for Brunch time which seems to fit their theme and atmosphere oh so well, and check yet another local truck-staurant off my list!

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Let me start off by saying that I am very happy for them, or maybe it’s more accurate to say in REACTION to them, based on two different things. Firstly, though I really cannot comprehend how they got the popularity and capital to start up a brick-and-mortar (oh well, my opinions aren’t everyone’s, I accept that… still think there are at least other trucks that should have gotten to this point sooner), we finally have an environment that fits their food style! No more do I have to bitch about their very non-street food going on the streets, this stuff was really made to be served up on plates and eaten in a diner or café of some type, and now we can do that!

Secondly, I’m not sure when they did it (I know it wasn’t in the beginning at all), but they’ve shed their main advertising face of general “healthy and nutritious food” focus and openly narrowed their culinary focus to a “Gluten Free” façade. Now, that’s something I can get on board with! It fits, it makes sense, there’s nothing in the food to non-corroborate it, and I would bet if they used this excuse/marketing strategy since the beginning I would not have complained so much. I mean really, when you’re only offering piles of meat with either slaw, sweet potatoes, and creamy cauliflower, it’s not the kind of food that REALLY screams nutrition is it? Say what you will, no one really cares about the Atkins diet anymore… but gluten free, in a café, and the menu gels, my urges to contradict and bitch gone (well, sort of, I still have those memories…).

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Oh well, I’m shutting up now about that and getting onto the actual café! You can tell it was designed by the truck owners, the inside is just as bright, appealing, sorta-modern and welcoming as the big pink truck used to be. There’s a little wrap-around bar to the side of the order ‘window’ and dessert/drink display case. Which has some not-so-bad looking sweets in there, would be very interested in trying the Beet Cake myself one day… (gluten-free cookies scare me though)

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First up, of course, is drinks. Besides the classic morning coffees, juice and tea, one can of course find some trendy Kombucha, specialty soda, Organic Milk, and a few interesting shop coffees. This includes something called a “Maple Cream Cold Press” and a “Spiced Butter Coffee,” which my mom picked up, and I swear it smells like biscoff cookies! But sort of tangy, makes me wonder if it’s a nicely acidic coffee bean or something else added; really good and tasty, I can see the appeal of this new ‘butter in coffee’ craze, kept in control of course.

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I leaned more towards the booze of course, they having a nice little selection of wines but, more importantly, Local Beer, Cider, and Mead (which I’m only noticing now after looking through pictures, damn if only I knew before!). I myself got to try the Loon Juice; yay, another Minnesota Cider besides Sociable that I get to say I’ve had!

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Food is mainly comprised of the truck classics, the Sweet Potato Hash w/ Egg, Turkey Meatballs, Miso Pork/Tacos, and a Salad, with some notable extra options, especially during brunch. Goat Cheese-stuffed Dates, “Yucca Patties” w/ Olives and Jalapeno dipping sauce (I’ve been intrigued by this one), Wild Rice Black Bean Salad, and some eggy breakfast dishes in Omelet, Scramble, and Basic structure come together. Of course sides based off of these, breakfast, and apparently the option to buy cups of $4 broth is also available.

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A group of plates for our little party had us trying the Sassy Scramble, Yucca Flatbread, and Buckwheat Pancakes; the last being the definite highlight, just being super fluffy and flavorful, stuffed with delightful blueberries with a tasty citrusy syrup, one of those ideal modern brunch offerings we seek out nowadays after being exposed to places like Pizza Luce and Hola Arepa. Mixed with goat cheese and spinach (and onion), the scramble in comparison certainly TASTES really good, nice and healthy, but I myself have never really appreciated scrambled eggs that have gotten brown from the pan. Maybe it’s me, I know some professionals still consider the perfect omelet acceptable with some brown on it, but the texture in scrambles like that just end up too firm, not the light/fluffy or moist/silky expressions that actually show a sign of quality. And considering they’re probably using really good quality organic eggs here (they seem to stick to the local farm product theme for whatever they can), I end up feeling somewhat sad for what these proper eggs were probably turned into.

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My focus was the Flatbread, curious as to what the crust was actually like. First off, let me just start off by saying come on, let’s just call this what it is: a Pizza. I know the flatbread and pizza label are rather interchangeable these days, but we all have some impression of a flatbread, usually thick grilled or some artisan crisp dough topped with some unique sauce and/or cheese and/or garnish, really embodying a perfect appetizer for sharing. Just one look at this guy, red sauce and mozzarella with that apparent golden brown painting across the top from the hot oven, and clearly it’s nothing other than pizza; tell me that does not remind you of the frozen pizzas you bake at home (visually speaking, not quality wise, I’m not THAT much of a douche or imbecile). Why don’t we just call it pizza and get it over with?

As for flavor, as a pizza I did enjoy it in that similar manner; firm crunchy edges, a softer but still-holding and fully-cooked dough bottom, tasting red sauce and stretchy cheese. I added the pepper mix on mine, which for the price additions seems to be the only thing worth it, and was quite happy. As a gluten free pizza, the crust did a great job substituting; I’m wondering if they used something like yucca flour for it, but considering they have it elsewhere on the menu, my guess is more on the lines of mashing and using in a ‘potato flatbread’ manner. It’s not the best flatbread or pizza in the city, by far, but it fits a certain style and craving well enough.

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One big complaint and note we all had was the pricing, a lot of the items are rather pricey considering what we’re getting, which seems to be a common thing with most ‘healthy/organic/gluten-free’ based businesses. With luck the place actually delivers or provides something that IS totally awesome along with the healthy stuff and we don’t care, but in a café like this it seems to stand out even more. I mean, a BASIC breakfast on their menu is $11.50; that’s supposed to be one of the simpler, affordable options on a menu, not one of the most expensive (unless it’s one of those modern ‘deconstructed’ things, which are usually downright awesome). Not to mention a side of Bacon, which the mother got to add to the pancakes, cost $4, for TWO measly strips. We wouldn’t even normally care, you know, if we got two nice, thick-ish pieces. But even if it is from a local farm, we ended up with a barely cooked, thin, sorta fatty couple pieces that just aren’t worth it; feels a bit insulting actually. Same with the pizza topping add-ons; $0.75 for the veggies, okay, but $2 for each meat (which they only have two kinds to begin with)? It’s already $11 for just cheese and sauce man!

All that said, I’m not necessarily saying one shouldn’t go; it’s a fun and different place for the gluten-free required to find a meal in a welcoming environment! Or to grab yourself a local drink or butter coffee with a meal. Just make sure to pick the right items, I definitely suggest the buckwheat pancakes; not only have they likely been the best things I’ve had from Sassy in my trips, but they’re the best price too (Mom still says $8.50 for only two café/diner pancakes is larceny, but for special, delicious, and gluten-free affairs in a place like this, I don’t mind it). And the service and staff ARE absolutely great, nice, and fantastic and all that. I myself just won’t be going there again. Ever.

Hot Dish “100 Favorites” for 2014-15

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

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

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#77: Taco Cat with “The Larry”

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

#62: The Curious Goat with Goat Cheese Curds

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

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#55: Smack Shack’s Shrimp and Grits

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

#54: World Street Kitchen and The South Side

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

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

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

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

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

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#7: Hola Arepa and the Beef & Plantain Arepa

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

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

A Foxy Afternoon

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Getting back into the food-adventure swing of things, I’m really hoping to be able to check off some of the close-by Truck-staurants off my list. And lucky me just the other day I finally got to head down to Foxy Falafel’s little café for lunch!

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I imagined it’d be bigger, but I don’t mind, love that small little café atmosphere; these sorts of deals really do fit the food truck persona the best, plus they’re probably a bit easier to afford than the bigger stuff! And Foxy’s is situated in a little brick shop just up from University and Raymond, in a setup that almost looks like it used to hold antiques or a yarn-spinner’s directory. Hooray for setting up a place with some personality!

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20150330_145425Now, for those reading who still haven’t been there yet (I’m sure I’m the last one, but just in case), the menu is set up in an interesting, fun way. Main entrees are chosen a-la Chipotle, where you pick the ideal protein of choice (3 different falafel flavors, a mix of each, and some actual meat options in style of chicken shwarma, gyro, and lamb), figure out if you want it stuffed in a pita, salad, or ‘platter,’ and which of three delicious sauces you want to top it with. One can then choose to accompany this with one or more of various sides (hummus, beet slaw, baba ganoush, etc), cookies and other dessert.

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These can of course be accompanied with some awesome local draft beer, wine, or other drinks. All of which has been drawing up on two very attractive chalk boards! Sadly I wasn’t in the mood for grabbing a refreshment, though I wish I was; they seem to have a very interesting looking Root Beer in their fridge, that always peaks my tastebud curiosity.

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20150330_144347What I DID start off with was a bowl of cheese curds; not what I planned, but seeing them on the menu intrigued me, and I haven’t had any sense the State Fair as it was. And I’m glad, for one thing cuz they’re my favorite style; lightly battered, still warm and gooey with a BIT of grease (but not overly); of course they used amazing local organic curds for it too. They were tossed in Dill before frying, but truth be told I could barely taste that even when looking; I wish they got some fresh dill on it after frying, really bring that fresh flavor in. But oh god, I’m now indebted to the place, because I’ve discovered the wonder that is fresh cheese curds dipped in honey. I’m gonna have to eat them with that every time now.

 

As for the main, I still gotta order the classic street-foodie pita option (hey, it came with fries); Beet Falafel which I’ve been very much wanting to try since I found out about them a few years back; and the Green Tahini sauce (tahini w/ lemon and herbage). Of course the falafels were good; crunchy outside, VERY tender and soft inside, nice little different flavor with the beets (I’m surprised with how ‘fresh’ it felt, vs the deep earthy flavors I normally attribute), and with the other filling ingredients and sauce it made a nice mouthful.

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That said, I’m very glad I was eating this in the café, because that pita did NOT want to stay together! It ripped and tore, fell apart once, and was a bit of a mess even when trying to keep that paper around it. Though, in this setting, I don’t care about that so much, just thought it should be made of note. The tahini was nice, not as vibrant in flavor as I was hoping, but a pleasantly smooth, lightly lemony-herby paste to moisten things up with. It was great with the fries (which were good for soft-style fries, a shame they don’t go for crispy texture on it though). Overall it was a tasty little sandwich lunch, eaten at a time and place that was great for enjoying the good weather day in, and I’m glad I got to go at it again after so long.

 

Vellee in the Skyway with Burritos

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Vin’s Italian

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http://www.vinsitalian.com/
https://twitter.com/VinsItalian
Main Location: Minneapolis, Breweries

I think this is the first time I’ve ever had a truck ask me to come visit them without any reaching out on my own part beforehand. Must say it’s a little empowering… like I’m a GOD and you’re all just ants, ANTS begging for praise and attention! Bow to me insects and worship me as the one who makes you! AHHAHAhahahahaha!!!

… what? Hold on, sorry, I’m being told by my cat that I’m acting a little insane and power-hungry at the moment… well she’s probably right about one of those things.

Where were we? Oh yes, I was invited to stop by a truck this week via twitter (oh my god it actually became useful for me!). Of course the truck in question has been open for three months, as have the previous two reviews of trucks which I had only JUST found out about. God I wish I lived in Minneapolis again… I’m getting off on another tangent, stop it me!

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Vin’s Italian, as they’re so called, began their roll in the warm summer and are set to plant it out as the chilly autumn blows through. While the cold sinks, their griddle will be toasting up Italian Sandwiches to warm hands and stomach alike with classic Italian-American bread fillings. Top of the list is, of course, the all-important Meatball Sub, soon followed by options for spicy giardanera-studded Italian and, at times, the Sicilian Beef. These are joined by a hot and juicy Italian Sausage roll stuffed with Peppers, almost like eating on the East Coast streets again; and for the vegetable-lovers (and requirers), the Fried Eggplant Pesto sandwich, stuffed in a soft bun filled with hopes and dreams. Not to mention the occasional seasonal-based offering.

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Now don’t be a guy like me who has to wait for an invitation; go get your fix, have a treat and stuff that gullet with a good hot sandwich. I’d make you an offer you couldn’t refuse but, you know… pretty sure I’m really far away from most of you, don’t know where you live and… yeah. They got mints… those are also nice.

Food: 9.5

                As much as it pains my wallet, I just couldn’t decide between two particular sandwiches, and either way I felt like only having one of them wouldn’t give me a complete picture. Thus I ordered both the Meatball and Fried Eggplant Pesto, with the plan that I would eat the whole of the latter and maybe some of the former for lunch and save the rest for later, you know, to conserve and such… in less than half an hour neither of them stood a damn chance.
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Let’s start with the idealistic Italian sandwich that is the Meatball Sub. Stuffed inside a ginormous package of what they call a ‘bun,’ these four good-sized balls of Beef, Pork, and Lamb retain a properly needed moisture to them, along with a soft texture that thankfully avoids any of the density and chewy properties of not-so-good meatballs. My favorite part of them, though, is how nicely the flavor of the herbs and other seasonings they placed in come through, showcasing the identity that you know they were looking for amongst the tender grind. Sauce is both bright and rich, with an amazing coating over its not-so-hidden delivery, and coated in a layer of melted cheese that works, though I do wish they had notably more to it; I want there to be a gooey mess of dairy amongst my red sauce that truly indicates it as a proper Italian sub. As for the bread, my initial thoughts on seeing were of worry, and I’ll admit it’s definitely a good sized guy to wrap those teeth around with the meatball, but the carbs yield quite easily under tooth, and though there’s a little bit of that gluttoness chew to the texture it’s not enough that your jaw gets sore when finished (like a certain catering truck we know of). Very often you will also have portions to consume that don’t contain any corresponding meat, but I still feel that the actual ratio of bread to filling, the latter being very tightly kept in its upper areas, is actually right on, just need to eat that extra bit more bread to get there.

Technical aspects aside, it is heavy, and rich, and tasty, and sinful, and everything right on a slightly chilled autumn day. I couldn’t stop halfway through this guy no matter how much I tried.

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The Eggplant is also affected by the cheese issue in my opinion, mainly the fact that I just want more of it, have it become a real texture and element of the sandwich all its own! Speaking of which, sad to say the breading around the actual eggplant was almost all soft by the time I got to eating it; to be fair on their part, I think that much of that may be due to the fact that I had to wait about 5 minutes carrying it around in its heated sac before I could sit down and consume it, but I still get the feeling that it wasn’t all perfectly fried crisp the moment I got it anyways. Either way, one should make a note that, if ordering, they should eat this thing immediately while at least some of that textural play can come into the picture.

Those aspects aside, I absolutely loved this sandwich. I love that they use a different bread that’s right for it, I love the fresh lemony notes that come off the herby pesto, I love the little tang of the pickled peppers and I love how all that plays with the rich, almost meaty soft eggplant. This has definitely reached the realm of how to make eggplants tasty, and what’s really cool is how well a vegetable-based dish like this can FILL you. I really wanted more. And I can bet that other sandwiches have reached similar levels of success as these two.

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Holdability: 6

               Much like the old quandary of chewing gum while moving one’s feet at the same time, suffice it to say that these aren’t necessarily sandwiches one wants to eat while walking. Being wrapped in paper, foil, and then slipped in their own well-shaped to-go sleeve, sitting down after transport is best for these behemoths of Italian meat and sauce, especially if one does the chip combo in a bag (which I saw a few people doing). Of course my experience is colored via the fact of getting two sandwiches, cuz one probably CAN eat while mobile, but options like the meatball and Italian are likely to be a bit messy while doing so. Not to mention the adventure of sinking your teeth in big bites. I will say that, minus the falling peppers, the smaller-diameter Eggplant does seem to be a bit more hands-friendly of an option, even being cut in two (which for once doesn’t hinder as one can open the package from a single end); which is good cuz, as I said, one wants to chew down on this guy as soon as possible.

Price: 7.5

                  $8.50 for both of the ground-meat options (Meatball and Sausage+Peppers), a boost to $9.50 for the roast beef-based Italian (and I’m guessing the Sicilian too), and $7.50 for the Eggplant and other seasonal Veggie sammiches.
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Speed: 8.5

                Hard to tell from a good-sized line of tickets in front, but everything seemed to be handle quite well despite the rush, a strong speed to serve through.

The TOE: 9

                Despite a very simplistic design and graphics work, Vin’s comes out with a strong theme and personality to the menu, transforming it from just another Sandwich Truck to a specific destination for your cravings. It’s a joy to be able to go to a place like this, glance at the menu and just “get it” without having to think about things too deeply.

  Service: +0.5

                I haven’t used this is a while, though there may have been cases I probably should have. But the two on shift today kept really calm with great, amiable personalities through what was likely an unexpected push of customers on a somewhat chilly Tuesday. Very talkative still while putting effort to connect with customers while getting orders out, I think they’ve earned at least a little bit of extra pointage.

Tally: 41/50

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Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a “sandwich truck” experience, I would say this is probably one of the best in Minneapolis. Though all options are sure to leave you smiling, I’d say the highlights really are the Meatball and Fried Eggplant Pesto; the former for when you can afford finding a place to sit after ordering, and the latter if one is able and needs to chow down immediately. Do make sure you don’t let it sit in the foil for long so as to retain any texture in the fried crust. If you’ve gone back more than once, which would not surprise me (I get a similar urge to return much like with my trips to Vellee and SCRATCH), checking out the Seasonal option/s would be my next big plan of attack.