The Bison Butler

20150709_114610
https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/thebisonbutler
Main Location: St Paul

Those who’ve read a few of my reviews are probably used to me starting off now and then with an exasperated, apologetic, and overall depressed statement on my inability to get to certain trucks as fast as I would enjoy. Often the issue is pure circumstance; knowing they’re out, but never having that perfect day or chance to visit. Other instances I run across a truck that I simply haven’t heard of, or only saw twitter of it one or two months after opening. But the worst feeling has been revisited this recent week, ambling out to find a truck that not only do I have little to no recollection of, but that’s apparently been in business for multiple seasons. Perhaps the name and paint looked familiar, that I may have seen once before, but truly was this vehicle alien to me, and thus I had to amble up and find out more about it.

This big yellow truck with the buffalo and grass painted on either side is The Bison Butler, a business that finds two particular impressive points to it. Firstly, and most expected, is their exclusive use of Fresh, Local, and Hormone-free product, including their Produce, Pork, and especially the Bison meat. Secondly, the goateed gentleman behind the operation painted the truck himself! Doesn’t his bison and signage look awesome? I’ve always found it sketchy doing non-professional wraps and paintings on trucks, you can always tell and it’s not always the best, but ya gotta love the simply well done, sort of native hulking figure standing there, waiting to be gazed on as you eat one of its brothers (Maybe this part would have fit my TOE section better? Oh well, come back and pretend this is the intro or finale to it later).

20150709_113212

When asked, they SAID they’ve been on the streets for 4 years, of course making myself feel really bad for not getting out to them sooner, I’m sorry!! Though as I write this I actually researched their timeline and found that opening happened in June of last year (perhaps he HIMSELF had 4 years experience on the streets, who knows), so I don’t need to feel SO bad now. Still need to get out to more of these guy, gosh darnit…

That aside, the truck itself really focuses on simple, classic Street Food bison and pork items. The American mammal comes in Burger, Steak Taco, and Sausage versions (I’m assuming the last is like a link sausage for bratwurst lovers, but don’t hold me on that; could be patty sandwich). Pork is often Pulled and placed in a Taco, Sandwich, or their Cuban Wrap alongside ham, pickles, pepperjack, and their creamy House Slaw. They also have a Bison Hot Dog and Rib Tips.

OH! And it’s not a local meat business without some Beef Sticks for sale on the side! In hindsight, I really should have bit the bullet and tried one, or at least asked if they make it themselves or get it elsewhere (I’m heavily guessing elsewhere). Maybe on my next trip to St Paul, they seem to be in Mears Park quite often nowadays; I’ll try and report if it’s particularly impressive!

20150709_113828

Food: 6.5

                Starting off with the Burger; which is offered in Mushroom+Swiss, Cajun, California (American Cheese, Lettuce+Tomato+Onion), Cheeseburger and Plain; I felt like trying the Cajun to see how they did it, as the others seemed easier to guess. Sadly, like all ‘cajun-spiced’ burgers I’ve had, you barely taste those spices, and the single thin slice of mass-produced pepperjack doesn’t actually help it; so note to all, IF going for a burger, some other option. The patty itself is of the thin and flat style and well-done; not my favorite, but considering it’s working with a very lean meat, it’s a smart choice. Any thicker and it would likely run the risk of drying out when fully cooked (and I guess there’s some reason you don’t do lean burgers medium rare? No clue what it is). Now, as a Bison Burger, this is done very well; it’s not dry or chewy, still tender, has that great little edge of gamey/earthy flavor we look for with alternative meats, and the bun is grilled. I can’t stress how much I appreciate the proper creation of this item. That said, as a burger overall, it doesn’t thrill me much; I actually read some other post on them, with a guy mentioning how juicy it is, and I’m sorry man, it’s not juicy. It’s tender, there’s a touch of moisture that leaves it enjoyable with no real complaints, but it’s not juicy. A burger should be an experience, a meal, a handful of thick meat and flavor that makes our eyes clothes and throat work happily as it’s shoved down our gullet as the juices drip down our chin or onto a plate; I still think the best ones are medium-rare or medium. And this okay-sized, thin-pattied slab of ground meat just doesn’t do that. If this was cut in half and made into sliders, it’d probably do much better; but on its own, it simply doesn’t hold up that well.

Well, moving on. I have similar opinions on the meat used in their Bison Steak Tacos, filled with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and blue cheese; feels like tenderloin, it bites easily, cooked well, a bit gamey, but it doesn’t come through in that fantastic way we hope for, sorta like those grilled asada steak tacos. Probably would be nice if it was cooked on an actual grill instead of a flat top to better get that an actual crust. What I do like about it is, for one, the inside of the taco has obviously been griddled for a bit of extra flavor, which is cool! The other fillings taste really good together, reminds me of flavors you’d expect in a basic steak restaurant, but it’s all so… dry. Not like chewy or bad dry, but they really need a sauce here, or just some pico de gallo; it’s lacking in necessary acidity, that extra element, and mouth-filling/flavor-carrying moisture, otherwise it’s just earthy, gamey, and a bit sweet from the onions.

20150709_113847

Just remembered, forgot to mention the fries, those aren’t all that enjoyable; in fact they’re quite weak, so one should feel no real necessity in getting them.

There is a bright spot though. I decided to bite the bullet and also grab a small, cheap Pork Taco, made from slow-cooked, local and hormone-free pigs, which first off is where I found the joy that is their Coleslaw. Purely creamy, great crunchy texture, I wouldn’t mind having this at a BBQ or at on any sandwich or burger (that’s what they should do, just top the burger and taco with THIS stuff, maybe some BBQ sauce or something else too). And that pig… oh god, this is why we need to do more proper farm-grown, local animals. It actually had flavor, was tender, moist, and it’s in two other menu items that I bet I’d enjoy VERY much. Just wish they did some more with it, everything is rather simple.

20150709_113838

So though executed rather well, the food I had wasn’t completely inspiring; though I hold much hope for the pork.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Since the food is rather non-juicy and devoid of much-adored sauce, it’s all actually quite compact and easy to lift and consume from its basket.

Price: 7.5

                  $8 for Bison Sausage, Rib Tips, and Cuban Wrap, $9 for the other two Bison options, and some good deals on the other pork items such as the Sandwich for $7, Hot Dog for $6, and $4 for a single taco (so a bit of nice range). They even have a combo deal of $10 Sammich/Burger with Fries and Water (which I completely forgot to grab xD darnit).
20150709_113207

Was thinking of scoring this a half point or so higher, but only a couple of these come with the fries (which again, not that great or numerous), and though I won’t argue the higher cost of Bison meat, the amount of meat isn’t quite that numerous, for any item I’m sure.

Speed: 8.5

I saw a Pork Taco, ordered alone, come out almost immediately, so one can assume all pork items to go out really fast, with the wrap and sammich maybe taking a touch longer (and of course enough time to deep fry that hot doggy), but the burger and steak taco needed about average amount of time, if not a bit more, to prepare. Variable, but good speed possibilities.

The TOE: 7

                  There’s the stuff I said earlier, and the fact that we get a place that deals with that classically Midwestern unique animal for meat, even if I do like the simple pig better. Sort of makes me think of the kind of place I might visit at a state/street fair; you know, during that period of life where you weren’t trying to down every completely new and weird creation out there and were drawn to those buildings displaying the fact they had Deer or Ostrich burgers. Though I do feel I’m missing that full-on feeling of place and experience looking back on it.

Tally: 38/50

20150709_113230
Final Thoughts

As much as I want to promote the fantastic focus on local, grass-fed Bison, I would actually implore anyone visiting to attack the other items with that slow cooked, deliciously organic and tender pork; they really do give a better lunch experience. The Cuban Wrap has that little bit of uniqueness and complete composition, while Pork Taco offers a quick, affordable grab-and-go option, both of which contain that really nice creamy-crunchy slaw. If absolutely craving that wild-roaming beast, go for the Snap Dog; hot dogs always have that perfect texture, it’s only $6, easy to grab and go, and they deep fry the bastard! What’s not to love? Though I would rather get it without the fries and have them pile on that coleslaw, maybe some nice stone ground mustard to make it perfect.

Oh, I guess I SHOULD add this in too, because I know there are those who are still planning on heading gung-ho to grab a burger, probably because they aren’t as picky (but seriously, I don’t get how people can know about inch+ thick, super juicy, medium rare and flavor-packed burgers and put something like this on the similar level of enjoyment? Again, it’s made very well for a bison burger, but if offered the choice between those two burgers then you know where I’m going), I would probably just go for a Cheeseburger, or California if you prefer the American cheese. I saw a picture of the Mushroom-Swiss once, and the fungus looked half raw. Something to consider.

Outlaw Grill

20150604_124156
https://www.facebook.com/outlawgrilltruck
http://www.twitter.com/outlawgrill
Main Location: St Paul, Outer Cities

Most are going into the food vending/service industry for the first time with their trucks, while others use it as an extension of their restaurant, and still others are based off some working Chefs who want to move onto their own business. The combination of factors and ways in which people get into the kitchen, stationary or mobile, has always made for interesting stories and comparisons. As I’ve found in my recent visit, hitting a truck with a little more interesting start-up conversation than usual.

Having spent 4 years working in their ‘little yellow trailer,’ the guys at Outlaw Grill spent most of their career frequenting not Minnesota but the Midway/State Fairs in a concession stand. As regulars at these events, they decided to take one of the more unique and creatively challenging strategies; instead of, like so many other established booths, focusing on a set food style wherever they went, they instead changed the food they served at every single location. From fried-bacon-wrapped hot dogs to lobster rolls to gyros (not to mention a deep fried ‘caramel apple ring’ that one Best Dessert at one fair in particular), their food ended up a success wherever they went, and proving they certainly could know a thing or two about slinging street food for the masses.

After heading to our own home state, the boys (and girls) set about building their truck… by themselves. Yeah, apparently they basically built it from scratch, or at least team member Darren did with ‘Lots of Coors Light, some cuss words, a 100lb LP tank with a sunflower heater, a million hours on eBay&Amazon, and a shot of ingenuity.’ God I need to get more long ass twitter conversations going with truck owners before doing these article out, amazing what you learn!

Like the fact that, much like their dear friends Motley Crews, they went to Creative Color to get their amazingly colorful, detailed and vibrant wrap job done. Considering the two guys I know for sure have received their work, and a good idea on what other trucks have likely received their service, I can say they crank out some fantastic and amazing designs for those able to hire them out. Speaking of the paint job, and Motleys, if one looks closely and carefully they’ll even see a little tribute plastered on one of the doors in honor of our deceased brethren.

ko1Vr0Sv

Now, onto the truck itself! A hootin’ tootin’ attitude with a motto of ‘Eat it Like you Stole it!’ These down home country boys serve up a heaping pile of… Pita Wraps. That’s right you heard me, every item is served in a pita wrap, congealing into a distinctive menu theme notably different than what one imagines beforehand. But considering their past work with gyros and such, perhaps not so surprising. They then stuff these with grilled chicken and beef fillings, topped with hearty piles of cheese, sauce, veggies and other things. The main contender to face is the Outlaw, beef topped with bacon, grilled onions, cheese sauce and their ‘outlaw sauce.’ This is accompanied by a ‘Chicken/Pepperoni Parm’ with classic fixings, their version of a Philly called ‘Doc’s Holiday,’ and two other Chicken offerings in the Buffalo and Ceasar(served warm with melted cheese, not a cold salad), both topped with romaine, their classic cheeses, and a sauce. Of course they bring in some specialty and seasonal wraps every now and then, such as an Asian Glazed Shrimp with broccoli slaw that premiered a couple weeks before I released this article.

They don’t offer anything special in sides besides a nice brand of potato chips, not that I even feel the need for anything other than one of these puppies! Now we’ll see if I want to stop back after my first visit.

20150604_124412

Food: 9

It’s certainly not fair to get a sense of these guys without getting the Outlaw, and it was certainly worth a visit. Simple soft pita bread enfolding a tasty, flavorful mass of shredded grilled beef reminiscent of that classic philly and Italian style we see used so often off the grill. The highlight definitely comes in the lightly caramelized, flavorful chunks of grilled onion, distinctive piece of bacon (nowadays one really has to love bacon that actually holds its place in a dish, rounding out those meaty, grilled umami-like flavors), that creamy cheese sauce to meld into the realm of craving delights, and finally cut through with their ‘outlaw sauce.’ Different in itself, that flavor comes along the line of many ‘house sauces’ in its use of Thousand-Island-Dressing like base flavors/style, a bit of that BBQ twang along with the ketchup/tomato component, but most importantly… that horseradish undertone, OH I love a good horseradish undertone, not overpowering at all, just perfect to go with some beef and cream. A practical and basic combination of flavors, done well, and in a pita of all things.

Moving on, my second item focused on the Chicken and Pepperoni Parm which, I should say, going in was a bit disappointed that the protein wasn’t breaded and fried like a classic ‘Parm’ style, as expected… but after dismissing the language, I didn’t care too much. Good chunks of moist, chickeny chicken, paired with that garlicky-spicy pepperoni, all moistened by a big glob of definitely robust tomato sauce, one reminiscent of those thicker pastes on certain delivered pizzas. My eyes were saddened that the mozzarella was not fully melted, adding to an overall flavor combination that seemed rather pedestrian, in fact reminding me of so many toasted meatball sandwiches I’d gotten at Subway… but a couple bites in and, again, I didn’t care. A certain craving runs through, that mingling of flavors that blatantly aren’t ‘high class’ but celebrate in a guilty late night mess of Italian ingredients that you eat straight from the fridge in shame yet can’t stop until they’re all gone, or if you have any sense reheat in the microwave for something better. Maybe the pita provides enough of a difference, and that fully soft texture that pushes you past caring for looking at contrasting aspects, to make one revel in the satisfactory experience. Would still like it if more of that cheese got melted and gooey though.

20150604_124402

Holdability: 9

They may come in a basket, but ditch that and these guys are almost perfect for walking around. Like any good gyro, folded tight and wrapped with that foil, one could potentially walk and eat with one hand, though needing a bit of extra coordination with the second hand to peel back the wrapping every now and then. Some bulging stuffing and leaking sauce out the back does affect this final action though, so fully one-handed isn’t truly possible, but it’s easily one of the most portable truck items I’ve had in a while (so many new ones either adding in sides or having something that needs two hands or a basket). Good show.

Price: 8

$8 or $9 for the wraps, the lower prices doled out to the really simple Chicken Caesar and Buffalo, which mainly just consist of the meat, cheese, lettuce, and dressing/sauce. More unique and signatory options, with that added oomph, go for the latter price.

20150604_124220

Speed: 8.5

With a menu and kitchen built for speed, they’re able to crank out your wrap in only a couple minutes, mainly requiring the time to heat the chicken and sear that beef or other meats on the griddle. Though, as I mentioned, I wouldn’t mind a little EXTRA time to get that cheese fully melted and gooey (or broiler-ized for bubbly golden goodness if possible), but extra points here go for getting things out smoothly.

The TOE: 10

A vibrant and kickass truck wrap, wild attitude, menu focused on a singular and unique item (and a pleasantly surprising one at that), all overall converged to create a sum lifted higher than the individual parts. I really can’t think of anything to knock them for here, they’ve really hit the nail to make an exciting and strong thrum of air about them, all that’s missing is an amazing Toe Ring. And I’ll admit, I really didn’t expect to find an outcome like this when I first heard about them; pretty sure it’s been all those BBQ trucks I’ve been hitting, made me expect some general, boring grilled-meat-in-a-bun place with a ‘oooooh look we have personality’ attempt around them. Thankfully I was wrong, and instead found a truck highly reminiscent of that Kingpin of the Twin Cities streets, Motley Crews. Hopefully we can see their truck restored to its rightful state of affairs soon after the restaurant opens and see these two businesses riding together in a blaze of grilled meat sandwich glory.

Tally: 44.5/50

20150604_125130
Final Thoughts

When you’re definitely looking for some hot food on the go, and without the normal wait, Outlaw will fit the bill. They even offer some of those saucy, savory diner-mess satisfactions that should fit into a brewery if they ever park outside one. Sad to say they don’t offer any of those cheap, fun grab-and-go snacks that have made friend Motley’s so perfect for that scene, but they’re certainly in the same lane for the rest (and help to fit the empty hole that needs filling while the truck is gone).

Ultimately, despite my enjoyment of the chicken, I’d say the beef-based options of the Outlaw and Doc’s Holiday make the best experience; either that or one of the fun Specials they have going on during the day. One should also be warned not to look at their Chicken Ceasar like a ‘mobile healthy salad;’ I mean it sorta is, but overall it’s offered hot, melted parmesan on top, and big chunks of romaine, it really reads more like a hot sandwich with a lot more lettuce (I almost got a picture of one, but as usual the orderee just beelined straight down the street after getting the thing, no luck…). Still good, just be aware of what you’re getting into. Overall I’m quite eager to see what they do from here.

Classic Yum

20150519_125333
https://www.facebook.com/classicyum
https://twitter.com/ClassicYum
Main Location: Minneapolis, St Paul, Etc

The second truck on my State Capital lunch visit in May of 2015, Classic Yum Food Truck, mostly appeared on the scene in the same year. I had actually planned to hit them earlier during Harriet Brewery’s Spring Truck Rally, but of course I get the call from work RIGHT as I’m leaving. Grrrrr… damn you daily life, ruining my mobile adventures!

Oh well, at least I could get back to visit this big yellow behemoth (and now I’m thinking about the Magic Schoolbus)! The focus of which seems to be the use of Chinese and Southern Asian flavors and cooking techniques into basic truck food. Specific menu items themselves tend to change and switch around rather often; in fact, every time they park at a brewery they focus almost purely on selling simple snack-based, easy eating pub-style offerings (I sadly don’t know what kind specifically, but you can get an idea based on style they serve).

Items themselves can range from a highly classic and simple Chicken Teriyaki Bowl, over rice and such, to a ‘Chinese’ Pulled Pork Sandwich (I assume the moniker is due to flavors cooked WITH the pork, and not just because it’s served with an ‘Asian Slaw,’ though who knows). Some rather consistent options include Turkey Eggrolls (which I so wanna get), ‘Dragon Fries’ (will explain later), Thai Red Curry Chicken Wrap, and a Vietnamese Fried Fish Sandwich. Many of which come with a bag of chips (Lays, which my boss was happy with. Don’t look at me like that, I had enough food in me that day, I did NOT need those empty calories, no matter how crispy they are).

20150519_131057

Food: 7

                That Fish Sandwich was calling out to me, and was singularly unique compared to most menus I’ve seen, so I just had to feature it. The basic composition was, of course, a white fish filet, given a light batter and fried. This placed between a buttered, toasted bun (nicely toasted bun, yum) with a spread of ‘Shrimp Pate,’ cooked shrimp turned into a paste which offered a refreshingly cool sweet seafood flavor in contrast to the warmth and flaky light richness of the fish. That is then topped with pickled red onions, FRIED onions, and an ‘Asian tartar sauce,’ which all in all come together like a classic fried walleye sandwich with a twist of South-Eastern Asian freshness. The particularly tart pickled onions and flavored sauce stand out nicely with the fish, which isn’t at that perfectly thick and crunchy fried batter that one can expect from, say, a proper fish and chips, but it stood up with everything else just fine, helped out in flavor and texture from the fried onions. That said, I think they had way too many pickled onions on top; I had like half of mine fall out, and it still felt on the edge of just shoving their presence in your face, and I LIKE pickled onions (they’re good too). Just, pull back on them a bit will ya?

The fried Shrimp, on the other hand, didn’t quite thrill me that much. An order of Dragon Fries gets you a basket of shoestring French fries accompanied by 2-3 (okay it’s been a week since I’ve had this, and my picture’s not so clear, so I forgot) shrimp, sliced in half and fried in batter. Fries are typical, nothing exciting or particularly craveable, and though the shrimp has the nice flavor you expect, it was also a touch greasy in flavor, and the batter came out rather thick and soft in spots, almost moist. Basically they’re fried in a typical ‘sweet and sour’ style, flavor being better than the generic restaurants but texture about the same.

20150519_131042

Being of that style, though, it did come with a thing of Homemade Sweet-Sour Sauce, which… was definitely better than the stuff from the packet. Similar flavor points, but smoothed out, not thick, and mellow, a very happy dipper for both my shrimp and the potato strips they came with. I should finish by saying that I overall don’t have any issue with the dish idea, fried shrimp on fried potatoes seems lazy but I can understand its place, but there are some execution points and choices that I wish were improved.

Holdability: 8.5

                 Dragon Fries are like eating a… well, a basket of fries, we can imagine how easy that is, only need to consider dipping. The Fish sandwich fillings did have a habit of sliding around (as I mentioned earlier, quite a bit of the onions fell out), but to be fair I think much of that mess was my own fault for not taking full advantage of that foil wrapping around it. If I actually used that instead of trying to go full-hand, it probably would have kept in tight and clean like wrapped sandwiches do and not been so much tartar and pickle stuff on my fingers. And I expect the other sandwiches and wraps to be as clean, the teriyaki coming with a fork, and everything being able to consume without much extra attention while roaming. Just two hands required.
20150519_125342

Price: 7.5

                  Main sandwiches come out at $10, the Wrap being a buck less, Teriyaki bowl one further at $8. The Dragon Fries settles down to $6, which feels fair and about right for a mound of fries with shrimp, which usually comes in pricier even for just a few, though I do wish the quality was further up to match it. Still very sad to say I didn’t try the egg rolls, so not sure how well they fit their $5 moniker, but if they’re anything like Vellee’s in quality (being turkey based they certainly sound unique enough) and of a decent size or quantity, I’d say it’s a safe bet. As for sandwiches, I agree with price for the Fish (even as-is), but the pulled pork and wrap need to be a bit fantastic to garner that, cuz I don’t think a bag of chips is enough of a side to qualify the extra dollar or two I’m unwittingly paying vs having the truck food on its own. Would rather get those fries or something else (preferably something else).

Speed: 7.5

Took about five minutes, average wait for three things that need frying (shrimp, potatoes, and fish) plus assembly.

20150519_130309

The TOE: 8

                  There’s something about the food and menu that doesn’t quite excite me as the personality of the truck’s name and design does when hearing and seeking it out on social media, or seeing from a distance. I think part of it has to do with the actual sorta tacky food pictures in the window along with the whiteboard menu, which is an annoying juxtaposition as (as a customer/reviewer) I do appreciate being able to see what to expect for each item ahead of time. There’s a feel to it when visiting that reminds me of some typical/generic newer Chinese/Pan-Asian food court or cart (like that Golden Tummy that was hanging around Minneapolis a couple years back), which is unfair to them because I can tell they’re offering some interesting and more unique options and packaging of their food, what with getting turkey in the eggrolls, (hopefully) flavoring a pulled pork sandwich with Chinese spices, and other things I’m sure they’ll come up with. Definitely giving them a few extra points for changing the menu to fit their locations, like when they offer more pub-style/snack-ish foods at breweries. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe a result of the food’s impression on me afterward. Hopefully I can change my mind at a future visit.

Tally: 38.5/50

20150519_125321
Final Thoughts

Classic Yum seeks to fill the need for Chinese and Southern Asian flavors presented in a not-so-typical way, and for the most part they have had a strong start towards success in this, needing only some tweaking and further twisting from a few too simplistic dishes (I’m looking at you Teriyaki and Dragon Fries) to fully achieve something amazing. For now they are definitely the spot to go when seeking Asian flavors packed between two buns, or wrapped in a tortilla. They also offer a decent possibility in the quick-snack option during Truck touring/meals or when visiting a brewery, mainly in the form of Turkey Eggrolls and other changing/seasonal items I have yet to experience.

From what I’ve witnessed in their regular on-the-street lineup, I think the most exciting option for the hungry traveler would be the Red Curry Chicken Wrap, from its high portability to tasty flavors (plenty of places now have proven curried stuff crammed into a burrito is delicious), and at a buck less than the other sandwiches, even more of a deal. That said the Fish Sandwich is quite the experience, especially from trucks; with a lineup that mostly looks to burgers, pulled pork (and other bbq), bacon, fried chicken, grilled/fried shrimp, tofu stuff, and other things meat or vegetarian related, it’s not often you get to actually get to try anything fish related. And they did do it well, I simply suggest taking off half of the pickled onions before digging in. Then you’ll be happy.

Z’s Smoking Bonez

20150512_124227
http://zsmokinbonez.com/
https://twitter.com/Zsbonez
Main Location: Markets and Outside Etc Locations

It seriously feels like all the trucks I’m making it to in 2015 are BBQ Trucks so far! I think this is the third one in the past month or so, it feels like I’ve been trapped in a cage of smoke, pork, and bbq sauce. Not that I’m complaining of course, who doesn’t love getting multiple chances at brisket and all other meats that are good with the world? (I’m looking at you Vegans… scoot along with your evil ways)

20150512_124249

At the very least all of them have shown marked differences, and this last one has proven quite interesting in its own way. Having opened up in Maple Grove in 2012, Z’s Smokin’ Bonez is a full-on BBQ Sandwich shop, filling their menu with smoked pork and brisket piled between bread, and of course some classic ribs and cornbread.

20150512_123818

Their restaurant and catering business has obviously done well enough, and recognized an obvious strength in their food, ‘cuz they got a truck outfitted and moved their cuisine out and onto the street! That’s right, starting this year we’ve been able to see Z’s Smokin’ Bonez Food Truck hit some of the lots, farmer’s markets, and events in our Twin Cities’ outskirt areas. With a big white trailer outfitted with a ‘patio’ in back where their old-fashioned barrel smoker is mounted, it’s rather nice to see them able to bring their ideal cooking to the streets.

As for that food, they make some changes from the restaurant to offer unique handheld bbq options (and other things). Of course they have a half rack of Ribs, Classic Sandwiches (big and small) of Pork/Chicken/Or Brisket, including a Bacon Cheeseburger using ground brisket. THEN we get to the fun stuff. Tortilla Wraps stuffed with pulled pork, beans, and slaw (Big Pig) or brisket+pork+mac n cheese+slaw (Whole Hog). Then there’s Deep Fried Rib Tips, the Trailer Trash Burger (piled with all manner of meat, veggies, and a fried egg… my god I need to start trying burgers more), and a ‘Squish-wish.’ I’ll describe that one later. Oh, and a KFC-style bowl of fries, pork, and beans called the Smoke House.

20150512_124732

Of course we get the classic options for sides: Coleslaw, Mac and Cheese, Baked Beans, and Potato Salad, nothing more nothing less (oh and ‘Ziggy Fries,’ that’s an automatic thing usually). And the whole side of the trailer is filled with all their BBQ Sauces, seriously 8 different kinds, from Original to Jalapeno to the classic Texas White Sauce. I tried a few on each item, definitely wasn’t disappointed. Speaking of which, let’s start really getting into that food.

Food: 8

                I guess I should start with talking about the Squish-wish, my first item of the day (I wasn’t going to get more, but then, ya know, I just had to… but that’s for later)! The name certainly suits it, since it is actually squished right on the griddle, a proper pressed sandwich to my delighted surprise! Sadly, it was supposed to be made with a Cuban bread but they ran out; I didn’t mind, the regular bun acted just fine, I can only imagine it’d taste and come together even better. Ultimately it was much different than we’ve come to expect with traditional BBQ sandwiches, aka cheap, soft, and completely un-toasted bread to soak up the meat. I appreciate the additional texture and awesome crunch (yet still soft inside) to go with the filling.
20150512_124958

Which is rather good; Pulled Smoked Pork AND Smoked Brisket, melted Pepperjack, Onions, Pickles, and BBQ Mustard. Both meats were tender and had distinctive smoke flavor, enjoyable in their own fashions, and ultimately ate well as this delicious BBQ twist on the classic Cuban, coming with some added texture from the other fillings. If officially meets approval.

And then there are Ribs… Holy F&$%balling Mother of S#!% there are RIBS! My God look at those sons of b!%&#*$! You actually get a PROPER order of half a rack of ribs, big pieces of smoked pork meat that are actually composed of mostly meat with just a bit of bone for grasping! This is by far the best order of them that I have seen and/or gotten from a truck since I started doing them; and part of that may be due to others using baby back or some other style that costs more, meaning they have to give less for the same price, vs the St Louis Style cut that Z’s uses, but I don’t care about that. As I’ve always said, this is a food truck, not a restaurant, IF you’re going to charge $15 or more for something on the menu, then you better get something GOOD in return, quality and quantity wise.

20150512_125734

And these are good. The meat is still tender, it has that proper toothsome/bite quality to it (not melt-in-your-mouth, which shouldn’t really happen from smoked ribs anyway), though I did find the end pieces a bit more ‘rubbery’ than the rest (not drastically or anything, but you can see they’re not ‘as’ good, though they do have a higher meat ratio to them too…). It’s still covered in grinds of pepper or whatever spice was used in the rub, the flavor of which is distinctive but not overpowering (you know what, was it lemon pepper? I’m thinking there may have been some), and indicative of a certain style. Of course the smoke was nice, and best of all they tasted great with some of the sauce on top. It was a satisfying experience; if I were to list the faults, it’d probably be that the St Louis cuts they use result in a rib that indeed is more ‘meaty/proteiny,’ with less of the fat veins to make it extra tender, but if so it’s minimal, and I think I’m just trying to find a complaint that’s not really there so that I don’t seem like I’m just saying all-positive out of some biased opinion. Guess you’ll have to try for yourself to TRULY know.

Sadly the sides were rather unimpressive; not bad in any way, but the quality doesn’t stand really stand out. In fact the flavor of the Mac and Cheese was nice, a little better than typical from BBQ joints/trucks I’ve found, but with a rather thin sauce, almost like a slightly thickened cheese soup with noodles in it. Which is sad because now I have little to no actual interest intrying the Whole Hog Wrap. The Coleslaw, as I found on the sandwich, was purely basic, standard, couldn’t even taste any of the dressing so I doubt it’s particularly tangy or flavorful. I will say that I DID enjoy the Bacon Potato Salad; it was also rather typical in style, with that tangy sour cream dressing and some onions, thankfully some nice chunks of bacon, but it was done well and the kind of side I can REALLY dig into with a giant spoon from a tub, at least for a while. Nothing special overall.

Holdability: 8

                 I’m definitely giving them some extra points for their heavily sandwich-based BBQ offerings, especially those wraps, which I do still wanna try someday (even if the sides they stuff it with don’t thrill me). And that pressed squish-wish, thank god for Panini-style sandwiches for holding in the hand while walking. I can’t say for how messy the burger and typical pulled pork/brisket sandwiches shall be, I expect the former will need some napkins, but I certainly know the Ribs are a full sit-down item. Though at the end of the day, of course, serving in the classic BBQ to-go styrafoam boxes like this as full meals (doesn’t seem like any sandwich can be bought on its own for less, so it’s an automatic addition of fries or another side) will cut down on that factor I oh-so-cling to, even though no one but me cares haha.

Price: 7

                  Besides a $7 and $9 price for the small/side sandwiches, most are $10, $12, or $13 (the latter two for Brisket and Specialty Sandwiches/Wraps), with $15 for the Ribs. I will repeat, compared to other trucks this is easily the BEST deal for ribs, getting the most bang for your buck, for the money spent. But price points are overall still higher up. Though the $10/$12 sammies, including the burger, do in effect come in as good sandwich+side combos for the price (they’ll sometimes switch out the fries for another side if you mention interest).
20150512_124214

Speed: 8.5

Depends, things like the pressed sandwich take an average wait time to grill up and/or prep up, fry the potato sticks, etc. Some things just need scooping and cutting (helloooo ribs and potato salad) to be served up.

The TOE: 9

                  I feel so bad now, because I have to repeal my recent naming of Baldy’s as my favorite BBQ Truck, for I think Z’s has already dethroned you. Not to say I think they’re the BEST, I think I much prefer Baldy’s for quick grab-and-go sandwiches at a better price, but I really appreciate and respect a lot of what Z is doing EVEN MORE. The big thing here is the Setup, what kind of packages for the BBQ they offer, and they definitely do that in a way that more fits the street, both in the ability to only need your hands to eat most of it (minus bowls and sides, thus a fork comes in handy), but also in the attempts to trying some different and fun/unique forms of the original via wraps and other sandwich combos. And though longer truck menu selections like these can lead to an annoyance in wonder and confusion, or just a wish to focus and specialize in a few things, this is one of the trucks that, because they’ve done it well enough, I myself am somewhat intrigued to want to come back and try more if given the chance (particularly those Deep Fried Rib Tips). I haven’t said that out loud for other trucks, but there have been others where I feel the same.

I’m a bit sad they don’t have any of that Jalapeno Cornbread I’ve read about in the restaurant, that sounds like it woulda been a fantastic addition. Hell, I’ll take a brick of that instead of those French Fries anyday… or used for a sandwich (get on it!! Please?).

Tally: 42.5/50

20150512_123829
Final Thoughts

Whether you’re looking for some true flavors and heart of BBQ food or a truck showing a fun street food twist on something classic, Z’s Smoking Bonez can fill part of your heart. It will be best enjoyed when you have some time sit or pause and enjoy it, leaning against a wall or sitting down with your entrée in question, though there are possibilities for the on-the-go.

Though it’s still not the item I’d ever get purely on my own interests, if you ARE looking to get Ribs from a Food Truck, this is the place to do it. I myself would definitely suggest jumping on the Squish-wish or Trailer Trash Burger for the full, deep down Meat experience with a side. For those of the more portable-minded, the Whole Hog Wrap (though I’m not too interested in it now since I wasn’t impressed with the mac and cheese, though it’s still a sinful addition right?) or the Fried Rib Tips are the way to go. Finally, the Side: Bacon Potato Salad. The others don’t really stand out, I doubt the beans will, and the potato salad actually works really well, the tangy sour cream helping cut through all that rich and fatty pork/beef.

As for those looking on the simple side, debating brisket vs pork vs chicken, that all seems to be up to you, as they seem to be handle at an equal level. Though that’s only a consideration for those who want to visit but are really on a budget and thus looking at the cheaper regular/side sandwiches.

Ultimately, it’s definitely worth a visit, I’m positive you can find an experience here.