By Sara Boyd and Adam Estrem
It truly has been the summer of food trucks. And while it’s not a new concept by any means, 2011 certainly marked the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Twin Cities’ ordinances and new, up-and-coming food trucks.
So before we bid them farewell — and are given yet another reason to dread the winter months — it seems only appropriate that we take one last taste. (Well, not totally last, I mean, as long as they’re parking, we’ll be indulging.)
And there was no better time to sample some street food than at the very first Street Eat Awards, which was held during Mpls. St. Paul Magazine’s Taste! event.
The awards ceremony featured 12 food trucks from around the Twin Cities, asking each to serve a sample of a dish that best represents their food. A panel of judges, including Mayor R.T. Rybak, tasted the street food and declared the first ever Best Mobile Food Vendor in Minneapolis.
That prize went to newcomer, Scratch, an Asian-influenced food truck that was quite a hit with their tofu lettuce wraps.
My co-worker and co-foodie, Adam Estrem and I, were sadly a bit too late — and a few food trucks were a bit too popular — so we missed out on trying the winner. Still, there was plenty of street eats to be had. Here’s a rundown of our sampling.
Chef Shack — Mini Donuts
Adam: Chef Shack’s Indian influenced food has big flavor. The owners spent last off season traveling India, gaining inspiration for their dishes. They served mini donuts, a classic Minnesotan food truck item, but with a slight twist. I found their donuts to be less sweet than the classic donuts you find at the state fair, which is good in my opinion. The outside of the donuts are slightly crunchy with a light and fluffy middle.
Sara: I agree and while I’m not really a donuts kind of girl, I have to give big props to Chef Shack on making them irresistible. The added spice found in the classic cinnamon-sugar mixture gives the dough the right amount of kick and takes it brilliantly from plan to perfection.
Natedogs — Hot Dogs
Adam: My love affair with Natedogs is no secret. His all pork hot dogs have the crunch and snap I look for when biting into one. The flavor is beyond something you could get at a grocery store, and I can never eat just one. Natedogs served their hotdogs topped with a homemade mustard infused with Surly Beer, homemade sauerkraut and caramelized onions. The mustard, grainy sweet and spicy, with a hint of beer had amazing texture and unique flavors.
Sara: To be completely honest, I totally “knocked it before I tried it” with Natedogs. I dismissed it as your typical hot dog from a cart, which it 100 percent is not. Natedogs goes above and beyond packing an insane amount of flavor into one dog. The toppings are incredible — I’m still thinking about that beer mustard — and the hot dog itself is certainly something to write home about.
Smack Shack — Lobster Rolls
Adam: Smack Shack, now a staple in downtown Minneapolis, provided us with their lobster roll. Huge chunks of lobster meat, dressed delicately in a mayonnaise-type sauce allowed me to actually taste the ingredient they are trying to show case, lobster. Hints of tarragon and a crunch from fresh cucumber balanced out nicely to give the roll some depth. Served on Texas-toast type bread, heated on the flat-top, brushed with a little butter, and it feels like I am tasting the east coast.
Sara: This still is one of my favorite things to come out of a food truck. Josh Thoma and crew certainly have mastered the Midwestern Lobster Roll. No matter how many times I’ve had it, the flavors continue to surprise me. There’s a hint of light butter that seeps out of the griddled bread and plays oh-so-fabulously with the lobster. And the lobster itself is so delightfully sweet, it certainly earns its place as the star of the sandwich.
She Royal — Chicken Curry & Vegetable Sampler
Adam: I like Indian food, though I generally find it to be salty. She Royal served some amazing chicken curry over rice, with great curry flavor, and I’m talking about the sauce not the spice. Minnesotans think that Indian people call it curry, just because it has curry in it. Not true. A curry is simply the style of sauce used. She Royal’s curry has great cumin and chili flavors to it, though it may be on the spicy side for Minnesota. I love heat, and found it to be pleasant. The vegetable sampler was a nice contrast to the rich flavors of the chicken curry and acted as a pallet cleanser in-between bites of the curry.
Sara: I’m a big fan of Indian flavors and She Royal definitely impressed me with their abilities to nail it — and in a food truck no less. The chicken curry had great complex flavors but even for me — a Minnesotan that tends to hide from spice — I thought it could’ve been kicked up a bit more. The rice was nice, perfectly cooked and not overly bland. The veggie sampler — a vegan dish — featured tasty collard greens, potatoes and lentils and was a nice platter but could’ve used just a touch more salt.
Turkey-To-Go — Turkey Sandwich
Adam: Turkey-To-Go has long been a favorite of mine while at the State Fair. They have, bar far, the juiciest turkey sandwiches around. Though, the sandwich tends to lead me to the drinking fountain, and is a bit on the salty side for me, the flavor is out of this world. This past year Turkey-To-Go introduced a variety of sauces to put on their sandwiches, like a buffalo-style sauce and others. The meat melts in your mouth, and with addition to new flavors, the combinations are endless.
Gai Gai Thai — Fighting Gai Bowl
Sara: Gai Gai Thai focuses on sustainable Thai food with a few influences from Hong Kong, L.A. and New York. Their Fighting Gai Chicken Bowl was served with red cabbage, ground chicken and their special homemade No. 7 sauce. While the No. 7 sauce certainly has some zip to it, the bowl as a whole fell a little flat. The top layer, with the sauce, has a nice texture with a great crunch from the cabbage, but anything past that point is a bit on the mushy side.
World Street Kitchen — Yum Yum Rice Bowl
Sara: The food coming out of the tiny kitchen at World Street is always surprising, inventive and delicious. And that certainly includes the Yum Yum Rice Bowl. Made several different ways, though most contain a mix of onions, broccoli, cilantro and the must-have over easy egg. Occasionally the rice can be hit or miss but more often than not it’s a smack-dab hit. I would suggest branching out and giving just about anything on the daily menu a try — the chino beef tacos are intense with spicy cabbage and braised beef short ribs. Go get em!
There are still tons of new food trucks out there and we’re already hearing rumblings for others you can expect to see next summer. These are just a few we sampled for the 2011 Street Eat Awards, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg — you can’t walk around the Twin Cities without spotting a new one. One thing that’s certain, if this year was any indication, next year’s street food will be beyond spectacular.