Reporting Sara Pelissero
With so many new — and delicious — food trucks hitting the streets of the Twin Cities each summer, it’s almost too tough to keep up. Well, fear not, we’re here to help. Here’s this week’s food truck feature!
All that really needs to be said about this week’s food truck can be summed up in three glorious words: duck fat fries.
Yes, beyond bringing the retro feel of a good ol’ fashioned drive-in to the streets of St. Paul, Neato’s Burgers has given us the precious gift of duck-fat frying, without the hefty price tag or the cross-country journey. God bless them.
They’re also having a lot of tasty fun when it comes to the classic drive-in burger on a bun. Their most popular patty, fabulously named the Mustard Tiger, features a mustard-grilled burger, duck fat fries, more mustard and a special sauce. There’s also the jalapeno popper burger and a “Hans Goober” burger, for those PB&J fans.
If the fierce flavors weren’t enough, you can feel good about the food itself — nearly everything Neato’s makes is Minnesota-made and fresh to death.
Let’s learn a bit more, shall we?
Owner: Neal Lenzmeier and Antonio Gutierrez
Date the food truck opened: October of 2011
What kind of food do you serve? We try to do our take on a classic drive-in burger and then we try to get creative with that, little bit of fusion — we do a Mexican Elotes burger, a jalapeno popper burger. So we kind of play on the classic drive-in burger.
Price range of menu: Our cheapest item is the fries for $4, or $3 with a combo, and hamburgers start at $4 with the most expensive being $8.
Hours of operation: Usually on the streets from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, plus special events on weekends. We’re also looking into dinner service with a couple other trucks.
What was your job before opening the food truck? Tony and I were independent contractors. So we both had restaurant experience years ago and decided to get back into with this truck.
What made you want to open a food truck? Mostly just to be my own boss, have a creative outlet, make my own hours, which has been pretty difficult but it’s starting to pay off.
What made you want to get into the food industry in the first place? My dad was actually a chef around town in the 80s and 90s so I started to follow in his footsteps after high school. He told me to not go down that path. So I kind of got out of the back of the house, did some front of the house work in my early 20s and then left the industry around 24. I’m 31 now. I got back into it at 29.
How is the food prepared? Well every morning, we get our meat fresh from Stasny’s — a meat market on Western. They grind it fresh for us every morning. And then we get our potatoes from a potato distributor, fresh cut them every morning and fry those in pure rendered duck fat. I believe we’re the only business in town doing that. And we get all of our produce fresh every morning. So we typically don’t have food inventory. Every morning we get fresh food, cut it up and sell it all.
How did you come up with the name? It’s actually the first part of my first name — “Nea” — and then “To” for Tony. Tony came up with that. We thought it kind of had a 50s vibe to it so we created the character Neato.
How did you decide on the menu? It was kind of up in the air, even as we were starting the truck. And then Porky’s closed down. So we kind of thought, why not pick up where they left off? There aren’t really drive-in’s like that anymore so let’s try to do that. That’s kind of where we came up with duck fat because we wanted to do animal fat the way drive-in’s used to be before vegetable oil. And you can’t really find that anymore, except for we found this duck farmer, who was really helpful and let us know all about duck fat.
What’s your favorite dish that you serve? It’s probably the Mustard Tiger. That was kind of something we created and put on twitter, just to drum up some business one morning and it took off from there. It’s a burger patty grilled, with mustard on it, to create a crust then cheese, onions grilled in duck fat, then we put it on a bun with fries, special sauce, tomato and a little more mustard on top. That’s our best selling product. I’m also quite fond of the jalapeno popper burger, with cream cheese, grilled jalapenos and raspberry preserves. So it’s kind of sweet, salty, spicy. It all really works.
Describe your truck in one word: Retro.
What’s your craziest story from working at a food truck? Actually, last year, our first day at this food truck court, our generator started on fire towards the end of the day, so at least we got some sales in. But yeah, we looked out of our window and there was all this smoke coming out and our generator and the generator cord were on fire. So that let us put in a new generator. Every different, crazy story we have is a learning experience and I feel like we had a lot of them last year. I think we’ve replaced everything on this truck so that it will run every day but I’d say that was probably the craziest thing that happened last year.
What’s one thing you want people to know about your food truck? That all of our food is really fresh, locally sourced. We don’t go out of our way to advertise or put a bunch of buzz words in front of everything that we have. It’s just really fresh. We try to incorporate as many Minnesota products as possible.
Catch the Food Truck Feature every week, in the Curiocity column. Know of a food truck you think should be featured? Let us know by leaving a comment below or tweeting your suggestion to @SaraPelissero!