By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl | MinnesotaMonthly.com
What’s the big news in this, the first week of May 2011? Chef trucks and street food, of course.
Minnesota’s premiere curated farmers’ market, Mill City, kicks off Saturday, and you know what that means: It’s food truck season. The Chef Shack debuts at Mill City this weekend—that’s the truck of Lisa Carlson, world traveler, veteran of bona fide Michelin-starred European restaurants, and originator of the local street-food revolution. Chef Shack remains, in my opinion, in the first rank of local street food options: They’re inventive, surprising, awesome. Some of my favorite past meals there included pulled pork nachos, hand-cut sea salt french fries, goat’s milk ice cream, and cardamom-scented mini donuts. Yum!
But it’s going to be a truck-y, truck-y good summer. My other favorites: First Minneapolis, then St. Paul.
You’ll find the best lobster rolls in the history of the great North Star State, the best shrimp poor boy I’ve ever had, a darn good sausage poor boy, and soon, fried green tomato poor boys for the vegetarians in the house. Smack Shack’s new downtown location is on Marquette between 6th and 7th street, right outside Wells Fargo and a half block walk from the pretty benches and fountains inside the IDS. Check their Twitter feed for daily specials, and to find out if they’re out (they won’t be on rainy days).
World Street Kitchen
Sameh Wadi, chef of Saffron, is a James Beard semi-finalist (who’s off to cook for the $1,500-a-plate Beard VIP dinner this weekend, as well as for the big names attending the general awards), and the only Minnesotan to ever compete in Iron Chef. When he’s not advancing cuisine, he’s running his food truck, World Street Kitchen, which is parked by the light rail stop at Nicollet and 5th Street. What to get? Great fusion dishes like a Middle Eastern pressed lamb torta, made by pressing big chunks of Iowa lamb, pickled peppers, herbs, and cheese together inside a roll until everything inside it fuses into one delicious spicy cheesy whole, or his famous “yum yum rice bowl” a sort of Middle Eastern take on Korean bi bim bop that is unbelievably delicious (even though it sounds ghastly). Follow them on Twitter for daily menus (and daily availability).
Barrio Taco Truck
Barrio has a great big death star of a shiny black truck which parks daily now in Minneapolis’ Warehouse district from around 11 a.m. on. I visited the first week they were open and had a delectable bacon-wrapped, LA-style hot dog covered with cheese, beans, and pickled peppers, as well as a strangely under-seasoned soft-shell crab torta. Next time I go I’m going to ask that they splash more of that excellent salsa around. I’ll also mention that there was a guy sitting on the sidewalk near me devouring an excellent-looking burrito. I had burrito envy. Again, Twitter is the best way to track them.
Parked right in front of the IDS in downtown Minneapolis during the week, and at the Midtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, Dandelion Kitchen specializes in graceful farm-driven treats like potato leek soup, and ham and goat’s-milk brie sandwiches. Like everyone, they typically post their specials on Twitter.
I haven’t tried this newcomer yet, but I’m going to. Why? Pastures ‘A Plenty is one of my very favorite pork producers in the state, and that’s where their hot dogs are from. Also, homemade sauerkraut. Hooray for farm-driven hot dogs! This hot dog specialist is planning to be on the corner of 4th and Hennepin, near the central library. Best way to track Nate Dog’s schedule is via Facebook.
That little bit of Paris in the state capital opened their patio this week, and their street-stand for crepes (the best in Minnesota!) is open now, and for every sunny day until October. Specials are typically a sweet and a savory crepe, daily. For instance, sweet might be fresh strawberries and Nutella, and a savory might be filled with spinach, mushrooms, and fontina cheese. What’s the special today? Check them on Twitter.
St. Paul’s famous and beloved 128 Café got into the food truck business last year. Some of the highlights included a good sized portion of their famous pork ribs, pesto-shrimp skewers, and fancy asparagus salads with chevre sourced straight from the farmers’ market. They also have a Twitter account.
Food Truck Court
128 Café also is the anchor truck for this year’s new experiment, the chef-truck food court, which is planned to assemble every Wednesday near the St. Paul City Hall, on Kellogg. You can find who is assembled into a food court using the Twitter hash-tag #FoodTruckCourt.
Fork ‘n Road
Fork ‘n Road is one of the participants in the Food Truck Court, but they’re also often found in St. Paul near Mears Park. Typical menu items are things like a pulled pork sandwich, or a roasted red pepper sandwich with arugula and aioli. Like everyone, they’re best followed on Twitter.
The biggest news of the truck scene thus far in 2011 is the new truck of chef Stephen Trojahn, a chef known for his fine dining work at Cosmos. The menu items he’s posted look fantastic: Smoked meatloaf sliders, fried-egg cheddar sliders, spiced caramel corn. Follow on Twitter.
Last, but by no means least: The big purple hippie bus beloved by crunchy types and foodie types alike. I also put them last because they’re the rare food truck that does both sides of the river. They can be found at the Midtown Minneapolis Farmers’ Market, and in St. Paul at the Truck Food Court—and at all sorts of Minneapolis summer festivals.
Summer! It’s coming. And it tastes better than ever.