Whether attending festivals or outdoor events, savoring a fresh-poured microbrew at one of the cities’ new breweries, or milling around city blocks and parks during lunchtime, you’re likely to find a food truck or 10 serving up delicious eats. During these coveted warm months, wherever the people go, an army of gourmet and artisan food trucks are sure to follow.
An ever-growing number of mobile eateries are joining the scene. The State of Minnesota granted more than 70 new licenses for Mobile Food Units in the first part of this year. Here are six ones hitting the streets that you might have missed. There’s still plenty of time to get out and try something new before the winter winds blow in. So hit the streets and eat something delicious.
Travelers on the mid-19th-century Red River oxcart trail running between Winnipeg and St. Paul were wholly dependent on the food and local offerings of outposts along the way. Similarly, Red River Kitchen’s ever-changing menu revolves around seasonal and local ingredients in the Twin Cities.
Owner and operator Matt O’Reilly, who also runs the Republic and 318 Café in Excelsior, says that rather than wait around for customers to come to them, he decided to meet them where they were: outdoors. Business is booming.
The menu changes almost every time the truck hits the street. But there’s always a rotating collection of locally sourced burgers (including duck, bison and quinoa mushroom), gourmet tacos, and house made brats and sausages.
O’Reilly says he tries to keep about half the menu vegetarian. Be sure to check out whatever spin on poutine the truck has on any given week. “It’s usually something just ridiculously delicious and rich,” O’Reilly says.
You aren’t likely to find Red River at the usual downtown lunch hour scrum, which O’Reilly says he avoids. Rather, look for the truck capitalizing on the relationships Republic has crafted with local breweries. There’s usually a menu item incorporating the local brew from the brewery the truck is sidled up next to: e.g., the Indeed Brewing L.S.D Brat.
Business has been so good over last month Red River Kitchen is already looking at adding a second truck, as well as some other exciting summer food amenities in 2015.
After a lackluster short stint last summer, which owner Mike Borovansky attributes to a bland-looking truck, the Wacky Wing Wagon is back with a psychedelic paint job. Customers are flocking to the cartoon hippy chicken that adorns the sides of the truck, and business is groovy.
“I want to stick out like a sore thumb when you come around the corner,” says Borovansky of the paint job. Stick out he does. He’s fielding more requests to cater events for both instate and national organizations than he can keep up with. He even catered an event for MLB execs when they visited for the All-Star game earlier this summer.
Following a successful career in sales, Borovansky set out on his wacky food truck endeavor after graduating with a culinary degree from St. Paul College. Chicken wings might not seem like something that requires a degree in culinary arts to make, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
He offers an array of sauces and rubs including a deliciously tangy and spicy sweet sriracha, buffalo, barbecue and Jerk. You can order each flavor with bone-in or boneless wings, as well as on a chicken sandwich.
The real star of the show, though, is the pretzel burger with bacon jam. It starts with crisp bacon with onions, tossed with coffee, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and maple syrup, then simmered for a couple hours until it becomes a sinfully good masterpiece. Slather it on a dense and toasty pretzel bun with a hand-pattied burger, onion, lettuce and tomato, and you have one wacky burger you won’t find anywhere else.
Bringing a gourmet twist to a homespun classic, owners Haley and Tony Fritz will have you melting for their artisan grilled cheese sandwiches that they pair with imaginative dipping sauces and soups.
The Fritzes never thought a casual date would turn into a career when they first met while bartending during college at the University of North Dakota. But their tradition of concocting imaginative grilled cheese turned out to be the answer when they both struggled to find entry level jobs in their chosen fields (Tony studied software development and Haley studied social media marketing).
They combine locally baked bread and artisan cheese to concoct gooey wonders like the Holligan, which pairs Irish Dubliner cheddar, garlic mashed taters and a saucy Irish whiskey reduction. Looking for a fresh summer twist? Try the caprese salad grilled cheese, which goes great with the fresh heirloom tomato gazpacho.
You won’t find any American cheese or Wonder Bread on this truck. But you can find a delectably vegan tomato basil avocado soup. They’re still looking for a way to make vegan cheese edible, Haley says.
Fry Mamas, Fry Bread
Try: mixed-berry fry bread
Find it: Area festivals and events, coming soon to downtown St. Paul
Bringing an indigenous twist to the Twin Cities food truck scene, owner Barbara Ritt calls Fry Mamas, Fry Bread’s creative take on traditional fry bread “Native American fusion.” Instead of the traditional honey, jam or beef topping a fluffy flying saucer of fried bread, Fry Mamas adds an array of both sweet and savory toppings.
The former owner of Cookie’s by Barbara, Ritt supplied the Midway area with fresh gooey cookies and other baked goods for 10 years. Ritt is now bringing her love of food and entrepreneurial spirit to the streets.
Along with her silent partner from the White Earth Nation, Ritt is on a mission to reintroduce this native classic to the Twin Cities. She says she was surprised by how many people weren’t familiar with fry bread. Once they get a taste, they can’t imagine why, she says.
The Mixed Berry Fry Bread — with its summer array of strawberries, blueberries and raspberries — was a hit at the Raspberry Festival in Hopkins. You also can’t go wrong with the Sweet Walker Fry Bread rolled in cinnamon sugar. “It’s like a big giant sugar donut,” she says. If you’re in the mood for something on the savory side of life, try the garlic Parmesan version.
With a late start this summer, Fry Mama’s hasn’t yet ventured into the downtown lunch scene, but plans to start making appearances around St. Paul in the coming weeks.
Peeps Hotbox proves that a rewarding dining experience relies as much on the sense of site as it does on taste, and just because it’s coming out of a truck doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.
Peeps’ thoughtful, multiethnic cuisine reflects the broad culinary experience of co-owner Jessi Pine. She spent the last 10 years working in the kitchens of Twin Cities’ gastro stars like Haute Dish and Fuji Ya. The menu features flavors from around the world, but rarely do they mix. Pine says she avoids fusion dishes, opting instead to let the individual culture’s cuisine shine in its own right.
One of the signature dishes Pine’s particularly fond of is the huarache. She tops a giant corn tortilla, made fresh daily, with a rainbow of red, yellow and green salsas, fresh crema, chicken tinga, black beans, avocado and greens—with a flourish of fresh radishes on top.
Those looking for a taste from the Asian continent can try the subgum wontons or Negi Maki skewered meat. Looking for something closer to home? Peeps also has all-American classics like a Sloppy Joe topped with house dill-pickle chips and a Hamburger Helper Hotdish with morel mushroom cream sauce.
In addition to fresh ingredients sourced from area farmers markets, Pine and partner Charles Johnson bring a homegrown flourish to their dishes. Many of the menu items are topped with fresh herbs and edible flowers grown in their home garden.
Green + the Grain
Try: Cowboy Salad/Wrap, Cloudtop Organic Frozen Yogurt
Find it: Downtown Minneapolis along Marquette Avenue, Monday-Friday; Bauhaus Brew Labs on weekends
Online: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
“Light” and “healthy” aren’t terms commonly associated with food truck menus, but sometimes a fresh salad or light wrap is just the ticket for lunch on the go. Green + the Grain’s variety of fresh salads offer a nice reprieve from the gut-busting grease bombs ubiquitous in many food truck lineups.
For a quick lunch that won’t throw you into a cathartic food coma for the rest of the day, rope the popular Cowboy Salad which features herb crusted beef tenderloin, shaved sweet corn, black bean pico, radish, red pepper, queso fresco, fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime served on a bed of romaine lettuce with house corn tortilla strips.
If the warm weather and sun have you hankering for something summery, check out the fresh and seasonal Berry Salad with strawberries, blueberries, organic wheat berries, craisins, walnuts, apple, blue cheese and house balsamic vinaigrette. It’s served over spinach with herb roasted chicken.
If you’re one of those people that can’t be satisfied with a salad as a meal no matter how robust it might be, fear not. Any of the salads can be thrown into a wrap for a big ol’ burrito-looking meal that won’t make you feel like your sacrificing satisfaction for health.
Since you made the healthier choice for your main course, go ahead and treat yourself to some desert. Green + the Grain carries divine frozen yogurt from California-based startup Cloud Top, which claims to be the first certified frozen yogurt company in the country. The truck only stocks one flavor—the Signature Tart—but it pairs wonderfully with a pile of fresh berries, which is good since you won’t find any Snicker’s chunks or cookie dough toppings.
Hauser says she seems to have found niche in the market for light and healthy lunch alternatives, and is looking for a skyway space to move into this winter.
This article is reprinted in partnership with The Line, an online chronicle of Twin Cities creativity in entrepreneurship, culture, retail, placemaking, the arts, and other elements of the new creative economy. Kyle Mianulli is The Line’s development news editor.