So many food trucks, so little time.
Of the dozens of choices currently perched at parking meters, parked outside breweries and setting up shop at farmers markets, my appetite continues to return to a small number of players.
First up is AZ Canteen (www.andrewzimmernscanteen.com, @AZCanteen), where adventure meets prowess.
Sure, it’s branded within an inch of its life, and anything that sprouts from the well-polished cranium of Andrew Zimmern and his media-industrial complex is hardly a mom-and-pop operation.
But for local diners whose memories don’t extend beyond 1996, Zimmern more than proved his mettle during his mid-1990s run at the helm of the former, much-lamented Cafe Un Deux Trois.
He’s also smart enough to hire another talent to keep the engines running: Asher Miller, a 20.21 vet who contributes a level of expertise that stands out among the all-too-frequent mediocrity that is Foodtrucklandia.
Although there’s frequently a daily special invoking pork, the truck’s protein of choice is young goat, and diners who reflexively shy away from that not-mainstream-for-Minnesota meat need to step away from their fiercely defended comfort zone and give it a shot.
The payoff is considerable. There’s a burger, a hefty patty of that lean, wildly herbaceous meat (think lamb, only punchier) that’s fried, Midwestern-style, in butter enriched with tarragon, parsley and shallots.
Toppers include charred onions and tomatoes (remember, brown equals flavor), and the bun, a toasted pretzel number, is sturdy enough to handle the prodigiously juicy patty.
It’s spectacular, and worth the $11 price tag. Ditto the zesty, just-about-foot-long sausage, dressed with a roasted tomato/onion/garlic mayonnaise and a roasted red pepper/Fresno pepper relish and blanketed in a crisp, minty cabbage slaw. Talk about 10 well-spent bucks.
Another treat? The truck’s thirst-quenching beverages, including a lemonade humming with mint and a ruby red hibiscus punch infused with Christmas-y overtones of citrus, cinnamon and allspice.
Bacon lovers, and vegetarians
After enduring 70-hour weeks in restaurants, Moral Omnivore (www.themoralomnivore.com, @Moral_Omnivore) co-owners Ross and Linnea Logas thought they could cut back on their work schedule by becoming their own bosses in a mobile kitchen.
“We were gravely mistaken,” said Ross with a laugh. “But we were young and stupid enough to give it a shot.”
Any naiveté on their part — their hours rose exponentially — was more than matched by some serious curbside cooking chops.
That prowess is evident in their brilliant, slider-style version of a BLT. A panko coating and a spin through the fryer lend much-needed personality to dreary plum tomatoes.
Ordinary lettuce is replaced by a crunchy, yogurt-tossed cabbage slaw (and, for good measure, collard greens jazzed with chipotle) and one of the state’s premium producers, Waseca’s Fisher Family Farms Pork, supplies the top-shelf bacon.
The formula grew out of happenstance: Vegetable-phobic Ross was attempting to pull together dinner, utilizing whatever was on hand. “It was like trying to make Super Glue and ending up with Post-it notes,” he said.
The vegetarian-friendly menu includes two more instant food-truck classics. Who needs beef when beet sliders are this good? The recipe evolved from the couple’s weekly CSA box, and that eternal farm-share question, “What are we going to do with all of these beets?”
Plenty, as it turns out. The second classic is portobello caps, battered and fried, the panko coating’s crispness (and gentle curry seasoning) a marvelous contrast to the meaty mushrooms. They’ve become so popular that the couple are finding themselves cleaning and slicing 150 pounds of Minnesota-raised mushrooms a week.