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Food Truck Court

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Normally I “take-a-day” Thursday, but I’ve been meaning to take a Wednesday off instead for some time now. That’s because this summer, on Wednesdays only, there is a “food truck court” in downtown St. Paul. It’s a legit place, it even has it’s own Google Map location! That’s pretty serious.

I’m a big fan of food trucks because they’re a new fad. Especially in Minnesota, they’re a new fad. You see, until recently, there were laws banning and/or restricting what street vendors could sell – only pre-packaged foods because they are “non-hazardous” (except to my health!). Needless to say, the street vendor and food truck craze has yet to catch on in these parts. However, the times they are a-changin’…

I ventured into downtown St. Paul on Wednesday by bus, which was exciting because it made me feel even more like a local. I had to take a bus route I don’t normally take, so that felt new and exciting. It was a perfect sunny day, which also meant it got a little hot waiting outside for my food, but I’ll get to that a little later. Here’s what the food truck court looks like:

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Not the greatest picture, but there are 4 trucks there: Magic Bus, Chef Shack, Gastrotruck, and Fork in the Road

I don’t know if I’d really call it a “food court,” since there were only 4 truck options. I’ve been to the “courts” or “pods” in both Portland, OR and Austin, TX, which also usually only have 4-6 carts in a high concentration area, but other cities’ pods seem to have more variety of food. When I think of a food court, I imagine a place where I could get a slice of pizza next to the Chinese restaurant and maybe finish that off with some cajun fried chicken or a smoothie from the ice cream stand. Although there were 4 truck options at the St. Paul food truck court, there was really only one option of stuff to eat: sandwiches, and variations on that theme.

The 4 trucks in attendance were: Magic Bus Cafe (hot dogs and tofu dogs), The Chef Shack (one of the first and supposedly “best” food trucks), Gastrotruck (locally sourced gourmet burgers), and Fork in the Road (sandwiches and such). What the food trucks lack in cuisine variety they more than make up for in gourmet flavors and local and/or organic ingredients. After reading several signs of fish taco this-or-another and beet salad that-or-something, I decided to go for Fork in the Road’s pulled pork sandwich. The sandwich won over Chef Shack’s pulled pork taco only because Fork in the Road was also offering strawberry lemonade (as opposed to Chef Shack’s Arnie Palmer) – see what I mean about lack of variety? Essentially the same menu!

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The food truck and accompanying menu. Meals range from $7-$9 at most food trucks at the court.

The line was long at 12:30 PM when I showed up, but I luckily had a book to read while I waited…for 20 minutes!!! Then I had to stand and wait another 15 minutes to get my food. Somewhat disappointing and uncomfortable in the sunny heat – perhaps the food truck people can build some shady rest areas or picnic benches if this craze catches on for next summer. I’ve never waited so long for street food before in my life.

Granted, the wait was most likely due to the fact that they make all the food fresh instead of pre-packaged or pre-made. But I still think there are some kinks to work out in our new food truck system. I took my food to a spot that overlooked the Mississippi River and braved the continual sun (again, no shade ANYWHERE!). Here’s what the final spread looked like:

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Still Life: Food Truck Lunch - travel memoir, BBQ pulled pork sandwich, chips, beverage.

The sandwich was very good – the pork was smoky and not too greasy or saucy. I loved the melted cheddar cheese and caramelized onions that were part of the sandwich, too. That was a nice touch since I don’t usually get cheddar cheese on anything BBQ (probably because of the grease and sauce factor). Strawberry lemonade was perfectly refreshing and good value (just $2 for that big cup!).

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Gooey cheesy BBQ goodness...but not in a clog your arteries way.

After the meal, I decided to try out Gastrotruck’s limited dessert menu: banana cake with peanut butter frosting OR banana cake with peanut butter frosting. DECISIONS DECISIONS! No other truck offered any type of sweet ending, although there was a random guy dressed like a clown peddling ice cream (I’d rather not take my chances with that type of vendor…).

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Not the greatest presentation - what's with the frosting? Also, note the weird packaging. NOT a muffin wrapper!

The cake came like a muffin in this weird paper sampling cup, which made it difficult to eat. I kind of looked like a piggie just chomping down and essentially throwing the whole thing in my mouth while pushing the cake out of the cup with my fingers. Whatever. Again, a minor kink to be figured out as these food trucks get better at the best serving methods for street food. All in all, a delightful lunch with a fantastic view:

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Great views. Looking forward to more food trucks popping up so I can enjoy more food this way!

To summarize my review of the Wednesday Food Truck Court:

PROS: local, mostly organic, and/or seasonal ingredients; good value; freshly prepared; al fresco dining

CONS: long waits in the heat; lack of options/variety

TIPS: Limited parking, consider bussing or bring quarters for meters; bring cash – about $15 for meal, drink, and dessert; bring a book or iPhone to distract you and keep your mind off the sweat dripping down your inner thigh as you wait for the food.

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