food tv, food trucks, and the vanishing photos

When the Food Network debuted in 1993, I didn’t get too excited. I was already living a food-centric life and didn’t care to watch food-based television as well. (Unless the “foodie” in question was Julia Child–then I wanted a front row seat.)

How, then, did I become a Cooking Channel junkie? This FN spinoff launched in 2010 and is described as airing more instructional (read: less reality-based) programming. I don’t necessarily watch for the recipes (though I have found a few–check out Chocolate Diablo Cookies). More often, I enjoy the host’s style and personality or the interaction of a larger cast of characters. The following have been some of my faves:

Extra Virgin – Contemporary and cheeky culinary version of Green Acres.

The Supersizers Go – British co-hosts “visit” different eras of history to reenact the life–and diet–of the time.

Chuck’s Day Off – Chuck Hughes has my vote for best-looking and most charismatic on-air celebrity chef.

Baron Ambrosia’s Culinary Adventures – Crazy food escapades that showcase small mom-and-pop restaurants around the country.

Food Jammers – Three 20-something guys strip food production (frying, brewing beer, making ice cream, etc) down to its most basic. They visit hardware stores and the like to come up with wackadoo contraptions that somehow get the job done. Projects include a taco vending machine, cheese cave, and cityscape made entirely from chocolate.

Eat Street – Likable smart-aleck host tours the country to scope out the food truck scene.

There’s plenty more, and I realize many of these shows got their start on FN, but bringing them all together on Cooking Channel makes sense to me.

When my husband mentioned he had heard that Eat Street was coming to the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to film, I was jump-for-joy happy. I could hunt the crew down and possibly watch the filming of a favorite TV show! A quick online search uncovered which food trucks the show would visit and when. Today was my best chance of making the location (Gastrotruck, Rice Park), so I met my husband for a lunchtime stroll through downtown St. Paul.

We found Gastrotruck and saw filming taking place a block or so away from the actual truck. I had meanwhile spotted a new truck, Tiki Tim’s, that I’ve wanted to try, so ordered up their fantastic fish tacos. They were nicely garnished with chili-dusted crema and fresh cabbage, cilantro, and green onions. With lightly battered and freshly fried fish, these tacos were tasty, even more so just because they had been thrown together in the back of a truck. I dutifully snapped photos of my food, the truck, and menu board.

We then wandered over to Potter’s Pasties & Pies where my husband got a beef pasty and I enjoyed an order of their much-lauded banoffee pie. Syrupy caramel, thin and lovely banana slices, rich and slightly sweet marshmallow cream–yum. Again, photos taken of truck and food.

Last stop was circling back to Gastrotruck as the camera crew was finally filming the truck. I had hoped to catch sight of James Cunningham, Eat Street host, but no go. Clearly they keep the star talent at home. The peanut butter bread pudding I wanted to order was Sold Out (dang!); instead, I tried the quinoa salad. (Didn’t want another full entree, though would have managed to find room for that second dessert.) A crew member approached and we chatted, but because I hadn’t ordered one of four menu items they were featuring, I wouldn’t make the filming cut.

If that wasn’t enough of a downer, remember my photos? Stunning fish tacos? Crazy good banoffee pie? Quirky food trucks and their menu boards? When I got around to posting my pix, I could find only the Gastrotruck picture and a message that my SD card had “failed and erased.” Arrrgh. I don’t have photos, I didn’t meet JC, and I wasn’t interviewed on a national television show. Them’s the breaks.

On the up side,  I got a long walk in on a gorgeous day (with my husband, which means I get bonus “date afternoon” points) and enjoyed seeing and even eating from multiple food trucks. In the end, I’ll still call it a good food day.

the only surviving photo of my most delicious day

food truck tuesdays (even though today is wednesday)

Compared to other parts of the country, Minneapolis/St. Paul is late to the food truck game. While coastal cities have enjoyed fun food-on-wheels for years, the Midwest is just now starting to collect a wider variety of mobile food spots.

I’ve visited only a handful, but am grateful for even that as it’s been tough to get downtown (where the trucks are) with the busy-ness of summer schedules.

The best find so far has been a spot next to my husband’s office where a different truck parks each Tuesday. My girls and I try to join him for lunch those days to enjoy food I’d never make at home, but am happy to order from a truck.

Our finds so far:

Tot Boss

Only in Minnesota can you find a food truck focused on tater tots. Never having been a fan of these processed potato rounds (ovals?), I went because it sounded like fun. The sleek black truck–dotted with extremely large tater tots–sports plenty of attitude.

tot boss truck

tots on truck

My poutine tasted exactly like the sum of its parts (tater tots+cheese curds+so-so gravy).

poutine with tots

My youngest daughter ordered simple: side order of tots with choice of dipping sauce. Tots-and-dogs, my husband’s order, must have been unremarkable enough that I didn’t snap a picture as I couldn’t find a shot on my camera. Picture tater tots and mini corn dogs nestled together in a small food tray and you’re there. The concept was fun fun fun, but in the end, it was just tots. (Love tater tots? This is your truck.)

Bacon Trolley

You could quibble and say BT is not really a food truck, as this vintage red trolley car is pulled behind a pickup. But no matter as it’s a charmer.

bright red bacon trolley

bacon-based menu

This “truck” has received mediocre reviews from local papers, but I was wowed by my pork belly báhn mì. The textures and flavors balanced well and it was just plain gorgeous.

before the first bite

pork belly báhn mì–yum

My husband’s Spanker sandwich certainly had an inventive (and cheeky) name, but it seemed to be just an ordinary–though still delicious–barbecued pork sandwich. No complaints, but it was a bit average for the most expensive item on the menu.

pork belly spanker

The best order was the bacon popcorn for both daughters. The concept was simple enough: Buttered popcorn tossed with finely crumbled bacon, then topped with a crisply cooked bacon slice. Yes, I let my kids have popcorn and bacon for lunch. But if the popcorn counts as both grain and veg (and it does, right?) and the bacon adds protein, they had a well-balanced meal. OK, maybe no, but there’s no arguing that popcorn and bacon are brilliant together. It seems a no-brainer, but I’d never thought to combine the two. You can bet I’ll be sprinkling crumbled bacon on our popcorn next movie night.

bacon and popcorn–first-rate combo

r.a. Mac Sammy’s

I mentioned not caring much for tater tots and the same holds true for macaroni and cheese. Maybe I overindulged in my youth, but it’s a meal I’d never make for myself. That said, this truck in all its day-glo yellow glory made for a fun lunch spot.

mac and cheese on wheels

My girls ordered mac and cheese with bacon, though they could have asked for any number of toppings. Blue cheese, tomatoes, jalapeños, mushrooms, etc. were available for a small upcharge. The mini mac and cheese ordered by my girls seemed hearty enough (even my 10-year-old only ate half), so I’m curious how large the bigger size is.

bacon and cheesy mac mini

When asked independently (neither girl heard the other answer) what they thought of the dish, one girl said “too cheesy” and the other offered “not enough cheese.” Not sure what to make of that; depends on taste buds, I guess. I thought it was tasty enough, but again, not a fan so am a poor judge.

I was thrilled to find menu items with neither mac nor cheese and very much enjoyed my salmon po’ boy. Authentic it was not, but it was a well-built and delicious sandwich.

salmon po’ boy à la mac-and-cheese truck

Hubby had a Nathan’s hot dog which he declared tasty.

Next Tuesday will bring another food truck to my summer and I look forward to whatever it is I’ll find. The food may not always be spectacular (though it often is), but it’s sure to be fun.