Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Food Truck Festival – Shakopee, MN

I had no idea what to expect from this alleged Food Truck Festival being held at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, but I knew Eli’s Donut Burgers was going to be there. That was pretty much all I needed to know – I’m a huge fan. I knew what Canterbury Park was – it’s a horse racing venue – but I didn’t know I’d have to pay admission to the park to get access to the food trucks. I assumed they’d be out in the parking lot or at the entrance or something. Fortunately, it was only $5 to get into Canterbury Park – which you’d think they’d post in the advertisement, but didn’t happen. You’d also think Canterbury Park would post admission prices somewhere so you could see how much it is before you get up to the ticket window to ask. But I’d already driven almost 45 minutes to get to the event – it would be a bigger waste of time and money to turn around and go home with an empty stomach.

I feel fortunate that everyone working at the park seemed to be really nice and helpful. I had already asked someone where the food trucks were and she told me they’re all inside. Then, the lady at the ticket window gave me a small program so I’d know what was going on with the horse racing when I got inside. I still didn’t, but at least she was nice. When I got inside, I roamed around and tried to find where the food trucks were located. It took me far longer than it should have, but I’d never been here before. However, on the way, I got to see a couple of horses close up, which was kind of cool. I've got lots of relatives with horses, but it's been a long time since I've been around said horses. They parade the horses in front of the people so the kids can see them and so the serious betters can get a good look at the horses. That part was kind of fun.
I looked in the program to see if I could figure out how to place some sort of bet. Seriously, there is no way a person could figure this out from reading the program. If I have any advice for the Canterbury Park people, it is to dumb the program down even further, or provide some sort of personal assistant to help newbies out. I’m a multiple-degreed professional and I was absolutely confused by the information in the program. I was there and totally would have thrown some money on a couple of horses, but couldn’t figure any of it out.

I finally found the food trucks, out extremely close to the track.

I already had a sort of game plan, based on which trucks I saw on the flyer. I headed to Eli’s first and WHOAAAA, the line was absolutely insane. The longest line out of any of the trucks. And not because they were slow or anything – they were cranking them out and people were loving them. That’s a really good sign. So I decided I’d get in a shorter line for something else and work my way back to Eli’s. I had wanted to try She Royal Deli food truck – based off the She Royal Coffee shop in Minneapolis. It has gotten good reviews and I love Ethiopian food (this food truck’s primary cuisine). It was difficult to decide since everything on this menu sounded fabulous. One of the workers came out and put some “sold out” stickers next to a few menu items, so I figured I should be quick about ordering. I finally decided on the Ethiopian Veggies – red lentils, cabbage & beets, served with rice and pita bread. I also needed a water since the sun was blazing hot and there wasn’t any shade anywhere unless you go inside.
The food is mostly ready, so it took less than a minute to get my food. It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, nor was it exactly what the menu said. I got the rice and the red lentils, but nothing looked like beets, and aside from the cabbage that was in the potatoes and carrots, there wasn’t a whole lot. I also didn’t get any pita bread (or injera, which is what I was hoping they’d have). Fortunately, it was pretty good, regardless. The rice is orange and yellow long grain rice and not only looked festive, but had a good flavor, as well. The lentils were really perfect, and I can’t speak highly enough of them. The carrots, potatoes, and cabbage were alright, as were the collard greens. Sometimes hot food on a hot day isn’t the greatest, but Ethiopian food doesn’t tend to be that heavy, when eaten in smaller quantities. She Royal is good and I’d go back here. I still prefer to eat Ethiopian food with my fingers, inside a restaurant, and with other people, off of a huge tray, with injera bread. But that’s more difficult from a truck.

This small area where the food truck festival was being held was packed with people. So once I got my food from She Royal, I immediately got into the line for Vellee Deli’s food truck. I’d eat my food while waiting to get the next round. I had heard of Vellee Deli and knew that they served kind of a hybrid Asian and Mexican fusion type of food. I didn’t realize even what they offered until I got a little closer. This truck has really interesting combinations of Mexican and Asian food, like Banh Mi sandwiches with pulled pork, cilantro and jalapenos; pork tacos with aioli, slaw, and house-made pickles; and Thai curry burritos. After the man working the window put another “sold out” sticker next to two things I thought about ordering, I finally decided on the Chicken Currito – the Thai curry burrito with lettuce, rice, and zing sauce. I also saw that you could order different spice levels, so I got a 2 out of the 3 “kicker” levels available.
The food took a bit to come out, but I simply people watched and tried to figure out the program for the horses, in case I wanted to do some gambling. Once it came out, I was pretty impressed. It was a substantial burrito. I dove right into it, mainly so I could take a photo of the inside. It was delicious. The curry was really bright and flavorful and had some zing. Yup, it had some zing. And it was growing. My lips were tingly within a couple of minutes, and by the time I got to the end of the burrito, my face was a little numb. It wasn’t tear-inducing kind of spice, but it was significant and very welcome. I’m glad I ordered it the level I did – it was just about perfect. And my face tingled for the next hour – seriously - not in a bad way, just in a brutal reminder that my spice threshold is still better than the typical Minnesotan’s. hahahaha. I am glad I still had my water from She Royal. The Vellee Deli is a place I’ll go back and try out a couple different things.

With all of the vendors putting up “sold out” stickers on menu items, it was pretty clear that this first year event was kind of uncharted waters for both Canterbury Park and also for the food vendors themselves. I don’t think they expected this whole thing to go as well as it did. People were in lines raving about food and talking to other people about things they ate and what they’d recommend. I talked to a couple of people and talked up Eli’s pretty well. The line sort of spoke for itself, and it also helped the people in the announcer’s booth at the horsetrack were talking about them as well.

Since people were talking about it, while I was eating my burrito, I got into the long line for Eli’s Donut Burger. I know I’ve raved about this place before, but this is longest line I’ve ever seen for this place any of the times I’ve gone here.Really, this was a long line. As it turns out, there are two different lines – one to order your food, and then one to wait in for your name to be called to get your food. We had to keep a constant vigil on who got into line, so people didn’t miss the ordering line. I think we did pretty well with this. I eventually made it up to the front of the line in a surprisingly short amount of time. In fact, I wasn’t even done with the burrito from Vellee Deli quite yet and felt like I had cheated on Eli’s when the owner recognized me from all of my previous trips and took my order. I commented that it looked like he was doing seriously good business. He was pretty thrilled with the turnout, even though I know he was super swamped with orders. He’s a great guy and I usually get to chat with him for a while, but the line wasn’t going to allow for that, so I tried to be all business and hurry it up. I got the usual Donut Burger with bacon and cheese and I also wanted to try the deep fried green beans, so I got an order of those as well.
I got back into the long second line – which was also moving quickly. Once I got closer to the front, he called out my name since the deep fried green beans were ready. I grabbed them and headed back into the line to snack. Before I started, I asked the people around me if they wanted to give them a shot. I figured these people would love a sampler while they were waiting for their food, plus it might drum up some additional business for the truck if I handed out some free samples. It wasn’t like I was going to starve if I gave away five or ten of these things. Fortunately, people were really impressed with them. The green beans were pretty darn good. They didn’t feel greasy, though they weren’t as hard and crispy as I’ve had before. They had great green bean flavor and the seasoned batter they were fried in was quite good. I honestly have no idea what the dipping sauce was, but it was odd – and I think good – jury is still out on that. I think most people who sampled mine were in favor of it, but I had to tell them I didn’t know what the sauce was when they asked me. It’s kind of a yogurty, tzatziki, ranch sauce thing, but it’s good.
I didn’t wait more than a minute or two longer for the donut burger itself. I was starting to get worried they were going to run out of things. The other shops were closing up since they literally had run out of food. I think Eli’s knew it was going to be a big deal and brought some reserves – which turned out to be a fantastic idea, since they were the last vendor selling food (as far as I could tell). The burger was absolutely delicious, as you’ve heard me rave about in the past. You’d really be surprised at how non-horrific the whole thing is, even though it sounds like a culinary monstrosity.

I never did figure out how to place a bet on a horse, but I did get in some major people watching. There are all kinds of people here at the horse track. I will point out that it tends to be a particularly conservative (politically) group. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many anti-Obama shirts in a crowd or bumper stickers in the parking lot than I’ve seen here. But demographic-wise, you’ll see fancy rich people all dressed in white with giant hats, you’ll see regular people in jeans and t-shirts, you’ll see people in cut-offs and black tank tops, and you’ll of course see a few really sad people losing every dime they have and sitting by themselves with an oxygen tank using some sort of failing system to determine which horse is going to allow them to win all their money back. It’s an interesting cross section of Midwest America, without a doubt. Here's a couple with some interesting western gear on. Hey Coach, she doesn't have any pockets on those extremely high-waisted tight jeans!

Top 5 things about the Food Truck Festival
1. Eli’s Donut Burger – pretty much always at the top of my list
2. Chicken Currito from Vellee Deli
3. People-watching at the horse track
4. Deep fried green beans from Eli’s
5. Ethiopian Veggies from She Royal – pretty darn good

Bottom 5 things
1. I wish I could have tried something at each of the food trucks
2. The uncertainty of the event led to all of the food vendors running out of EVERYTHING
3. Not exactly what I had expected from She Royal, but what I got was good (even though I didn’t get injera)
4. There could have been more information about paying to get into the food truck festival
5. I think if they do this even next year, there will be quite a few more trucks, which should shorten the waiting lines for the vendors there


Kristi said...

Thanks for this review!! I thought about heading down to Cantebury for this but didn't make it. I am still food truck deprived :(

Jade Graham said...

I call it Blue Friday after a crazy week. Too much travel. Too much conflict. Too much clutter. Food Truck Catering