Twin Cities street food Pt. 2: Smack Shack, Sonny's, and more

Discover tasty treats to go

Street eating can take a bit more effort than its skyway-based alternatives. First, there's the matter of protecting your meal from hovering bees, curious pigeons, and hungry squirrels. Second, there's finding a place to sit.

In downtown St. Paul, diners find refuge on the shaded benches and wide stone ledges in city parks—Mears Park even pipes in classical music. But in Minneapolis, only the Smack Shack truck has its own seating area, so most street diners are left to plunk down on a stone planter along Nicollet Mall or get creative with grittier surrounds. That could mean perching on a parking lot curb and being misted by air conditioner spittle, or balancing on a retaining wall as buses pass gas and disgorge rowdy passengers.

And yet, what Minneapolis lacks in ambiance it makes up for in street food options.

SMACK SHACK

Here's what I never thought I'd see on First Avenue, amid the squad cars parked in the bike lane and the high-heeled women leaned up against the Fine Line: a guy in a truck picking leaves off a sprig of fresh tarragon, readying it for a lobster roll.

The vehicle, Smack Shack, which is parked in a surface lot at First Avenue and Fourth Street North, is the brainchild of Josh Thoma, best known for his partnership with Tim McKee at La Belle Vie, Solera, and Smalley's Caribbean Barbeque. If MTV ever launches Pimp My Food Truck, this mobile seafood shack could star: It's tricked out with a built-in video screen showing a tank full of lobsters. Unfortunately you can't claim your own crustacean, as it's not a live feed from inside the truck but a taped loop recorded at Smack Shack's supplier, Coastal Seafoods. Still, it's pretty cool.

The seafood at Smack Shack tastes so fresh that you might mistake the sound of the truck's humming generator for the ocean's lapping waves. Those with a bit of gustatory gumption should order the King Roll, a good half-pound of fat lobster hunks—sweet, pink-speckled meat studded with crisp bits of cucumber and celery, laced with ocean brine, and dribbling a seasoned mayo. The lobster overflows its edible pocket: a buttery hunk of griddled Texas Toast sliced like a bun to help prevent spills. The King rivals those sold at East Coast fish shacks for upwards of $20, but it costs just 13-and-a-half smacks (the smaller roll costs $8.50). Are these guys trying to lose money?

The limited menu—andouille sausage po' boys and hot dogs are the only options for the seafood-averse—suggests that diners should stick with the lobster roll, the lobster and arugula salad, or the shrimp po' boy. The plump shrimp in the po' boy are lightly battered and fried and then tucked, piping hot, into a roll with tomato, arugula, and raw onions. Each bite layers hot and cool in a way that mimics the sunny-breezy contrast of a day at the beach.

Locations: Smack Shack is parked in a surface lot at First Avenue North and North Fourth Street. It's usually open Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to midnight, and Saturday from 5 p.m. to midnight.

TURKEY TO GO

Turkey to Go, a Minnesota State Fair mainstay since 1959, brings its famous turkey sandwiches—along with homemade, build-your-own cookie-and-ice cream sandwiches—to Nicollet Mall. You can have your turkey drumstick slathered in a sweet, savory, or spicy Buffalo sauce, or, if you ask extra sweetly, a mix of all three. Sometimes the meat is so tender it falls off the bone—so nix any thoughts of walking around wielding it like a club and pretending you're at the Renaissance Festival. The thing looks like a big, sloppy mess, but if you pick through the bones and fat you'll be rewarded with succulent bites of meat dripping with glossy red sauce.

Every time the warmer door opens, the turkey truck wafts a Thanksgiving scent. But don't expect to find any stuffing: The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, with which the truck is affiliated, wants to broaden the bird's image beyond fall's annual feast and encourage people to eat turkey as often as they eat chicken. Nor do they want office workers to worry that they're going to go into a post-lunch food coma and fall asleep at their desks. "What people don't know is that chicken has as much tryptophan as turkey," says Drew Levin, who co-owns and operates the trailer. Levin likes to proudly inform customers that our state is the country's largest turkey producer. "Wisconsin has cheese, Idaho has potatoes, and Minnesota has turkey," he says.

Locations: The trailer is usually parked at Eighth and Nicollet during lunch, Monday through Friday. During Twins home games, it moves to Sixth and Hennepin.

SONNY'S ICE CREAM

One sunny day, a young extrovert staffing the Sonny's ice cream cart on Nicollet Mall solicited customers like a carnival barker. "Looks like he needs an ice cream," he said to one mother, a child straining against her grip and pulling toward the cart. When a couple walked past, the barker cried out, "Dude, buy the lady a cone," but the man didn't break stride. Sounds like grounds for a dumping, no?

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