AZ Canteen food truck: Making "bizarre" foods more accessible

Eat like Andrew Zimmern right here at home
Eat like Andrew Zimmern right here at home
Stephanie A. Meyer

A group of food enthusiasts were gathered on a sunny day across from St. Paul's City Hall giggling about napkins. We had met to explore the new menu at the latest food truck to hit the streets, AZ Canteen. There was nothing special about the napkins, but we were enjoying the extensive branding the new truck has done. They've got the paper boats, the tissues inside -- just about everything has their quirky, cute style.

The truck has got some big power behind it. The AZ in question is none other than Andrew Zimmern, the enigmatic chef and host of the Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods. Zimmern has long been a fan of food trucks. Recently he hosted a rally of them at Food & Wine's South Beach event. He'll do it again in New York in mid-October. It only made sense that he got in the game; what's surprising is how quickly it happened.

From the moment Zimmern and his partners came up with the idea to the day they premiered at the Minnesota State Fair was only 120 days. Compared with how long it takes most start-ups to get going, that's a break-neck pace. He's working with local talent to make this happen: chef Asher Miller, formerly of 20.21, and Tucci Benucch is said to be consulting.

Coming together that quickly, it's surprising how polished all the elements of this truck are. The staff is gregarious, happy to chat with customers and able to answer any question thrown their way. The truck is a stunner, gleaming from bumper to bumper with a dazzling array of finishes, including an illegal-in-Minneapolis plasma TV mounted on the side. (When they take the truck elsewhere, the TV will loop choice Andrew Zimmern bits.)

That's a good goat burger
That's a good goat burger
Stephanie A. Meyer

The food includes alternative proteins, such as cabrito, a blend of goat meat. The Cabrito Butter Burger consists of a juicy, highly flavorful burger topped with a sweet roasted tomato and caramelized onion on a soft, toasted bun. It's juicy and a great intro to those who might be unsure of goat. This feels familiar, just another gourmet twist on an American classic.

The veal tongue sliders are a little bit more challenging. If you're looking closely, you can see that the thinly sliced, charred meat has a bit of tongue-y bumps. It's full of deeply roasted, rich meat flavor, topped with a mayonnaise-like tonnato sauce with arugula and a nicely squishy little bun. They're great for sharing.

My favorite dish was the green papaya salad served with crispy pork belly and an egg if you choose. The staff said they all went down to St. Paul's Hmong market to find that flavor they were looking for in this salad. They all tasted and then worked out the recipe. It's exquisite, refreshing with a bit of jalapeno spice, tart with that crispy, unctuous pork, crunchy, studded with exotic little eggplants, and packed in an easy-to-tote box, perfect for curbside dining.

The bacon chips sound appealing but are easily skipped. Of the other bagged chips we sampled, nothing was worth the stomach space.

Most of the ingredients are locally sourced, including some Spring Grove soda and the dessert: Izzy's ice cream sandwiches. The ultimate meal topper is the cream cheese ice cream smushed between two Birchwood Cafe baked chocolate chip cookies.  

And to think they've accomplished all of this in a few short months. Expectations are understandably high for this celebrity-owned operation, and it's nice to see them deliver. We're cautiously optimistic about tasty things to come.

AZ Canteen

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