Street Eat Awards crowns the best curbside cuisine in the city
The scent of mini donuts that wafted past the gates at the TCF Bank Stadium last Saturday had nothing to do with football. Instead the scent was emanating from the road warriors at the Chef Shack: their signature dessert of fried dough tossed in an alluring mix of spices that include cinnamon, sugar, and cardamom. They, along with 11 other street food vendors, competed in the first annual Street Eat Awards.
The competitors were Chef Shack, Cupcake on the Go, Gai Gai Thai, Gastrotruck, the Twisted Sister House of Hunger, NateDogs, Scratch, She Royal, Smack Shack, Turkey to Go, Vellee Deli, and World Street Kitchen. Each truck or cart served a dish to a panel of judges that included Mayor RT Rybak, the Stephanies Hansen and March, from the Weekly Dish radio program, Eric Perkins from KARE 11, BT from Cities 97, and chef Jack Riebel.
Each vendor served one or two small bites to the judges, and each was as unique as the vendor, from NateDog's snappy dog topped with his homemade tart slaw and Surly beer-spiked mustard to She Royal's rainbow veggie sampler, there was no easy way for the judges or eaters to compare.
So, who won?
Chef Stephan Trojahn's Gastrotruck won not only the "Honorable Mention" but also the People's Choice award, serving pork belly over creamy-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside polenta cakes. For the final judging panel, he added a special dessert of tiny French toast-type bites, similar in texture to the polenta cakes, but with cinnamon-sweet breakfast flavors, prompting BT to remark, "It's like a chicken 'n' waffles kind of thing."
The overall winner was the newest truck in the competition. Owner Geoff King of Scratch said he's only been on the streets for about six weeks. King last worked in the ill-fated Subo kitchen, a Filipino-influenced restaurant that was sadly short-lived. King cooked up a sesame-seed-studded beef sandwich topped with caramelized onions, housed in a dense, buttery domed bun alongside a bright, zippy tofu lettuce wrap, with luscious, teeny tofu bits tossed with fresh peppers cradled in a romaine leaf, a dish that chef Riebel described as a delicious "vegan taco."
The young chef seemed almost overwhelmed by his win. When asked by emcee Stephanie March how it felt to win he said, "I don't know yet."
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