The Seventh Street Truck Park in St. Paul
The newly opened Seventh Street Truck Park has all the authenticity of a Guy Fieri S’mores Indoors Pizza, which is to say not a very large amount. We’ll unpack what that means in a moment; for now, here’s our evidence:
1. The entire “truck park” — which we were naively hoping might contain counters serving local food-truck menus or be some kind of a covered eating space at which actual food trucks could dock — is an indoor space with ersatz food-truck counters, lighted signage, computerized menus, and condiment stations. You are essentially eating in an up-to-date mall food court with a full bar. It’s one part street food, about six parts Disney.
2. There are big-screen televisions everywhere, to the point where there is essentially nowhere you can look without seeing four to six of the things. Name a sport, and it’s on the wall, often in several places at once. The effect is like being locked inside of an ESPN news ticker.
3. Legitimate food trucks push the envelope of food; the Seventh Street Truck Park plays it padded-helmet safe with a mixture of pizza, fried chicken, tacos, and ice cream sandwiches. There are a few local purveyors in the mix (Surly, Sebastian Joe’s, etc.), but nothing on the menu would be particularly out of place if you stepped back in time to 1989.
4. While we visited on Sunday night, a live band (yay!) performed a set comprised of pop song medleys (boo!) including a cover of Is This Love that must surely rank among the whitest musical events of modern America.
Now back to unpacking the “authenticity” thing. Let’s assume that you are a) in a crowd emerging from the Xcel Energy Center, b) drunk or about to become drunk, and c) in an open-minded or otherwise not horribly critical mood. Under these conditions, the Seventh Street Truck Park is a fun, busy, happening extension of the neighboring New Bohemia Wurst House (whose team also owns the Truck Park). It’s lively, it has a lot of menu options, and it feels like some strange but cheerful middle ground between a college bar, a house party, a food truck court, and an Applebee’s.
Although it might not be for everyone (notably: food people), the theme is coherent — it’s well-executed and likely to gain real traction in the market.
In fact, amid the glowing, multicolored sensory overload that this palace of distraction is, the food is a second concern. We found it ran the gamut. A barbacoa taco ($4) was surprisingly tasty. It was heavy on the cotija cheese, but the meat was full-flavored, and there was a nice bite of acidic heat. It had legitimate street cred.
The Three Piece Fried Chicken ($9) was a bird of a different feather. For $9, you get a little cardboard boat filled with three chicken tenders plus a dipping sauce of your choice. They’re not bad chicken tenders, but they’re nothing like real fried chicken. They wouldn’t stand up to the crunch and flavor of KFC, let alone, say, Pollo Campero or Revival. And when you say “three piece,” come on, that means a breast, a wing, and a leg, or something along those lines. It’s also worth adding that we got the “hot” variety and were told that they “wouldn’t be very hot,” and boy howdy they weren’t; “mildly seasoned” would be a more accurate description. They were a long, long drive from Nashville.
We got a slice of the Four Cheese Pizza ($6.50) to get the gist of the pizza program at the Park. The crust was deeply unremarkable: no real chew or char or character, but better than the cardboard of a truly bad slice. There may have been one cheese too many, as the taste of cheddar overwhelmed the rest of the slice’s character. Head to head with Heggie’s — which, to be fair, we like and regard as pretty good — it loses, particularly when you factor in the price.
The ice cream sandwich truck might be the most interesting (and in some ways, most successful) culinary aspect of the Park. Seven dollars gets you two big T-Rex cookies (various flavors are available) smashed together around two heaping scoops of Sebastian Joe’s ice cream. You do the math: It’s good cookies plus good ice cream, and while the flavor combinations vary, you really can’t go wrong. You also can’t order a small enough amount. One sandwich is easily enough for four to eight people.
And if for some reason you want to go in another direction, $99 gets you a 15-pound novelty version of the sandwich that is clearly designed for customers who are three or four Cuervos on the wrong side of sanity.
You may go to the Seventh Street Truck Park and have a good time; you may even go and have a good meal. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with that. But if you’re a devotee of what food trucks at their best represent — passionate people bootstrapping their way into creative, delicious food — you’re going to have to overcome a bit of cognitive dissonance before you can let down your guard.
Seventh Street Truck Park
Food Hall in St. Paul
214 W 7th St
St. Paul, MN 55102
11 a.m. -11 p.m.
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $6.50-$12
NOISE LEVEL: Dull roar
PARKING: Limited street parking, nearby lots