When many of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s street food vendors packed up for the winter, either going on vacation or relocating indoors, the ladies of the Fork in the Road Truck hung on. They are that particular breed of Minnesotan who chooses to look winter right in the face, then spit on it. Bucking the yuletide cynicism of the region’s restaurant industry, they continue to head out into the cold, trusting that the customers will come. This winter, they circulated along their usual routes, hitting up the office buildings of downtown St. Paul, Mears Park, and the occasional special event.
Fork in the Road’s proprietors, Kari Offerdahl (above, left) and Amy Frechette (above, right), left their office jobs to follow their dream; they purchased their truck online and hit the road. Now they fling homey, straightforward sandwiches and soups to adventurous members of their former tribe. Though they’ve kept exclusively to St. Paul locations since their beginning, “This year, we’re working on getting our Minneapolis permits,” says Frechette. They’re also inching out into the bar scene; the truck stopped outside of St. Paul’s Turf Club for the first time last week.
Thinking about ambience is always a moot point when it comes to street food. This remains true in Fork in the Road’s case. The strictly business-oriented downtown of St. Paul isn’t much to look at, and the light rail construction isn’t helping that one bit. However, it certainly makes one appreciate the little things: a patch of sunlight on the base of some corporate sculpture; a trash receptacle to congregate around. Milling around the truck has its benefits, too. You may meet someone new while waiting in line. Could food trucks become the new office water cooler?
Fork in the Road’s menu is very straightforward, in line with other St. Paul institutions such as Trotter’s Cafe and Cecil’s. Their menu offerings, which change weekly, are the sorts of dishes that you wish public school cafeterias were serving for lunch. In short, their menu is comfortable and familiar, but not lazy. Don’t get me wrong here — the food is certainly suitable for adult corporate warriors. Fork in the Road’s style just seems perfect for those moments when you’re down in the dumps, or when you’ve skinned your knee and you’re waiting for your parent to get off the phone so you can start crying.
On a recent visit, we sampled just about everything they had on the menu. All of the sandwiches came with Old Dutch chips. Two of the items featured pulled pork: a grilled cheese sandwich ($7) and tacos (two for $6). The grilled cheese came on thick slices of white bread, with perfectly melted American-ish cheese, caramelized onions, and a hefty portion of pulled pork. They used the same pork in the tacos, which came on flour tortillas and were topped with a citrusy slaw and chipotle sour cream. True to their Minnesotan roots, they were noticeably heavy on the meat.
The soup of the moment was chicken tortilla ($4), which encapsulated all the stylistic elements of down-home St. Paul cooking. It was extremely mild, but hearty, with a generous amount of tortilla strips. Like chop suey or pad thai, it was vaguely ethnic in that filtered sort of way that American home cooks like. Though we weren’t too enthusiastic about it, we could see why the intended audience would be.
Our favorite item, which everyone should try if they’re ever in the same vicinity as the truck, was the buffalo chicken sandwich ($7). Offerdahl and Frechette glaze white meat chicken with Frank’s RedHot sauce and serve it on ciabatta bread with a punchy blue cheese sauce. Take it on a walk, and re-enact the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” — except substitute “tear stains” for “cheese stains.” To be perfectly honest, we would probably go back and eat three of them if we could. They’re so indecently good that we wish they could come in a Crave Case.
We’re hoping fervently that Fork in the Road makes it across the river to Minneapolis. However, their approach may require a few tweaks. Vegetarians have very few options from week to week; usually, there is only one menu item without meat. At the very least, making some of their options vegetarian-flexible would be a good idea.
BEST BET: The buffalo chicken sandwich, hands down.
Fork in the Road Truck
St. Paul Street Food
OWNER / CHEF: Kari Offerdahl and Amy Frechette
HOURS: Vary, check Twitter
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Limited / No
ENTREE RANGE: $6-7