Andrew Zimmern’s AZ Canteen hit the bricks in downtown Minneapolis for the first time last week, throwing a bucket of gasoline onto the Cities’ already raging street food scene. Colorful decor created by Spunk Design, lively staff, and an in-truck TV make the truck a mobile party: Visitors in line are amused (or aurally assaulted, your choice) by clips of Zimmern himself played on the truck’s flatscreen. Truck staff say that Zimmern eventually plans on Skyping with customers in line.
Food-wise, there’s not a bull testicle or tarantula pop in sight. Visitors can expect a mashup of global Zimmern favorites, from Nicaraguan dulce de leche shaved ice to crisp pork belly with green papaya salad, the latter of which is rolling out this week. Most of AZ Canteen’s menu is locally sourced, including bread from New French Bakery and produce from Hidden Stream Farm.
And the sandwiches? Zimmern, who admits via email that he has “become something of a goat evangelist,” says he is “doing what [he] can to create tasty food that might inspire and stretch the average American’s idea of what food can and should be.” Goat is among the most widely consumed meats in the world, but has yet to gain mainstream buzz in America. “Goat is accessible to all, tasty, lean, breeds and raises easily with little stress to environment, and is extremely versatile from a culinary standpoint,” says Zimmern. Indeed, some truck customers might not even be aware that the subtly named “Cabrito” (Spanish for young goat) sandwich they’re eating contains goat. The goat meat blends are trucked in once a week from Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors in New Jersey.
Income from the truck’s food and beverage sales will go to the company specially created to run the food truck business. In addition, “we are donating a portion of those proceeds to Share Our Strength, our national charity partner,” Zimmern said. Share Our Strength is currently running its No Kid Hungry campaign, which focuses on nutrition programs and cooking education.
As far as the food goes, there’s much to like. The Cabrito Butter Burger ($7) came out perfectly cooked, thick, and juicy, with a generous amount of toppings. Roasted tomatoes serve as a more mature, savory alternative to ketchup, but “charred onions” was a bit of a misnomer for the soft, cooked onions that came with the patty. The smoky flavors of the burger were pleasant, if in slight excess, while the accompanying sauce almost drowned the bottom of my bun and left an oily mess on my fingers.
Hibiscus punch ($3, two photos up, right) nearly came to the rescue. Hand made by boiling hibiscus flowers down and adding simple syrup, it’s a beautiful dark pink color, but a little too strong and a little too syrupy. It would perhaps work better paired with carbonated water (or a cocktail!), and the distinctly tart flavor makes it best enjoyed as an après lunch thirst quencher rather than a meal accompaniment.
Cradled by a hearty bun, the Cabrito Grinder ($8) offers the unique taste of goat sausage blended with spices such as whole fennel seeds. Here, the goat shines: Combined with the bright, tangy slaw, it’s very satisfying. Zimmern hinted that the truck, “a national entity,” will “head east and south for the winter,” so make sure to check it out before the chill sets in.
Normal hours are 11am-2pm. Location changes; generally found between 7th and 8th Sts. and Marquette Ave. in Minneapolis or in St. Paul in front of City Hall or the Kellogg / Wabasha food truck court.