If you have any doubts about whether the food truck/food cart craze is drawing fresh young talent to the Twin Cities dining scene, direct your attention to Saucy Burt's (5th Street & Nicollet Mall, Mpls., Twitter: @SaucyBurts), the new food-cart venture launched last week by Sarah Burt.
A year ago, Burt quit her gig in politics to jump into the gastronomy game. "I realized very quickly that working in restaurants, under deadlines, was something I really liked," she says. Now, after furious study at local spots including La Belle Vie and HauteDish (where she still cooks Sunday brunch), Burt has put her fledgling rep on the line with an unlikely offering: a highbrow meatball sub.
"I spent a lot of time in my Italian grandmother's kitchen," Burt says. "She lived in Friuli for about 20 years, and I grew up watching her cook really simple, fresh food. That's what I'm trying to achieve here. I really like the tradition of Italian-American food in particular -- the story of Italian immigrants coming here, using native ingredients and tweaking their cuisine to fit their new home."
Three key components go into the sandwich: meatballs made from custom-ground beef, pork and veal from Hackenmueller Meats of Robbinsdale; a bun baked by Italian baker Tony Sisinni of Mainstreet Bakery in Edina, and Alta Cucina canned tomatoes, recommended to Burt by Jordan Smith of Black Sheep Pizza.
Of the tomatoes, Burt says: "I like that they have a bright flavor and they taste really fresh. They cost a little more than other varieties, but having a bright flavor is very important."
Burt preps her sandwiches in the kitchen of the Black Forest Inn and then trucks her cart up to her regular spot at 5th and Nicollet. There, she dispenses meatball subs for $7 a pop from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
From a flavor perspective, the sandwich is several steps removed from the conventional model. It's far lighter on its feet. As advertised, the meatballs are rich, meaty and silky in texture and the marinara is bright with the taste of tomato. "Another thing I do with the sauce is put in a nice healthy dash of balsamic vinegar," says Burt. "That's my trick."
The proportions are harmonious. There's enough sauce to cover the meatballs without swamping them, and the soft and yielding bun holds all the goodies without getting soggy or swamping them. The overall package is a solid midday meal for a normal appetite. Those seeking Leviathan-sized meatball hoagies will leave hungry, while those looking for a savory, portable twist on the standard-issue 2-pound grinder stuffed with crusty, bready meatballs will walk away delighted.
One of the most overused and generally irritating words to creep into the food-writing lexicon over the past 10 years is "craveable," but, there you have it: This thing is truly craveable. Hate the word. Best word for this situation. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an appointment downtown.
Food co-ops and local farmers are hosting the Eat Local Farm Tour on Saturday, highlighting 11 Minnesota farms within 100 miles of the Twin Cities. All tours will be self-guided. Details at www.lindenhills.coop.
- The Heavy Table team writes about food and drink in the Upper Midwest five days a week, twice a day, at www.heavytable.com.