Take the State Fair, move it indoors, and keep it running all year long.
That’s the essence of Seventh Street Truck Park, the first ever indoor food-truck hall that opened August 25 in downtown St. Paul—just one day after the start of the actual fair.
On a Thursday evening, the 8,000-square-foot warehouse space is packed with people—standing-room capacity is almost 1,000. They linger around a main bar in the center, sit at refurbished picnic tables scattered all over, and cluster around a ring toss game straight from the Mighty Midway. On Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, others gather around a small stage to listen to local musicians play acoustic sets of blues or alternative rock.
But mostly, people crowd around the food trucks. If you were expecting an assortment of your favorite local trucks, this is not that. Instead find five repurposed vintage food trucks from which you can order fair-worthy items like s’mores beer, rattlesnake pizza, and a 15-pound ice cream sandwich claiming to be the largest on the planet.
It’s sensory overload. And just like bracing yourself for a trip to the fair, it’s best to come to Truck Park with a deliberate plan of attack.
For starters, grab a beer from one of the two street-facing bar trucks, which sit in front of giant garage doors that open in warmer weather. Or upgrade to a cocktail from the permanent bar in the center of the room. Select your main course from one of the two trucks selling Seventh Street’s entree items. The old ice cream truck cranks out pizza and salad, and the urban assault vehicle inspired by the 1981 movie Stripes does an unchallenging assortment of tacos, ribs, and fried chicken. You can finish it all off with dessert from the 1950s Grumman Milk Truck selling simple favorites like Mojo Monkey donuts, T-Rex cookies, and Sebastian Joe’s ice cream.
For State Fair traditionalists—those who hew to roasted sweet corn and Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies—play it safe with a pint of the signature Truck Park lager. It’s light yet satisfying and drinks well with a basket of basic chicken tenders dipped in a garlicky buttermilk ranch sauce. To end your meal, grab a reasonably sized ice cream sandwich made of two chocolate chip cookies perfectly saturated by a scoop of Sebastian Joe’s Nicollet Pothole ice cream melting between them.
For fans of outlandish bastardizations of State Fair classics—a cup of sweet corn ice cream or globs of deep-fried cookie dough on a stick-—order up a glass of Seventh Street’s take on the Old Fashioned: cherry Kool-Aid with a shot of Jim Beam. To cut the syrupy sweetness, drink it with a pretzel-crust pizza topped with “Road Kill Favorites” like smoked elk and wild boar (the “Minnesota Wild”). Then, upgrade that ice cream sandwich by swapping the cookies out for chocolate-glazed chive-and-bacon fritters and replacing the Nicollet Pothole with a scoop of Surly Coffee Bender ice cream. Or go all-out and get the 15-pound, $99 version of the dessert.
Like we said: sensory overload.
Owner Brian Ingram has clearly aced the State Fair aesthetic, something that will woo many a diner in search of fun over flavor. Ingram, who moved here in 2012 to found New Bohemia Wurst and Bier House, has a knack for delivering what the people want. Since the flagship store opened, New Bohemia has grown into a chain of seven brick-and-mortar locations around the Twin Cities, plus a food truck, which is what gave Ingram the idea for Truck Park in the first place.
During the summer, Ingram watched as Minnesotans lined up 20, sometimes 30 people deep to grab a bite at his and the dozens of other food trucks scattered around downtown Minneapolis. But as winter forced the trucks into storage and their patrons into skyways, Ingram dreamed up a way to make food truck season last all year long.
Wanting to maintain the feeling of being outside, Ingram created a food hall decorated to be part trailer park, part campsite. Album covers of ’70s rock legends from Bowie to Boston and old, awkward family photos want desperately to send you back in time few decades. Meanwhile, beer-can chandeliers and a sign advertising a campsite laundromat drive you out a couple dozen miles into the boonies.
To really make you forget that you’re indoors, they’ve even used repurposed porta-potties for their bathrooms, though they’ve been upgraded with the luxuries of modern plumbing.
“It will look and feel like a porta-potty, but it won’t smell and operate like a porta-potty,” Ingram reassures.
The place is so determined to pack in as many features of the outdoors as possible that it forgot to include one key element: open space. The hall is crammed with enough tables and barstools to seat 460, and maneuvering with a few full beers and a plate of food is a challenge even when it isn’t crowded.
And it does get crowded. The place fills up with everyone from Capitol wonks on their lunch breaks to parents toting preschoolers on a weekend family outing. It’s got that same “Great Minnesota Get-Together” feel that the fair has, but instead Ingram calls it “The Great Indoors.” It’s casual, it’s loose, and it serves 40-ounce Budweisers in a brown paper sack, something the State Fair couldn’t do.
“Everyone has these craft cocktail bars where you can spend $18 and wait 20 minutes to get a hand-shaken cocktail,” Ingram says. “I wanted to make it more simple and approachable. Come as you are, however you’re dressed.”
Click here to view our photo slideshow of Seventh Street Truck Park
Seventh Street Truck Park
214 W. Seventh St., St. Paul
daily from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.