Shortly after The Gray House closed last summer, chef Ian Gray, sous chef Jessica Knettel, and front of the house manager Kiri Anderson began looking for a new home in Northeast Minneapolis but financing was, well…complicated. Enter Jim Watkins of Sociable Cider Werks. "Jim asked if we would be interested in doing a food truck there while we were looking for another bricks and mortar location," Gray explained. "We decided to build the relationship with Sociable."
Sociable’s taproom manager, Alex Sacco, is excited about the burgeoning relationship as well. "Great cider pairs so well with great food, so this whole thing is a no-brainer," he said.
Since last fall, the Curious Goat folks have been dispensing ambitious, memorable dishes centered around goat meat. Why goat? "Singing Hills Goat Dairy, I love those people," Gray said. "They introduced me to goat meat on a whole new level. We go to their farm and the goats are nothing short of a day brightener," he smiled. "Lynne, Kate and Nancy are such hard workers," he said, referring to the farm’s human caretakers, not the goats. "It’s so inspiring to be able to work with them on such a close basis."
Gray is clearly a relationship guy, choosing his ventures based more on his connections with purveyors than on a business agenda. But that loyalty can come at a price, as is the case with Curious Goat’s insanely addicting cheese curds, which he sources from Singing Hills. Gray almost imperceptibly dusts these delicate clouds of creamy, tangy cheese in gluten free flour, drizzles with Ames honey and tosses with fresh herbs like mint or basil. The curds are so popular, they have to be rationed throughout the weekend for fear they will run out, and they often do, and the farm cannot supply more. "Working with a small farm is both a gift and a curse," Gray said. "Do we build our business around a farm or do we build it around demand?" So far, Gray has landed decidedly on the side of loyalty. Same goes for Sociable Cider Werks.
"The relationship is going so well, it’s great being able to have that collaboration with people who really know what they are doing," he said. "We love being able to work with them so closely on pairings with our food. Everyone is doing their part to make this a brewery destination. I know on our end, we are really happy to be here."
This particular food truck-taproom relationship is unique in its exclusivity. Where other taprooms have a rotating roster of food trucks available mostly on weekends, the Curious Goat, in all its bright orange glory, has dropped anchor in the Sociable parking lot. Gray and Knettel change the menu often so selections are based not just on the season, but on the week. "People still talk about the brussels sprouts we had last fall," Gray said. "We could get brussels sprouts from Mexico year round, but we want to wait until the produce is at the local markets."
Fans still get a bit confused about the exclusive nature of Curious Goat’s relationship with Sociable. "It’s a truck, it’s supposed to be mobile," Gray joked. "People are still asking where we’ll be, and the answer is always: Sociable. It’s going to take some time to get used to." And that is just fine with Gray and his team. "We are patient," he said with a smirk. "We have no complaints. Business is good."
Sacco agrees. "Our customers are loving having consistently top notch food to go along with the drinks," he said. "We couldn't be more excited about this summer."
-by Alex Lodner