A food truck with a wood-fired oven doesn't guarantee a quality meal, but it will always pique my curiosity. If you're willing to install an actual hearth in a rolling metal box and stand beside it during a St. Louis summer, you must be serious about your cooking.
In the ferocious heat of the oven inside Balkan Treat Box, chef-owner Loryn Feliciano-Nalic bakes somun, the traditional Bosnian bread. She makes this from scratch each morning, mixing the dough with a sourdough starter and then baking the small loaves as soon as the truck has found its lunch spot and she has stoked the fire.
Somun is the base for Balkan Treat Box's smoky, spicy char-grilled cevapi and its spit-roasted chicken döner kebab. And whether you're eating the döner as a sandwich or pulling the cevapi's somun apart to cradle individual minced-beef sausages with dabs of ajvar (a tangy, mildly spicy roasted-red-pepper relish) and kajmak (like clotted cream), the bread itself is as much a highlight as the meat.
The somun's texture, somehow equally airy and chewy, is beguiling. Its flavor, a light, but definite sourdough tang fortified with the juices of the cevapi or chicken, is addictive. Feliciano-Nalic is very serious indeed about her cooking, and I'm seriously obsessed with Balkan Treat Box.
Feliciano-Nalic isn't a native of the Balkans herself, but the region's culture has been a current throughout her life. Her best friend since childhood is Croatian, so she was introduced to cevapi at any early age. Her husband of 10 years is Edo Nalic, a Bosnian native. (He also works at Balkan Treat Box.)
Feliciano-Nalic met her husband-to-be while working for Sysco. He happened to work at the restaurant that was the first account to which she made a sale. Later in a career spent in the restaurant industry, she worked on events and catering for Pappy's Smokehouse. Sometimes, those events required higher-end fare, and Feliciano-Nalic found her desire to cook and be creative on her own terms growing.
“Lucky for me, I fell in love with my husband and his entire culture,” she told me in a phone interview.
After a lengthy gestation — she announced Balkan Treat Box in 2015; last year, Qui Tran and Marie-Anne Velasco used the truck for a pop-up trial of their recently opened ramen restaurant Nudo House — Feliciano-Nalic officially launched Balkan Treat Box this year.
The cevapi and chicken döner are two of the three cornerstones of the truck's menu. The third is pide, a Turkish flatbread that is the most visually striking dish I've eaten all year: a canoe-shaped flatbread perched precariously atop and over the sides of your tray.
The main toppings are ground beef and piknik, a Turkish cheese, mixed with mozzarella. (Pide with cheese only is also available.) Feliciano-Nalic finishes the dish with dollops of ajvar and kajmak and a scattering of fresh herbs. She recommends smearing the condiments together across the pide's surface, which makes the dish slightly less beautiful but even more delicious.
As with a great Neapolitan pizza, the pide's browned and blistered crust is as essential as its toppings. If you try the pide after you've eaten Balkan Treat Box's somun, as I did, the crust's quality might not be a surprise. It will still be a revelation.