This is a little premature because I’ve only been to Balkan Treat Box once, and I’ve only tried one item on their menu. But when something is really good, nay, excellent, it deserves the spotlight.
I heard about Balkan Treat Box a few months ago when it started getting a lot of hype in St. Louis press. The food truck, which is run by Loryn and Edo Nalic, is known for its Balkan food, especially the Stellar Pide, or wood-fired dough with minced meat and red pepper and cheese toppings. Pictures I saw in local food publications looked incredible. I wanted to try the Stellar as soon as possible.
But that proved a difficult task. I checked Twitter constantly for their location but either they weren’t out on a day when I was free for lunch, or they were but I already had plans. Yes, I know, plans are made to be broken, but I didn’t know if it would be worth it to drop everything and run to Balkan Treat Box.
Then, this past Monday, I saw the food truck was going to be in Cortex, an innovation community down the street from where I work. I usually walk there all the time in the spring and summer to get some exercise, but during the winter, the walk is not as pleasant. Actually, it’s terrible. The buildings on the side of the road form a sort of wind tunnel, so you’re periodically blasted with icy air. For someone like me who hates cold, this is nothing short of torture.
Still, I was determined to go. I set off on foot, walking as quickly as I could to Cortex so I could try my first Stellar Pide.
When I got to the truck, no one was in line. I got there early on purpose to secure this happening. An old journalism professor of mine told me to “come early and stay late.” This advice has always served me well.
I walked up to the window and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. “Hi, are you Emily?” Loryn said. She was standing there with Edo so I got to meet him, too. She’d remembered me from Twitter. I guess it’s kind of hard to forget when someone sends you a message like this.
I ordered the Stellar and then surreptitiously ran into Cortex to find a place to eat it. I landed at a table with two women immersed in conversation about an upcoming wedding. They were describing which friend should stand where on stage during the ceremony. They wanted the right aesthetics.
I didn’t know how to approach eating the Stellar because if you can’t tell from the picture, it’s kind of its own beast. It seemed like I should eat it with my hands, but I didn’t want all the toppings to fall off. So I decided to cut off a small part and shape it like a pita in my hands and eat it.
When I took my first bite, I forgot my surroundings. I felt the way I do when I taste something truly delicious, which is to say, nothing else matters. A comet could have landed outside or a fire alarm could start going off and I doubt I would have noticed. It was just me and the Stellar Pide.
The meat was tender and chewy and perfectly spiced. The dough…my God, the dough. It was soft, fluffy, chewy, slightly charred from being in the oven, crispy. It was heaven. I’m about to cry just writing about it. I honestly would buy just the dough and eat it plain. That’s how good it is.
The toppings are also delicious. The red pepper spread is spicy and tangy and the cheese balances the meat and other flavors in the dish. There’s a side of pickled red cabbage that I dug into, thinking that it would be an average side. I was wrong. The cabbage was clearly homemade. It was crisp and crunchy. It was better than any coleslaw I’ve ever tried.
On the way back from eating the Stellar, I called my sister to catch up. It was so cold and I was so underdressed for the weather that I started crying involuntarily. I’m not exaggerating. “I’m worried about you!” my sister said.
But she needn’t have worried. I had the Stellar Pide, or at least, the memory of it. It got me through the brutal walk back to work. In fact, it got me through the rest of the day. When you taste something truly excellent, it changes you. It makes you appreciate being alive even more than you already do. That’s what happened to me at Balkan Treat Box.