Small Bites: Flying falafel, gooey grilled cheese and personal pizzas

Say cheese: The Firebird — turkey, bacon, cheddar and chipotle mayo — from Melt Your Heart. Photo by Max Cooper
Say cheese: The Firebird — turkey, bacon, cheddar and chipotle mayo — from Melt Your Heart. Photo by Max Cooper

What's more nostalgically pleasing than a crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside grilled cheese sandwich? One of Asheville's latest mobile food units, Melt Your Heart, specializing in grilled cheese and all of the appropriate accoutrements (like tomato soup, served in a bowl or as a "shot"), is now in full effect.

The Melt Your Heart food truck can be found at the Lot at 51 Coxe Ave. Owners Stephanie and Steven Paulson are currently in talks with Dirty Jack's to work out a schedule for a vending area on Buxton Avenue, too. There is no set schedule for either location as of yet, but Melt Your Heart has a Facebook page (as does the Lot), so check there for updates. The husband-and-wife team say they'll be expanding their social media presence soon to make it easier to find them.

Step back, flimsy late-night concert-lot sandwiches. From the Melt Your Heart truck, the Paulsons turn out gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches like the Heart Attack, with smoked-gouda pimento cheese and thick-cut bacon ($6.75). There’s the Fire on the Mountain, too, with double-cream brie, Haw Creek honey, walnuts and apples that will be local when in season. Yes, you can get the ubiquitous classic grilled cheese with American slices ($3.50), and you can even doctor it up with tomato, onion and sauce (add $1.50). The truck will also offer breakfast in the mornings with sandwiches like the Heartburn featuring eggs, bacon, smoked gouda, chipotle mayo, tomatoes and jalapeño ($5.50). It’s all served on West End Bakery bread with either chipotle or Asian slaw.

Why grilled cheese? "We had played with a lot of different business ideas, but the grilled cheese truck stuck,” Steven says. “We're both from Wisconsin and we have a love of cheese fresh from there, plus it's affordable food." So the cliché of people from Wisconsin loving cheese is true? "It's very true," Steven laughs. "I mean, I think even lactose-intolerant people up there eat cheese."

Also, the Flying Falafel Brothers will officially begin flaunting their newly permitted stuff on Saturday, April 21 during downtown Asheville’s Earth Day festivities. After that, the truck, serving falafel, fries and other lunch-appropriate items such as lavash-bread sandwiches, can be found semi-regularly at the Lot at 51 Coxe Ave.

The “brothers” in question, chefs Craig Schulz and Shaun Parcels, have a combined 25-plus years of professional food-industry experience. Even better? They've managed to snag the year's last permit for food-truck vending in the central business district. Followers of the food-truck saga may recall that only 10 are issued per year.

"What a blessing," says Schulz, speaking on behalf of the duo (Parcels is in Morocco doing a little "food safari," he says). The permit, he adds, is only good until January 2013. And what happens after that? Will food-truck vendors arm-wrestle for the next set of 10? "I don't know the answer to that, actually," laughs Schulz. "That's a good question. There were a lot of hoops to jump through, but I can understand the restrictions and for then to want a certain level of standards."

Food-truck regulars may also note that one of the pioneers of the area movement, Suzy Phillips, also deals in falafel. And what happens if the two falafel trucks are scheduled for the same day at the Lot — will there be falafel wars? "No, nothing like that, no falafel wars," Schulz says. "Our cuisines are pretty different. Yes, we both do falafel, but … I'd say that our style is less traditional."

"We'll have about five types of fries and multiple lavash sandwiches," Schulz says of the menu. "We'll do a lot of specials depending on what's local, fresh and seasonally available." The price point will stay under $10 for a meal and a drink, the chef says. "We'll offer light, healthier foods — platters and salads — when we're serving lunch in the Lot." Lighter than the 1-pound serving of chili-cheese fries on the festival menu? “Yes, exactly,” says Schulz.

Schulz, who lived in both Los Angeles and New York before moving here, says that street food is much more plentiful there — and the mobile-vending bounty has greatly influenced his style. Trained at the Natural Gourmet Cookery School, he has worked as a chef at Warren Wilson College for more than a decade, using sustainable and local meats and produce to feed the students there. "I've been trained in whole-foods cooking, so we're bringing all of those values to the truck," Schulz says. Warren Wilson College Farm beef appears on his menu. He also culls goods from other local purveyors — Spinning Spider Creamery for feta cheese, for example.

The Flying Falafel Brothers also work with Blue Ridge Biodiesel, Mountain Foods, Blue Ridge food Ventures and are working to get Living Wage certified. 

Visit the Flying Falafel Brothers Facebook page for scheduling and more information.

Also new on the scene is the Tin Can Pizzeria, a truck that makes its home down by the tracks (but on the right side of them, we say) at 342 Depot St.

The TCP is also run by a duo — Caroline Whatley and Kim Dryden. These working ladies will remain in the RAD, opting for a set schedule in an area with less foot traffic, rather than the more variable schedules at the Lot on Coxe. That not only works better with their other jobs, but allows customers to know where they are at all times. "We want to be really simple and really consistent, and we feel like being in one spot offers that," Whatley says. “That's the thought for now — but there's so much that we don't know yet that we'll learn as we go," she says.

The Tin Can Pizzeria offers 10-inch pies at a fairly low price — between $6 and $9. The plan is to keep a rotating menu of three pizzas, says Whatley. "We'll always have a Margherita, and our veggie and our meat will change. We'll run it for the five days we do lunch and then the next week it will be different. We'd like it to follow the season and what's available, for the most part."

The truck debuted with the "Fresh Green" (roasted asparagus, fresh mozzarella, pine nuts, lemon zest and thyme) and the "Farm Pie" (pepper/sage sausage, caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella). Whatley says the truck will also serve drinks and possibly sweets, eventually. "We may play with dessert pies once summer fruit comes up," she says.

The Tin Can Pizzeria is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. For more information, visit the truck's Facebook page.

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