By Bob Carlton | Alabama
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Let’s see now, Birmingham has taco trucks, soul food trucks, a fish truck, a pizza truck, even a cupcake truck.
What the city could really use is a good grilled cheese truck.
That’s what Harriet Reis and Paget Pizitz thought, too.
So a couple of weeks ago — after a few months of menu testing, several weeks navigating the labyrinth of business licenses and health permits, and a couple of driving lessons — the “two cheesy chicks,” as Reis and Pizitz like to call themselves, rolled out their Melt food wagon, the latest café-a-go-go to join Birmingham’s growing mobile food movement.
“The thing about our menu is it’s back-to-basics, with some modern twists on a comfort food,” Pizitz says. “So while it’s grilled cheese, they are a little more modern, but they are still comforting.”
The menu includes the classic Melt grilled cheese, with cheddar and American cheeses on Texas toast ($6, or $8 with bacon), a ham-and-cheese croissant ($6), and a Buffalo chicken sandwich with blue cheese on Texas toast ($8)
Also, chef Joey Dickerson, formerly of Ore Drink & Dine, prepares a daily chef’s special, which so far has included a roast beef and pepper jack melt on sourdough ($8); the Southern Comfort, with pulled pork barbecue, bacon, cheddar cheese and caramelized onions on sourdough ($8); and the Old Smokey, with smoked turkey, bacon, cheddar, tomato and Havarti cheese on grilled ciabatta ($8).
“The chef’s special is whatever Joey comes up with the day before,” Pizitz says. “He creates something new every day.”
Customers may build their own grilled sandwiches with an assortment of cheeses that includes sharp cheddar, American, Swiss, Gouda, Havarti, mozzarella, Monterey Jack and brie. Vegan cheese and gluten-free bread are also available for those with dietary restrictions.
Sides include hand-cut fries ($2) and tomato-basil soup ($4).
Pizitz, who worked as a recruiter in New York before she moved back to Birmingham about five years ago, has no formal culinary training, but she spent last summer grilling sandwiches at a little café at the Silverock Cove development on Smith Lake.
“She is naturally talented,” Reis says. “She won’t say so, but she is.”
Reis, meanwhile, co-founded the Birmingham restaurants Ocean and 26 with her former husband, George Reis. She is the first to admit that he is the chef, though, and she was more at home running the front of the house.
It was their sons, Will and Peter, who gave Reis the idea of starting a grilled cheese truck, she says.
“I just decided to make grilled cheeses one afternoon,” Reis recalls. “My youngest son (Peter) says, ‘Mom, you’re not the best cook in the world, but you can really make a good grilled cheese.”
Intrigued by the street food movement that she first noticed in Seaside before it made its way to Birmingham a couple of years ago, Reis decided a food truck was the way to go.
It took some convincing to talk Pizitz into hopping on the bandwagon with her, though.
“I couldn’t get my head around it,” Pizitz recalls. “Then for no reason at all, I woke up on a Monday morning, at like 5:30 in the morning, and I go, ‘Oh my God, I want to own a food truck!’
“And I texted Harriet: ‘Food truck. Grilled cheese. I’m in. Let’s do it.’”
After looking at hundreds of trucks on the Internet, they found the one they were looking for in Miami – a 1992 street wagon that they had customized with all-new kitchen equipment, a rocking sound system and a snazzy exterior wrap.
When their truck finally arrived in early November, Reis and Pizitz say they just sat in it all day, like two little kids in a tree house.
In the first couple of weeks since they have hit the streets, they have parked their truck outside the Cobbs, Allen & Hall building in Office Park in Mountain Brook, in front of the Fringe hair salon on Linden Avenue in Homewood and near the AT&T City Center on 19th Street North downtown, as well as Railroad Park and Kelly Ingram Park.
On Sunday afternoon, Melt will join nine other food trucks and push carts at the first Street Food Rally in the parking lot of the Martin Biscuit Building in Birmingham’s Lakeview District.
“One of the things I’m so excited about is the Birmingham community has really reached out to us,” Pizitz says. “We’ve had so many stores and shop owners come to us and say, ‘Hey, we want you to come park outside our business.’”
Each day, Pizitz posts where the truck will be and what it is on the menu on the Melt Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Along with the truck, Reis and Pizitz also have a catering business that is available for wedding receptions, birthday parties and other private and corporate events. They have branded that business Two Cheesy Chicks Catering
“That’s us,” the ever-cheery Pizitz says. “We’re the two cheesy chicks. I just get a smile on my face talking about it. I can’t help it.”