By Eric Velasco | Alabama.com
“Party Rock” is rocking Matilda the food truck as more than a dozen people line up at 11 a.m. one recent weekday on a downtown street, waiting for their order at Melt.
Many faces are familiar to the owners, Harriet Reis and Paget Pizitz, and the cook, Joey Dickerson. This nomadic eatery is parked at a relatively regular spot. Between the friendly people and music blaring from speakers attached to the truck, it is a convivial atmosphere despite the threat of rain.
In Birmingham’s burgeoning food truck scene, many purveyors specialize in somewhat exotic fare. Melt’s approach is more down-home and basic, built around the grilled cheese sandwich.
According to the self-described “cheesy chicks,” it is the cornerstone in the partnership between Pizitz, a certified matchmaker with experience in her family’s frozen-yogurt business; and Reis, who co-founded and helped run the restaurants Ocean and 26 for 10 years.
As the story goes, the two were considering the food truck menu when Reis’ sons one day commented that the only thing she could cook was a grilled-cheese sandwich. A concept was born.
Known simply as The Melt, the mother sandwich is a gooey blend of two cheeses served on griddled Texas toast. Some might balk at a $6 price tag for grilled cheese. Oddly, the same sandwich with a $2 upcharge to include some very good bacon seemed less spendy.
The grilled-toast theme follows through on other sandwiches. The concept works well with sliced meats like smoked turkey, with its Swiss cheese nicely melted and meat warmed; and the buttery griddled bread providing a nice crunch.
But the concept seems to overwhelm some sandwiches with fattier meats, such as the popular Burger Melt. The thick patty of juicy beef got lost in the fat of the buttered Texas toast. Some salt boosted the meat flavor, however, letting it hold its own.
Of course, it’s a matter of personal taste. The patty melt is common in diners and other restaurants that specialize in burgers, so they have an audience. Perhaps you’re among them.
Another popular sandwich at Melt, and deservedly so, is the Buffalo Melt. Chicken planks, breaded and fried crisp, are rolled in buffalo sauce and cooked with Monterrey Jack cheese.
Menu mainstays also include a chicken quesadilla and meat sandwiches served on pretzel rolls that included ham and habanero jack cheese and roast beef with Swiss cheese.
Many items rotate on and off the menu, such as the Southern Comfort, slow-cooked pulled pork barbecue, served with cheddar and onions on the grilled Texas toast. Patience is rewarded as the flavors build from the sweet sauce and moist meat.
Another sandwich gaining a following is a grilled-cheese filled with macaroni and cheese. As summer ripens local tomatoes, the Caprese melt with basil and balsamic glaze should hit a peak.
Food trucks enhance the culinary scene in Birmingham. They are a factor in why Zagat, a nationally known restaurant-rating guide, recently named Birmingham one of the country’s seven up-and-coming food cities. (Although Zagat calling Birmingham’s well-established and nationally-honored culinary scene “up and coming” is a bit like saying Christopher Columbus “discovered” an already populated land.)
Food trucks present challenges not found in brick-and-mortar restaurants. Eating at this rolling restaurant requires planning.
First, you have to find it. Sixth Avenue North at 19th Street and Third Avenue North at Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard are fairly common spots, judging from Melt’s Facebook page. Although Melt usually follows a lunchtime schedule, Matilda the truck also can be found at special events as well.
Facebook or Twitter (@meltbham) is the best way to keep up with where Matilda is parked that day. Also, weather is a factor. Check before you go.
Plan on a place where you will eat, because Melt offers no seating. Once you order, pay and get your food you are on your own. That’s fine when the truck is parked at or near places like Kelly Ingram Park. But plopping down a few feet away from the Melt truck on the stairs of the Cathedral Church of the Advent just doesn’t feel right.
Pet peeve time: Places that serve sandwiches to go should always cut them, at least in half, to make them easier and less messy to handle. Advice: Although Melt halves some sandwiches, be sure to ask them to cut yours when you order.
Now is the perfect time to enjoy al-fresco food trucks. At Melt you will find the familiar, and perhaps the combination of its charms will have you join its growing fan base.
What: Melt Birmingham; Check Facebook or Twitter (@meltbham) for locations
Prices: Sandwiches $6-$9; Drinks $1. Sides $1-$5.
Info: Generally open 11 a.m.-1:30ish; frequently found at special events. Cash and credit cards accepted. No alcohol; soft drinks and bottled water kept in a cooler. .
Bottom line: Review gets three stars out of five