“…It doesn’t matter if your first taste of Balkan’s wood-fired fare is enjoyed standing outside a blistering hot food truck in downtown St. Louis or huddled around a table in the likely-to-be-crowded Webster Groves restaurant. Wherever you are, Loryn Nalic’s cooking will transport you back to that magical moment she first experienced in Sarajevo.”
Like many of those Bosnians who arrived in Missouri after fleeing their war-torn homeland in the 1990s, Edo Nalic arrived as a refugee. He and his wife, chef Loryn Nalic, are the scholarly minds behind Balkan Treat Box, which has since become a St. Louis favorite.
Loryn’s former catering manager position at Pappy’s Smokehouse, the most famous barbecue spot in town, had already made her a pillar in the city’s food community. Craft adds, “If there was going to be anybody that was going to bring Bosnian food mainstream it was going to be Loryn.”
Nashan and Craft could have worked anywhere in the country, but “these chefs were choosing to be here,” Loryn Nalic said in a phone interview. A longtime St. Louis resident who owns Balkan Treat Box with her husband, Edo, Nalic said she has seen the restaurant scene broaden over the years from home-style cooking to more upscale restaurants worth traveling for. Nalic’s food truck serves Bosnian and other Balkan-inspired street food, a nod to the large population of Bosnians that began settling in St. Louis in the 1990s.
By Nalic’s accounts, the city’s culinary scene has moved away from its once insular and competitive feel. “We’re a cool, badass, supportive city, and we love it and want it to be better — and the only way we know how to do it is to be on each others’ side and build it up together,” she said.
Nalic, who will open a permanent location for Balkan Treat Box in the coming months, said a lot went wrong leading up to her food truck’s launch and credited the food community for helping her team bootstrap the business. “We would not be open had it not been for our local food scene,” she added.
Even on day one, remarkably robust business suggested that growth was afoot for Balkan Treat Box. “We sold out in less than two hours,” says co-owner Loryn Nalic of the chilly day in December 2016 when the bright turquoise food truck rolled up to the International Institute Holiday Bazaar for its first day of service. There, diners swooned over a savory handful of classic Balkan dishes.
Beginning next month, Nalic and husband Edo will greet and serve their swelling fan base in a traditional restaurant setting when they open in the former Stratton’s Café in Webster Groves. A brick-and-mortar location was an initial goal for the couple. “We started with the food truck because I knew we’d have more resources available, and it was something I could finance myself,” Nalic says. “It was an economical way to prove the concept, but we grew out of it so quickly.”
Early fanfare built on itself. “We’d make food, and it sold out,” she recalls. “Then we’d make more food, and that sold out.” Ardent local reviews had already piqued interest when Jordana Rothman, a Food & Wine and Travel + Leisure editor, visited St. Louis and named the food truck in her article, ‘4 Reasons St. Louis Is America’s Next Great Food City.’ “Then people really started to take notice, seek us out and show up,” Nalic says.
The truck’s success is largely intertwined with the couple’s backgrounds. “Restaurants are what I’ve done all my life,” says Nalic, a South City native who moved to Los Angeles with her father at age 14 as a high school freshman after her parents divorced. She worked in various restaurants in L.A. before returning home in 1997.
An accomplished pastry chef, Nalic earned her stripes in the local culinary scene. At the now-closed Turvey’s On the Green in the Central West End, she worked out front and in the kitchen. “I helped make things like chocolate bombs, which were very on trend at the time, but I wanted to do more savory dishes and challenge myself,” she recalls. “I needed experience.”
She found it with a stint at AzucArte, the former eclectic bakery on Ivanhoe Street. Next, to land a position at Luciano’s Trattoria, Nalic bravely approached co-owner Marc Del Pietro unsolicited and showed him a photo album of her culinary creations. Impressed, he gave her the job. Her experience also includes Frazier’s Restaurant & Lounge, Farmhaus, Pappy’s Smokehouse and other celebrated establishments.
Nalic later took a job as a Sysco rep, which she deemed a more viable option as a single mom with two young children, Romy and Micah, now 18 and 17 respectively. The job was a twist of good fortune, since that’s how she met Edo in 2006 at Taft Street, the Bevo area Bosnian bar and grill where he worked as a bartender and server.
Edo had arrived in St. Louis with his family in 1998 as part of the massive influx of Bosnians seeking refuge here following the Bosnian War. Even before meeting Edo, Nalic was captivated by the refugees’ arrival. “Here I was, watching in real time, immigrants coming to settle, open businesses and be part of our community,” Nalic says. “I was intrigued.” The two shared many passions—food among them—and married in 2008.
Nalic got a more personal taste for Balkan food when she traveled to the region, where in-laws connected her with bakeries, restaurants and even Bosnian families, with whom she lived and cooked. “I saw such a difference in how the food was prepared,” she says.
Her experience influences the menus for both the food truck and upcoming restaurant. The cevapi, a flavorful, casing-less grilled sausage, is reminiscent of that found in Sarajevo, while the döner, or kebab, “is what you’d eat all over the Balkans,” Nalic notes. Her take on pide is less traditional, using ajvar, a tangy red pepper relish, as a topping.
With approximately 1,800 square feet and 45 seats, the menu will be small, around 10 dishes, and feature beer and wine selections. As for ambiance, Nalic doesn’t want the place to look too sophisticated. “That’s not my jam,” she says. “But it has to be eye-catching and very Balkan Treat Box.” Micah will join Nalic in the kitchen, and Romy will greet and serve with Edo. With the new restaurant, the Nalics are poised for an even greater realization of their goal: Making Balkan food accessible to an ever-widening audience.
St. Louis' Best Food Trucks 2018
Given St. Louis' reputation as a destination for Balkan immigrants, it's no surprise the city has given rise to a nationally recognized food truck for Balkan cuisine. Balkan Treat Box will open its first brick-and-mortar location this fall in Webster Groves.
- Most Popular Menu Items: Cevapi, Pide, and Döner
- Average Bill Per Customer: $10
- Weighted Average Five Star Rating: 5
- St. Louis Business Journal Score: 12.5
Honors and Awards: Featured on the 2017 Feast Magazine List of Top 15 Food Trucks, Honorable Mention Sauce Reader's Choice Favorite Food Truck 2018, St. Louis Magazine's A List Award for Best Food Truck 2018, St. Louis Post Dispatch Best New Restaurant 2018, Food & Wine Magazine's Best Bites of the Year 2018.
Best Savory Food truck: Balkan Treat Box
Balkan Treat Box quickly caught fire in St. Louis. Loryn Feliciano-Nalic and her husband, Edo, have earned a reputation for their traditional Bosnian fare, including the eye-catching pide, a Turkish flatbread stuffed with beef and cheese that's made to order in the truck's wood fired oven and grill.
St. Louis Magazine's Guide to the best of the region
Best Food Truck: Balkan Treat Box
The bright-turquoise truck serves fresh, traditional Balkan fare, including pide (a dough boat holding minced beef, cheese, and peppers) and a chicken gyro (tender morsels of chicken on homemade pita).
The city’s Bosnian population, the largest outside Europe, is represented by Loryn and Edo Nalic’s Balkan Treat Box, a roving truck outfitted with a wood-burning oven that draws a lunchtime crowd. Try the oblong pide bread topped with ground beef or cheese, served with tangy ajvar, a red-pepper paste.
In a meat-loving city like St. Louis, carnivores have plenty of dining options. But Balkan Treat Box stands out for its sausage-stuffed sandwich priced at a steal. The cevapi sandwich ($10) is a top seller at this food truck known for its Bosnian and Turkish eats. To make it, they grill more than half a pound of mini beef sausages over charcoal, then stuff the mound of meat into a freshly baked somun pita with onions and a Bosnian cream cheese called kajmak. Take it from us, you may need a post-meal nap after tackling this bargain behemoth.
Must-Visit Spot for St. Louis Food Lovers: Balkan Treat Box
All chefs like to say that their food is the result of love, but Loryn Nalic can say that quite literally. Though she'd always had a passion for food, the fire was ignited when she met her husband and business partner, Edo Nalic, and was exposed to the beauty of authentic Bosnian food. A native of Bosnia, Edo took Loryn to all of his haunts and to family dinners, a courtship that enticed her to commit not only to him, but to preparing the cuisine of his homeland as well as she possibly could. She spent time in his family's kitchens, both stateside and in Bosnia, perfecting Balkan specialties to the point where the couple was ready to launch their own business. That concept, Balkan Treat Box, has not only jumped to the top of the city's food-truck scene in less than two years of existence, but has shone a light on a style of cuisine that, for the most part, had not fully integrated into St. Louis' culinary landscape. Why it took so long to do so is a mystery, especially after you taste one of Balkan Treat Box's glorious pides, a boat-shaped piece of pita, speckled with char from the wood fire and filled with rich Bosnian cheese and toppings like traditional spicy red-pepper relish, cabbage and brisket. And you can't visit Balkan Treat Box without trying the cevapi, a grilled beef sausage that is synonymous with Bosnian cuisine. It's no wonder why Loryn fell in love — we're gaga at first bite.
...(St. Louis) takes enormous pride in what grows and is made in the Midwestern city, which has led to an entrepreneur-led dining scene worthy of a national spotlight...
...There's Loryn Feliciano-Nalic, who runs the Balkan Treat Box food truck with her husband, Edo, a Bosnian refugee.
St. Louis has the largest population of Bosnians in the United States, and the largest one outside of Europe, as they were relocated to the city in the early 1990s as a result of the Bosnian War. Upon meeting Edo, Loryn was inspired by the region's cuisine and cooked her way through Bosnia in people's homes, learning how to make the pide, cevapi and doner for which the truck is now nationally known.
"I could have done a lot of safer things," Loryn says. But the St. Louis native knew her city would help them rise up. "It's not just big chefs with big names supporting each other. The biggest chefs will support the little guys. It's one big St. Louis culinary family."