Balkan Treat Box: A Culinary Love Story in More Ways Than One
The brick-and-mortar location of Balkan Treat Box has been a long time coming, as the concept traveled exactly 5,024 miles across the sea, bringing Balkan cuisine from Sarajevo, Bosnia, to St. Louis. The restaurant is the lovechild of Chef Loryn Nalic and her husband, Edo, and their story is more inspiring than most. Due to the Bosnian war of 1992, Edo and his family left their longtime hometown of Sarajevo and emigrated to St. Louis, where Bosnian culture is very much alive in the Bevo Mill area.
When the couple met, Edo Nalic took his future wife to sample the Bosnian restaurants around Bevo Mill, dining at St. Louis institutions like Grbic and Taft Street Bar & Grill. In an attempt to recreate the Bosnian dishes of Edo Nalik’s hometown, Loryn Nalic put together renditions of his favorites including burek, a savory pumpkin pastry that turned out sweet. Her attempts were made in good faith, as her resumé includes positions with big names in the local culinary scene like Pappy’s Smokehouse, Companion Bakery and others.
As Loryn Nalic began to learn more about Bosnian cuisine, the dream for what would become Balkan Treat Box evolved. In the hopes of starting a restaurant upon her return, Loryn Nalic set off on a two-month trip around the Balkan region of Eastern Europe from Bosnia to Turkey to learn the authentic recipes and traditions of Balkan food first hand. Loryn met up with family members in Sarajevo for the first time in their seven-year marriage and began the process of learning a new cuisine in a new language.
Loryn Nalic began to strike up conversations with locals at the grocery store, offering to buy their groceries if they taught her their recipes. She frequented street-side stands, bakeries and restaurateurs until the owners invited her in and taught her their trade. She learned by sight, shorthand notes and what little she could translate from Bosnian to English. Her culinary exploration led her to cities like Sarajevo, Istanbul, Moshtar, Maklahsta and Dubrovnic in countries including Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro, while Edo Nalic stayed stateside to watch their children.
In 2016, the couple opened Balkan Treat Box, a vibrant food truck sporting a map of the Balkan region in their signature teal, red and yellow brand colors. The truck’s popularity quickly picked up, and word spread of their wood-fired oven and picturesque pide, a boat-shaped flatbread filled with bubbling hot cheese, kajmak (a spreadable dairy condiment made with cream and cheese), ajvar (a spicy, smoky roasted red-pepper spread), bright purple cabbage, fefferoni pickled chiles and fresh herbs.
Fans of the food truck will rejoice at the expanded menu at the new brick-and-mortar location in Webster Groves. The restaurant was a labor of love, as the couple’s friends, family and food industry friends helped out to make their dreams come true. The main wall adds a pop of color to the space, a handmade collage of the Balkan Treat Box colors. The restaurant houses a wood-fired oven, preserving the smoky scent of slightly charred bread and bubbling cheese that drew fans to their food truck.
The menu now includes a variety of Balkan-inspired dishes that are new to the public but longtime favorites of the Nalics. The lahmacun, a Turkish pizza-like dish (pictured above), is served rolled with cheese, parsley, lemon, onion, sumac, “BTB sauce,” cabbage, fefferoni peppers and your choice of spicy minced beef or tofu. The menu also offers new versions of the doner, a BTB classic that begins with warm somun, a Balkan version of pita that is made fresh every morning and baked to order, plus balik ekmek with grilled seasonal fish and patlidzan with grilled eggplant, hard-boiled egg and an apricot-pomegranate-molasses sauce.
Pljeskavica, a “Balkan-style burger” stuffed with cheese and kajmak is also served on warm somun. Devoted fans, fear not—the cevapi, a dish made with grilled beef sausages, kajmak, onion, cabbage and fefferoni stuffed into a pocket of somun—won’t be coming off of the menu. Once fully operational, the new location will also offer wine and beer to wash down all the deliciousness.
It seems as if the entire city has watched as Balkan Treat Box grow and mature, with local (and even national) press aplenty in the short two years since opening. The Nalics’ warm welcomes and friendly smiles make every guests feel at home as they bring Balkan cuisine to the Midwest. This city owes them a thank you for broadening our palettes and opening our minds to the food of lands far away.
Balkan Treat Box
8103 Big Bend Blvd.
Featured image courtesy of Spencer Pernikoff.