Balkan Treat Box Is Expanding into the Frozen Food Market

Jun 14, 2021 at 8:53 am
click to enlarge Loryn Nalic bakes bread over a wood fire. - Tom Hellauer
Tom Hellauer
Loryn Nalic bakes bread over a wood fire.

Loryn Nalic's take on Balkan classics has been a hit from the start.

After starting out with a popular food truck, she opened Balkan Treat Box (8103 Big Bend Blvd., Webster Groves; 314-733-5700) in 2019 with her husband Edo. The lunch spot continues to receive national acclaim, including a nomination as one of Bon Appetit's top 50 and a James Beard semifinalist nod for Nalic.

Now, Nalic takes on a new frontier — frozen food, shipped to your door. In a limited collaboration with the New York-based company Balkan Bites, Nalic’s recipe for smoked beef and potato burek is being produced and sold in Balkan Bites’ online catalog of frozen burek.

“I have had every single frozen burek that I can buy in St. Louis, and none of them can touch theirs with a ten-foot pole,” Nalic says.

Balkan Bites’ chef Alida Malushi and CEO Ariana Tolka (aunt and niece, respectively) reached out to Nalic after seeing her burek recipe in the Wall Street Journal.

Nalic says, “We have not been able to meet. This all transpired during the pandemic. They actually were at farmers markets, and then the pandemic had them pivot. In order for them to keep their business going, they went to frozen. Just a powerhouse, really smart women. So they pivoted into that, and right then it became a lightbulb moment of ‘Oh, wait! We could do this from afar!’ They sent me product, I sent them a recipe, they made it, we tweaked it, we finally got it right, and here we are.”

Collaborating on the phone, sending food back and forth, and a shared admiration for each other’s dedication to traditional Balkan cuisine led to a burek that everyone involved is excited to share with the country.

Burek comes in many forms, under many names — Nalic calls them pitas — but basically they're stuffed pastries. Nalic says that theirs “is serena pita, which translates to rainbow.”

Much of the magic is in the specific dough used.

“It’s a jufka, which is a type of phyllo dough," Nalic explains. "It’s a hand-stretched, thin, thin pastry. It’s one of those doughs that is really ethereal and light.”

Fillings can vary, and Nalic has settled on a classic version.

“It has a Bosnian smoked beef in there called suho meso that is a smoked, dried beef," she says. "With the potatoes and the caramelized onions, it was just so magical to me.”

Nalic learned this recipe from St. Louis’ own Kific family.

"The family had me come into their home and taught me to do this," she says. "They're really special people to me ... They're close friends to Edo and his family. His parents grew up with their family in Bosnia, before the war. They’re all from the same town. And then their grandmother, Nana, kind of everyone’s grandma, was just an incredible cook and matriarch in the family. She passed away this year, so it was a huge homage to her."

Burek fares particularly well in a home oven. Nalic says that “it’s actually one of those products that does really well from frozen to baking, and getting crispy and flaky and golden brown.”

click to enlarge Burek made by Balkan Bites. - @balkanbitesnyc
Burek made by Balkan Bites.

And finding the frozen variety might be the best bet for tracking them down on a consistent basis. Despite Nalic's enthusiasm for the stuffed pastries, they're not on the regular menu at her restaurant.

“We do have plans to do a day where we feature this kind of pita, to cross-promote," Nalic says. "We’ve run it a few times as specials, but it’s not something you can get every day here.”

If the collaboration with the New York company succeeds, Nalic expects Balkan Treat Box to expand further into the frozen market. She is used to introducing St. Louis patrons to dishes they might be eating for the first time, and she sees potential to do that on the national level through the partnership.

“What we’re trying to accomplish," Nalic says, "is getting Balkan food out there, to be mainstream and in everyone’s kitchen, and becoming American food."
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