We interrupt your regularly scheduled newsfeed content of political ruckus and gifs of that guy blinking to bring you a feel-good story about a sandwich. A friendship sandwich.
We know what you’re thinking: “Ugh, I’ve had so many bad grilled cheese sandwiches from food trucks.”
We know. Us, too. These are different.
Many rib-sticking, classic sandwiches are represented and remixed here. There’s a Cuban sandwich, “The Cubano,” with all the pork meats (braised pulled pork, ham, bacon), pickles, Dijonnaise, and Swiss cheese; there’s a play on buffalo chicken called “The Hot Chick” with hot sauce sauce and three cheeses; there’s also a bahn mi-inspired sammy with braised pork, house pickled veggies, jalapeños, and a secret sauce. If you are familiar with the Paradise Melts sister truck, Pho King, then you should sort of know what to expect with the larger-than-life flavors.
All the sandwich innards are good; it’s clear that the braised meats, pickled veggies, and sauces were all made with chef-driven TLC. What really takes a Paradise Melts sandwich to the next level is the bread – a sesame-studded Persian style flatbread called sangak made by Saffron JAK Persian Bakery in North Phoenix.
Don’t be scared by the term flatbread. When it’s been given a crisping on the flattop, the sangak makes for sound sandwich architecture, rivaling that of any sourdough loaf. The heat brings the sesame oils and flavors to the forefront. Some say the finished sandwich, with its low profile and gooey cheese, is reminiscent of a thick, stuffed quesadilla. Structurally, texturally, aesthetically, and flavor-wise, it’s a win.
Mike Baum is the owner/chef of Pho King food truck, Pho King Kitchen, and now Paradise Melts. Partnerships like the one he made with Saffron JAK are (literally) his bread and butter. He is a self-professed local fanatic.
“It’s a mindset,” he says. “How do you improve an economy or make an economy thrive? You use the local business and the local production. It’s not just that it’s better food. It’s our local, entrepreneurial mindset.”
In a past life, Baum studied international business in college, and worked a stint installing off-grid solar systems for the U.S. Border Patrol, which he says was “devastatingly terrible” for him.
“I couldn’t be part of that,” Baum says. “I’ve got to be part of breaking walls down.”
That idea of breaking walls down plays a part in the fusion food he makes for the Pho King food truck and brick-and-mortar. There’s pho imbued with Mexican flavors on the menu, as well as buffalo chicken potstickers and a bahn mi burrito.
“You could say, ‘That’s not authentic,’” as many of his Yelp reviewers do, Baum admits. “You could also see it as a really good way to break down barriers, to introduce another culture, and to show those cultures side by side.”
“I 100 percent believe that food is a way to break down barriers. We’re not traditional Vietnamese; we weren’t meant to be. But, we get a conversation started [...] as opposed to putting up walls and saying, ‘We’re not going to do that. We’re not going to try that. These are our enemies.’”
As luck would have it, when Baum was getting ready to launch his grilled sandwich food truck concept, Jayson and Jaymes Khademi of Saffron JAK food truck were getting ready to open a bakery. (More about Saffron JAK and the Khademis' obsession with sangak bread here.) Baum and the Khademi brothers were no strangers, having moved in the same food truck circles for years. Both parties agree they genuinely enjoy each other's company and respect each other's food. It’s unclear who proposed the idea first, but an investigatory sandwich was made, and the rest is history.
“The Persian bread with the Cuban sandwich is like it was meant to be,” says Baum.
Jayson Khademi has his own feelings on how food can be used to break down barriers. Just a few months ago, he says, Saffron JAK was hired to cater a large Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, celebrated in the fall) party. Jaymes Khademi, of Persian heritage, along with employee Sal Hashem, of Lebanese heritage, worked the event. Jayson was moved by the metaphorical significance of the job and posted a photo on Saffron JAK’s Instagram that night of a Jewish boy and a Palestinian boy with arms around each other. The caption tells the story and reads, “It’s about loving your fellow human beings and sharing the gift of bread with them.”
Two weeks after the Saffron JAK Bakery and Café opened, Jayson Khademi says an Orthodox Jewish rabbi entered the store and asked him if their bread was kosher. Not sure, Khademi invited the rabbi to the back to check their ingredients. It turned out the only non-kosher item was sesame seeds. The rabbi told Khademi that if they changed to kosher sesame seeds then he would be happy to bless their oven.
“I ask him, ‘You don’t mind a Persian guy, an Arabian guy selling you bread?” and Khademi went to give him a two-handed handshake as a sign of respect. “He pulls me in and hugs me – gives me a good, tight, three, four-second hug, and says, ‘It doesn’t matter who makes the bread. It’s bread.’”
“It was the picture!” Khademi says, a “hokey” Instagram moment made real.
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Mike Baum says that he, too, was raised Jewish and comes from Jewish heritage, and the significance of his partnership and friendship with Saffron JAK is not lost on either party.
This kind of food fusion is good for the Phoenix food scene, says Jayson Khademi, who serves pizza on sangak bread crust from his own food truck.
“It’s cool that we can do something like make grilled cheese and pizza out of Persian flatbread, made by a Jewish guy who also owns a pho restaurant. Where the hell else are you going to find that?”