Ask A.J. Kamal how 454 Grill got its name, and he’ll tell you about the Chevy 454-cubic-inch “Big Block” engine that came with the Snap-on Tools truck he and his partner, Eli Jones, refurbished before putting it on the road earlier this year as a food truck.
Kamal will go on to tell you that the engine is legendary among car enthusiasts and that it broke down the day before they were slated to get their permit. Then he’ll proudly add that they rebuilt the engine themselves, with help from some mechanically minded friends and family.
Turns out Kamal and Jones know their way around a flat top grill, too. They met while students at N.C. State and worked together at a couple of Hillsborough Street restaurants for several years before teaming up to put their food truck on the road.
And if making the truck’s specialty grilled sandwiches isn’t quite as challenging as rebuilding an engine, the partners are every bit as proud of them. The Breakfast Melt is a best-seller with a cult-like following of people who call ahead to see if it’s on the menu – which is only when the owners can get the locally made organic pork sausage that is the star ingredient.
When the Breakfast Melt is not in the offing (it sells out quickly, according to Kamal), fans can get their pork fix in the form of the seven slices of bacon (more or less, depending on the thickness of the bacon) on the BLT.
Others might find consolation in the Buffalo Chicken Melt: a savory, spicy, cheesy-gooey medley of chopped chicken, grilled onions and house-made Buffalo sauce between two thick slices of buttered and grill-toasted bread. Or the Carolina Cheesesteak, a twist on the Philly original that serves up marinated chopped sirloin, grilled peppers and molten provolone on – here comes the Carolina part – grilled sourdough instead of the traditional Philly hoagie bun.
Other options typically include the Italian Melt (salami, pepperoni, mozzarella) and a vegetarian Margherita Melt (N.C. tomatoes, tomato sauce, mozzarella, garlic and fresh basil).
The sandwich selection is fairly stable, though the sides change with the season. The old-fashioned potato salad that was offered in the summer months has been replaced by garlicky Cajun-spiced home fries. The partners are also pumping a little gastronomic antifreeze into the winter menu, in the form of a rotating list of homemade soups: chicken enchilada, scratch chili, and – the most recent addition to the list – beer cheese soup made with Fortnight Brewing Company’s porter.
I haven’t had a chance to try any of the soups yet, so I’m keeping an eye on 454 Grill’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and spot the Breakfast Melt when it pops up again in time to snag one before they’re all gone.
Prices: sandwiches $8, soups (with garlic bread) $5