Native Eats brings fresh Southwest fare to the streets

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

Alyssa Block has loved food all her life. While other kids were watching Scooby-Doo cartoons, she was binge-watching the Food Network. "I used to love Good Eats, " she says. "Alton Brown is like the Bill Nye of the food world, teaching the science behind dishes. It was a really good introduction to cooking."

Inspired by the shows, Block used to follow her mom around the kitchen asking questions. And if she really liked a dish, she would figure out how to make it. (As a result, she said, she makes a killer macaroni and cheese.)

When Block was 9, her father died, leaving her and her siblings with inheritances. "I knew I wanted to build off my food dreams with it, " she says.So she saved her money until the age of 23, when she decided to buy a food cart. "It was the most efficient way to follow my dreams," she says.

Block, who works full time in production for the Limited, started Native Eatsin the fall and first hit the Columbusstreets this spring. She has garnered a cult following for fresh and flavorful American fare with a Southwest spin--two cuisines she enjoys.

"You don't go to a Southwest restaurant and taste the food and think it's boring, " says the Ohio-raised Block, who has no clue where her love for the cuisine came from. Touches of Latin flavors are found in her dishes, such as the "Crazy Cuban, " which spins the classic sandwich with braised pork, Black Forest ham, jack cheese, an herbaceous mojo sauce and homemade pickles.

The cart's specialties are its braised meats, she says. (The secret to her braised pork is fresh oranges, she added.) Among Native Eats' offerings: a barbacoa breakfast torta (grass-fed beef topped with caramelized onions, roasted red pepper, jack cheese, tomatillo salsa and a fried egg), a sweet-potato-and-beet burger and roasted-beet-and-black-bean hummus, among other seasonal dishes.

Recipes come from dishes Block has perfected during her years of cooking, and her approach comes from a personal interest in sustainable living. As much as she can, she sources her ingredients locally, including meat from MKM Farms in Baltimore, Ohio, produce from Folsom & Pine Farm in Orient, Ohio, and Columbus-based Matija Breads, a bakery popular among food-truck owners.

You can find Native Eatsat Growl in Clintonville, at Easton Farmers Market on Thursdays and Four String Brewing Co. on Fridays, in addition to the festival circuit. You can also catch Native Eatson Saturdays at Seventh Son Brewing in Italian Village, where Block serves a special brunch menu that includes a churro French-toast stick. Watch her Facebook page for location updates and hours.

Block's next step, she hopes, is to open a restaurant that expands on the Native Eatsidea. "I envision it as a Northstar kind of concept with my style of food, " she says. "As if you saw Northstar in Colorado."