Matt Strickland is a cheese artist.
The Fredericksburg resident and Army veteran describes it as a blank canvas for the gourmet melted cheese sandwich creations that he and his wife Maria began selling from their eye-catching red and orange Gourmeltz food truck in 2016.
“I wanted a food that I could create something different with that would bring back childhood memories,” said Strickland, who combined “gourmet” and “melts” to come up with the business’s name. “You can do so much with cheese. You can do something fresh and new that customers wouldn’t think of.”
Like piling mac and cheese on top of slow smoked pulled pork made with house barbecue sauce, for example. The Southern Cookout Melt, as it’s called, also includes sharp cheddar and caramelized onions, and is a customer favorite. They take a bite, he said, and go crazy over it.
“That’s what pushes us,” said Strickland, who is constantly thinking up new tasty combinations. “Those customers’ comments saying that’s the best sandwich they’ve ever had, and ‘I never would have thought of it.’ “
Business went so well that the Stricklands, who started Gourmeltz with some friends, added a second food truck in 2017. They sold both to open Gourmeltz restaurant in an outparcel in Cosner’s Corner shopping center. The sunny corner location sits on a hill, and customers eating inside or at one of the tables outside can see the tops of trees lining U.S. 1 toward Fredericksburg.
“It’s a great time to be in Cosner’s Corner,” Strickland said, noting that a Publix is expected to open in the shopping center soon and more people are moving into houses and apartments in the surrounding area. “It’s a great opportunity and a good spot. We didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
The restaurant’s cheery interior features a painting of a Gourmeltz food truck on one wall, framed “Rolling Stone” magazine covers on another, and seven large flat-screen TVs spaced around the room. Some of the TVs show sports while others play hits from the ’80s and ’90s.
Customers order at the counter, are given a number and a staffer brings the food to their table. It might be one of the “meltz with meat” selections, which include the Southern Cookout as well as the Chicken & Waffle Melt, which is drizzled with a house-made bourbon cinnamon maple syrup. The bourbon comes from A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Spotsylvania County because Gourmeltz uses local and Virginia-made products as much as possible.
“Not a lot of people are aware of it, but Virginia makes a lot of great cheese,” said Strickland, who gets his from Stonyman Gourmet Farmer in the Shenandoah Valley. “It stacks up to Wisconsin.”
Gourmeltz also sells “no meat meltz,” such as its classic grilled cheese made with a choice of any two cheeses. It also serves jumbo chicken wings that are smoked instead of fried, a variety of salads including the Veggie Protein & Greens made with a “chickpea power blend,” fried pickles, hand-made mozzarella sticks and “Tot’Cho’s.” This tater tot version of nachos comes topped with beef, nacho cheese, pico de gallo, jalapeños and sour cream.