‘Simple little sandwich’ from South Africa making waves in Park City

First Published      Last Updated May 11 2016 08:05 pm

Jaffles » Globetrotting chef inspires nostalgic feelings for Park City customers with toasted pocket sandwiches.

Park City • During the past 20 years, food has taken chef Meryl van der Merwe around the globe from the Mediterranean, where she cooked on exclusive yachts, to Indonesia, where she was a private chef serving heads of state and celebrities.

Little did she know those exotic experiences would one day point her to Park City and her newest culinary adventure: a fast-casual sandwich shop called Jafflz.

The eatery, which opened last month, specializes in jaffles, toasted pocket sandwiches — with savory or sweet fillings — that van der Merwe enjoyed as a child growing up in South Africa. Sometimes called a toastie, the warm pocket makes for a quick, utensil-free meal on the go.

The sandwiches are made using a long-handled metal skillet or jaffle iron. When folded shut, the iron cuts off the bread corners and seals in the filling. It is then placed over a hot stove, toasting the bread and warming the filling.

The metal jaffle iron resembles the pie irons, often made of cast iron, that many Americans have cooked with over a campfire.

"When people see the iron, they usually say, 'Oh I have one of those in my camping kit' or 'My grandmother had one of those,' " van der Merwe explained. "It's nostalgic for people."

Calum Clark, a vice president with the U.S. Ski Team headquartered in Park City, grew up eating toasties as a child in Australia, too. The sandwiches, he said, are a go-to kids meal for families. "It's the mac and cheese for children who grew up in the Southern Hemisphere," he said during a recent visit to Jafflz.

Van der Merwe said the jaffles she remembers eating while growing up near Cape Town were usually filled with leftovers. "My memory is canned spaghetti or stew," she said.

At Jafflz, van der Merwe uses her international cooking experience to create fillings with global flavors. There are the traditional babootie, a South African lamb curry; the Asian banh mi style with pulled pork, cilantro and cucumbers; Thai chicken curry; Italian meatballs with mozzarella; short ribs with caramelized onions; and even peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese.

There also are breakfast jaffles with eggs (available all day) and dessert jaffles with apple pie filling, peach cobbler and chocolate marshmallow s'mores. Prices range from $5 to $7 and include a choice of white, wheat, cinnamon swirl or gluten-free bread. There also are soups, salads and a bread pudding, made with the leftover crusts, that can be eaten on site or taken to go.

"I'm English, so I like the lamb curry. And my kids love the sweet ones," said customer Vicky Fitlow, who has been to the shop at least four times since it opened in February. "I like that it's quick and healthy and it can be gluten free."

International travels • Van der Merwe studied at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver and completed culinary internships in France. But her real culinary education came while working on super-yachts.

While in Palau, she met her future husband, Greg Cropper, a Park City attorney, who persuaded the accomplished chef to give his hometown a try. The couple now have a 5-year-old daughter.

In 2006, van der Merwe started Du Monde Gourmet Catering, which quickly evolved into a private chef service for Park City residents and business clients including Facebook, Google and E-Bay. When she opened her commercial kitchen in 2013 in the Snyderville Basin it often attracted construction workers looking for a quick bite to eat.

Rather than turn customers away, van der Merwe began brainstorming ideas. A vacation to South Africa to visit her parents provided the spark she needed.

"I remember my mom asking me on the telephone, 'What do you want to eat when you land?' " said van der Merwe. "I told her something easy and quick and that's when she said, 'How about jaffles?'

"I brought 100 jaffle irons back with me," she said.

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Where to get a jaffle

Jaffles are toasted pocket sandwiches — with savory or sweet fillings — that make for a quick, utensil-free meal on the go.

Jafflz » 7180 N. Silver Creek Road, at the junction of I-80 and U.S. Highway 40; 435-333-5233 or jafflz.com

Hours » Daily, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Prices » $5-$7

Details » Jafflz also carries soups, chilis, salads and desserts prepared by Du Monde Gourmet Catering.