When you think about a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, it likely conjures up the sweet smell of grilled onions, green peppers and melted provolone piled on top of seasoned steak in a steamy Italian loaf. Natale Piro offers one of the best versions found in the area. However, she has taken this tried-and-true classic to a whole new level in her flashy, red-and-white-checkered cheesesteak truck—Hot Mess.
Natale spent some of her rare down-time answering my questions about the truck and telling me her story—a story that would make any Hot Mess customer count their blessings.
Several years ago, after building an impressive resume from experience working in restaurants and bars, Natale headed to New York from Bellingham with a passion for cooking and eating. She returned to the Northwest driven by the intention of owning her own business. The type of business, however, was entirely up in the air.
When a family friend said they had a buddy selling a food truck, she jumped on the opportunity and three days later, she was the proud owner of a sleek new Philly cheesesteak truck — with no plan at all. The only thing she knew was that it would not be a Philly cheesesteak truck.
When word got about about her shiny new purchase, however, it seemed everyone she talked to was thrilled about the idea of having a Philly cheesesteak truck in town – and the rest is history. Natale wanted to make the Bellingham Philly experience a unique one, so she explored different combinations with unique ingredients, and an exciting new gourmet menu was born.
Because regulars would be heartbroken if one of their favorites were removed from the menu, Natale keeps about ten or so staples, and regularly has specials to add more variety. Despite the menu being fairly fixed, the most popular selling sandwich changes daily. I increasingly regretted having eaten dinner as Natale described the sandwiches to me (not to worry, two days later I got my fix).
In addition to the Original -the traditional sandwich – the menu features a diverse selection of gourmet combinations.
Take the Mt. Baker for instance—a sandwich loaded with steaming four-cheese mac and cheese, grilled onions, crispy bacon and more melted cheese—compared to the Yo Adrian, with grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms, creamy vodka sauce and melted mozzarella. They are very different, but either way you know you’re get a filling meal that is plate-licking worthy.
I tried the Northwest, featuring sizzling bacon, Gorgonzola and mushrooms. The richly fragrant cheese combined with the sweet, crispy bacon warmed me right up.
Meanwhile, my friend ordered the Pioneer, which in addition to onions, hickory bacon, sharp cheddar, and sweet BBQ sauce, features BBQ potato chips. I had to steal a bit of his, and we were delighted to find the potato chips added a perfect crunch to round out this saucy Philly.
Vegetarians need not get turned off by such a traditionally meaty meal. The Co-Op sandwich is one that Natale describes as popular with omnivores and herbivores alike. With a homemade aioli, grilled onions, green peppers, mushrooms, your choice of melted cheese, and topped with zesty pineapple, even meat fiends give in.
Natale also mixes up the sandwich selection with specials that are inspired by the season and whatever is on her mind—one summer it was a Greek Philly named after the 1990’s heartthrob, John Stamos.
She doesn’t stop at sandwiches, either. Her homemade mac and cheese is a crowd favorite—the four-cheese combo makes this savory dish a hit. The menu also features coleslaw, soups, other specials like nachos, and she’s got you covered for desserts as well. Strawberry shortcake, monster cookies and brownies have all made special appearances on the menu.
Three days a week, you can find Hot Mess serving Phillies around town. They are located at the original Kulshan Brewery on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Kulshan Brewery 2 (K2) on Fridays.
If you find her at Kulshan, take the opportunity to pair her sandwiches with one of Kulshan’s fine brews. Give the Padden a shot (onions, green peppers, pineapple, provolone, teriyaki and crunchy chow mein noodles) with one of Kulshan’s Bastard Kat IPA’s. Maybe mac and cheese is more your mood, in which case a pint of the Good Ol’ Boy Pale Ale or the Red Cap Irish Red Ale will tie up the meal just right.
When not at Kulshan or K2, you can find Hot Mess engaging in the local community at events such as the annual Feed the Need Food Truck Roundup that benefits the Whatcom County food banks, or April Brews Day to benefit the Max Higbee center, other local events, and even a wedding or two.
Hot Mess’s involvement in the local community doesn’t stop at events. As much of their produce as possible comes from Youngstocks, an outdoor produce market that stocks locally grown goods, located right across the street from Kulshan. Their presence at Kulshan is a symbiotic relationship that is mutually beneficial for both businesses.
When Natale and I were wrapping up our chat, I asked what her favorite part about owning a successful food truck was. She replied that she was fortunate to live in a community that is receptive to new ideas in food. She is grateful to feel the love reciprocated from her customers.
Next time you think about going out in Bellingham, try a sandwich from Hot Mess at Kulshan or K2. If you’re a beer lover, even better. If you haven’t hit them up before, then it’s definitely time to get a little messy with a Philly and a pint. As their catchphrase goes, “Always Hot, Sometimes Messy.”
How to find Hot Mess:
Please note that Hot Mess moves daily. Their general schedule is listed below. Also, you can follow Hot Mess and other Bellingham food truck locations on our Food Tuck Finder Twitter Feed, @FoodTruckBham, updated daily.
Kulshan Brewery, 2238 James Street—on Mondays from 11am-9pm and Wednesdays from 11am-3:30pm
Kulshan Brewery 2 (K2),1538 Kentucky St.—Fridays from 11:30am-8pm.