HAVE YOU BEEN to Mike Robertshaw’s new food truck in downtown Rogers yet?” It was the third time I’d been asked that question in as many days. I understood what all the excitement was about. I felt it, too.
It’d been roughly two and a half years since I’d first gotten a taste of what Chef Mike Robertshaw could do. At The Pressroom in downtown Bentonville, the Seattle transplant had developed a reputation for serving up bold, adventurous food. He’d been gone from The Pressroom since April, but I was still pining for his cooking, daydreaming regularly about his octopus Bolognese and that maple-lacquered quail dish he’d pulled off last fall. (To this day, I can still taste the foie gras and cherry stuffing.)
But mixed in with my frisson of anticipation was a pang of frustration. It wasn’t just “Mike Robertshaw’s new food truck.” It was actually a joint venture with his significant other of a decade, Meredith Butler, a culinary creative in her own right. She had been supporting Mike’s culinary endeavors behind the scenes for years, posting photos and descriptions of his dishes on social media. And from what I could tell from Meredith’s latest social media posts about Persephone on Wheels, Mediterranean was on the menu at the truck. For what felt like weeks, I’d been drooling over snaps of dishes like falafel cones, “hummus and stuff” and pork-belly gyros, as well as breakfast-y things like matcha smoothies, pomegranate-seed-scattered fruit bowls and, most intriguing of all, a “falafel waffle.” I couldn’t wait to get a taste.
That curiosity led me to the parking lot of the Phat Tire bike shop in downtown Rogers, where I’m standing in front of a small trailer strung up with outdoor party lights and flanked by a couple of lush potted plants. A bouquet of flowers set in an aluminum olive can cheers up the order window. An older couple occupies one of the wrought-iron tables in front of the truck while a party of 20-somethings has nabbed the one under a massive sycamore tree. Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” lilts through the air.
I sidle up to the window and place my order for loukoumades, aka Greek donuts. I have high hopes for the exclusive-to-Saturday-morning donuts, knowing as I do that Mike and Meredith are fellow donut enthusiasts. (Case in point: Their dog’s name is Donuts.) Before long, Meredith comes tripping down the stairs of the food truck accompanied by the heady smell of sweet, fried dough. “It’s impossible not to think of beignets when you eat these,” she says as she hands me my box of donuts and takes a seat. “It’s like a donut made love to a beignet and this is their lil’ baby.”
Wasting no time, I take a bite. The still-warm crunchy outer layer gives way to a pillowy puff on the inside and subtle hits of nutmeg, lemon and cinnamon. As I devour the little donuts, Meredith keeps me somewhat grounded by telling me their back story, explaining that they’re a Greek treat that dates back to the first Olympic games.
Soon, we relocate to the recently vacated table under the sycamore, which quickly overflows with my lunch order, delivered by the chef himself. Covering the table are warm Medjool dates called “Little Stickies,” a rosemary lamb pita, a sprouted falafel and a “Honey Bee” bowl. As I stare at the spread, I can’t help but wonder where all this is coming from. How in the heck did Mike go from Bolognese to baba ganoush in just a matter of months?
As I tuck into my lunch, Mike explains the leap. Turns out his stepfather was Greek, and his mom, Susan, who was of Italian descent, fully embraced the culinary traditions of the big, Greek family she’d married into. Under her watchful eye, Mike grew up eating and helping to cook authentic Greek dishes, like koftas, moussaka and dolmakadia.
“My mother always took a challenge and ran with it,” he says.
When Mike’s mom passed away last year, the loss encouraged the couple to pursue their dream of opening their own restaurant. In fact, the name of the business is an homage to Mike’s mom—“Persephone” was a nickname of hers. The couple opted for a food truck as their first joint culinary undertaking because, quite frankly, Meredith explains, a food truck is the fastest and most inexpensive way to get started in the restaurant business. “We’re not patient people,” she laughs. They were ready to get cooking.
Mike, for his part, was ready to get back to what he loved about cooking—“to get back to creating and hustling and seeing the reaction on people’s faces and getting to have that personal interaction with them,” as he says, which is difficult to do in a fine-dining setting. As I dig into my lunch, it’s clear that Mike is loving what he’s doing at Persephone—and that he hasn’t lost his touch.
One bite of my roast-lamb pita and I’m instantly reunited with the Mike Robertshaw food I’ve been craving all these months. The lamb is melt-in-your-mouth tender and tastes of rosemary, mint and cumin. A harissa aioli livened up with piquillo and Aleppo peppers and a touch of chile de árbol gives the sandwich a kick; grilled onions, shredded romaine and pickled sultanas provide a refreshing crunch and tahini and feta bring the saltiness and tang. The falafel is also all Mike. A medley of pickled veggies, umami tomatoes, tzatziki sauce and baba ganoush balance and brighten the earthy fritters.
But there is more to the menu than Chef Mike Robertshaw. A food writer, food photographer and masterful home cook, Meredith brings her storytelling and creativity to dishes like the falafel cone, a paper cone stacked with chickpea fritters, fries and tzatziki sauce (and an olive “cherry” on top), “Greek Tater Tot Poutine” and the handful of luscious fruit bowls on offer. But Meredith’s mark isn’t just on the menu. The lights, the flowers, the charming wrought-iron tables, that giant jar of dog treats—that’s all Meredith.
It’s then that the couple breaks the news that Persephone is just the beginning of their culinary partnership. In the works is a brick-and-mortar restaurant concept that’s sure to join other soon-to-open businesses like Heirloom and Onyx Coffee Lab in upping downtown Rogers’ culinary game.
As I sit back, full of good food, Mike and Meredith regale me with the story of how they first met. It’s a classic. An Irish pub, “car bombs” and a trail of hot dog stands are involved. Thank goodness the universe saw fit to bring these two together, I think, already hungry for what they’ll cook up next.