A tale of two grilled cheese

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2-255 King Street North
Waterloo, ON N2J 4V2
(519) 208-3040

Johnny Fresco
244 Weber Street North
Waterloo, ON N2J 3H4
(519) 772-1122

[Previously published. Please check with venues regarding menu availability and hours of opening.]
A quintessential comfort-food sandwich, the grilled cheese is a favourite for adults and kids alike.

I can’t imagine many people not having some sort of memory of the sandwich, or its variations – and the accompanying bowl of tomato soup that often sits alongside.

Over the last several years, there has been a significant uptick in popularity
when it comes to grilled cheese. It’s found in higher restaurants and casual joints. It’s the star of sandwich contests too.

However, there are a couple of schools of thought – a tale of two sandwiches, if you like – when it comes to a grilled cheese.

On the one hand, purists will say the sandwich should only be cheese and maybe, just maybe, some sort of a condiment like mustard between the bread.

Grilled cheese Reformation

On the other hand, a more progressive, you might say reformist, approach permits a stuffing between the bread that the purists say degrades the grilled cheese and relegates it into another sandwich category.

I’m a grilled-cheese flexitarian: as long as the sandwich is good and gooey and cheesy, then I can enjoy both.

Here are two cases-in-point, both in Waterloo and both almost within sight of each other, of this grilled cheese schism.

This first is MELTwich Food Co., a smart little sandwich joint that stays open until 4 a.m. – ostensibly serving coffee-soused night owls, private eyes and Laurier university students, ostensibly soused with other liquids.

MELTwich pressed jalapeno GC (Photo/andrewcoppolino.com).

A chain with nearly two dozen locations across Canada, MELTwich, manifest in its portmanteau’ed name, combines the multi-ingredient Reformation melt with the purism of the grilled cheese sandwich. (Their southern-fried chicken sandwich, though I’m sure delicious, seems to verge away from a classic grilled cheese into even more controversial territory.)

Simplicity can be a good thing

Relative simplicity has its place at MELTwich, however.

The grilled cheese with onion and jalapeno on sourdough ($6.50) remains a cheese-forward sandwich (sans tomato soup) that captures most of what I want in a conventional grilled cheese: gooey cheesiness with bread that combines chewy and crispy and has enough heft to stand up as a proper sandwich. The onion and jalapeno offer a nice bit of bite.

Otherwise, there is a fairly wide range of about a dozen sandwiches (you can’t get a good idea of the in-store menu from their website). What must capture a lot of attention is the fact that, when run as a special, the basic grilled cheese sandwich is $4.

About 800 meters heading east on University Avenue, you’ll find the second half of the grilled cheese tale: a popular lunch-time venue – a line can form quickly at noon, so be advised – Johnny Fresco is grilled cheese fun.

Johnny Fresco “Mountie” (Photo/andrewcoppolino.com).

The name is fun, the jaunty typography on the signage is fun and the food is fun. It’s an institution: the place has been around for 14 years.

They serve pitas, wraps, poutines, salads and burgers. There are vegetarian options too. There’s a fairly wide range of sandwiches including three or four grilled cheeses – and a very meaty Cubano-inspired Tony Montana grilled cheese special (so, say hello to their little friend).

Canadian elements

The “Mountie” grilled cheese ($7.99), of course, includes two pieces of back bacon – cooked and then, smartly, rough chopped on the flat-top – sandwiched between two slices of Canadian Cheddar cheese.

Key is some good bread: chewy organic multi-grain from Grainharvest Breadhouse, which is great for texture and body, does the trick.

The sandwich includes a fried egg – which is just great. It’s basically a grilled cheese for breakfast, or any time.

Johnny Fresco owner John Kourvetaris says about 30 percent of pre-COVID-19 clientele to his 30-seat eat-in and take-away venue are students, but everyone loves a good grilled cheese no matter which side you line up on.

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