How-To Make the Perfect Cheese Toastie
Decatur resident Jim Friesner recalls ordering a cheese toastie when visiting Chicago a few years back. “The waitress laughed,” he recalls. “(I guess) it’s only called a cheese toastie in Decatur.”
While wait staff outside our area may discern you mean a grilled cheese, “cheese toastie” generally requires an explanation or, at a minimum, earns a chuckle.
Many local restaurants list these favorites as grilled cheese sandwiches, but don’t be surprised to see the occasional “cheese toastie,” or “Toasty,” as it’s known at the Beach House, on the menu. The standard version contains cheese, bread, and a smear of butter spread evenly on the outside for that perfectly grilled finish. But locals believe there are as many toastie variations as there are unique Decatur personalities.
While generally cut diagonally when served in restaurants, the answer to “why triangles?” remains elusive. This geometric shape might be most attractive to the “dippers,” who enjoy dunking in ketchup or soup, or even hot sauce. Home kitchens tend to be more flexible with the shape – ranging from triangles, squares, or not cut at all. This works especially well for the trifecta, a triple-decker variety. Crusts generally remain intact, lest you lose some of the melted goodness from the inside.
Tammy Coffman, manager of Jan’s East End Grill, says keys to a great toastie are fresh bread, not too much butter, and two slices of cheese. “We use American cheese,” Coffman says of the standard, “but you can get Swiss or pepper jack.” Although her customers love to add pickles to their toasties, her favorite addition is peanut butter — on the side.
John Medina, Doherty’s Pub & Pins, has his own secret toastie tip. “I use mayonnaise on the bread instead of butter,” he says, referring to the grilling agent used for bread’s outer side. “It works great, and doesn’t burn like butter.”
Another “must” for Medina is Texas toast — a bit thicker than standard breads — with sliced cheese in the center. “Wisconsin cheeses are the best,” he says, “and American slices melt easily.” Doherty’s kitchen also honors many requests for grilled tomato and bacon additions.
A long-time expert on the grill, Mary Hebenstreit of The Wharf says it’s all about the griddle and setting the heat just right in order to get that “golden brown” toasting. Hebenstreit uses two slices of American and two slices of Swiss for this popular sandwich. Although most customers prefer toasties made with white bread, The Wharf is quick to accommodate personal preferences, such as a cheese toastie on rye with crispy bacon. The restaurant typically pairs the classic sandwich with chips or fries.
IIf you want to try making your own at home, LouAnn Jacobs, owner of Del’s Popcorn Shop, offers all the right ingredients to create a gourmet sandwich. “We have bread mixes and a selection of fancy cheeses that can take your cheese toastie to the next level,” she says. “We even created our own recipes.”
Last but not least, many Decaturites associate a cheese toastie with the fondest of childhood memories. Picture Mom flipping a just-so-browned toastie on the griddle, and all seems right with the world.
When it comes to family mealtime, Contributor Kathy Schanefelt can always count on a warm reception for one of her all-time favorites — a cheese toastie with pickles.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2009 issue of Decatur Magazine. It may not be reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without the publisher’s consent.
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