Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cheesed up

Playing off the never-waning popularity of comfort foods, restaurant chains are elevating a tried-and-true ingredient to Big Lure status this month: Cheese.

Not that the uses are routine. Denny’s, for instance, is currently touting mac & cheese, but as a sandwich topping, not a side or entrée. The result is the Mac ‘n Cheese Big Daddy Patty Melt, a burger dressed not only with the comfort favorite, but also additional cheddar cheese and a mayonnaise-y sauce.

The limited-time selection, a cornerstone of the chain’s new Let’s Get Cheesy menu, is the latest in the chain’s tribute to cheesy excess. Last year it showcased the Fried Cheese Melt, essentially four fried mozzarella sticks inserted inside a more traditional grilled-cheese sandwich.

It packed nearly 900 calories. But that could’ve been a diet selection compared with the Big Daddy. Denny’s hasn’t posted the new sandwich’s calorie count, but a regular patty melt is listed as having 1,040 calories, and other authorities have estimated the count at just about 1,700 calories.

The Big Daddy is one of six new cheese selections. Most of the others consist of familiar items, like a country-fried steak with eggs, garnished with cheese. As part of the promotion, cheese can be added to any menu item for an extra charge of 69 cents.

Denny’s isn’t the only chain on a quest to keep cows at full employment. The Qdoba burrito chain is calling attention to one of its signature ingredients with the launch of the Queso Quest truck in Chicago. A comedian is driving the truck around the Windy City to get locals to try the chain’s three-cheese queso as a topping on popular local foods.

It wasn’t crystal clear, to me at least, how queso on a deep-dish pizza is going to drive more people to Qdoba, and I’m a fan of the chain.

Then there’s the sizzle surrounding The Melt, the grilled-cheese sandwich concept that hit the pan this week in San Francisco.

Intended to serve as a chain prototype, the new outlet probably would have gone unnoticed for some time if it hadn’t been for two things: It’s the brainchild of Jonathan Kaplan, the inventor of The Flip inexpensive video recorder; and it uses what may be the most technologically advanced system in the industry for ordering a sandwich.Patrons use their smart phones to select what cheese, bread and other elements they want in their sandwich. The order is translated into a QR code that’s read at the store, so the order is automatically channeled back to the kitchen.

Cheesy? The initial reports from citizen reviewers have been very positive.

But not all the recent news has been good for cheese lovers. It slipped past the business press, but the industry lost one of its gods last week, and one who owed his notoriety largely to cheese.

Yes, Joey Vento, a.k.a. the founder of south Philly’s Geno’s (cheese) Steaks, died at age 71. Pat’s might be better known, but Geno’s could go onion to onion with its arch-rival, which was situated virtually across the street.

All we can say is, “Whiz, with, Joey. Whiz with.”

1 comment:

deniseleeyohn said...

everything tastes better with cheese -- well, almost everything -- i do not recommend cheese ice cream (i tried it once and still have nightmares about it).

all this cheese news reminds me of when bacon was really hot last year -- for restaurants looking for innovations that are fresh yet familiar, twists on common ingredients like cheese and bacon make for good fodder.

-- denise lee yohn