Sometimes it's fun writing this column: I get to write pieces that generate a lot of conversation and I can always break the ice when meeting new people by saying, "I write about fast food." Sometimes, like when Serious Eats suggested I try Denny's new Fried Cheese Melt, it's less fun writing this column. After checking the sandwich out online, I was already queasy.
For those who don't know it, Denny's generated a lot of buzz by introducing a grilled cheese with mozzarella sticks inside of it to its $4 Value Menu—two pieces of Texas toast, two slices of American cheese, and four mozzarella sticks in the middle. (The sandwich alone weighs in at 790 calories; add fries and it jumps to 1220.) To some, even the idea might sound horrid and strange. Having eaten many hoagies with mozzarella sticks or chicken fingers inside at the Hoagie Haven in Princeton, New Jersey, this just seemed like a variation on a theme to me. But I wasn't looking forward to it.
Upon first glance, I immediately noticed that the American cheese looked shiny and not fully melted; despite the sandwich's unappealing presentation, I dove in. (The things I do for this job.)
The fried mozzarella itself is good, in a Denny's sort of way; the cheese is a bit gooey, well-melted, and you can pull strings of it with your teeth. The bread reminded me of Texas toast in its thick cut and eggy taste, but sliced a bit thinner. The melt had a crispy outside, with a good amount of butter and a golden brown sheen. But the American cheese let me down—the aforementioned "shiny" exterior correctly indicated the cheese had melted at some point, but then resolidified. The marinara was too watery to be a good dipping sauce, though on its own it tasted all right, with hints of oregano and a dash of basil.
Though the American cheese was unappetizing, my biggest complaint remains that the sandwich does not meld or come together as one unit. Instead, it reminded me of the type of creation sandwiches kids invent out of whatever they have at hand—potato chips, peanut butter, and Lucky Charms, for example. It just didn't come together. That doesn't mean that all mozzarella stick sandwiches are inherently bad; those hoagies with mozzarella sticks at Hoagie Haven satisfied many a late-night craving. In this instance, though, the grilled cheese and mozzarella sticks sit on opposite sides of the sandbox, each building their own castle.
That said, once you get past the initial disappointment, it's somewhat fun, in a way. And as values go, it's not a bad one—$4 for a big sandwich and a plate of fries. You get a lot more for your money than at McDonald's. It's not remarkable, and not something to go out of your way to try, except perhaps for the novelty. But it's not quite as bad as it could be, either. And hey: at least it doesn't leave you hungry.
Have you guys tried it?