THE BEST GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH IN THE UNIVERSE

(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, October 3, 2001)

If you're like me, you really love comfort food, those ooey-gooey victuals that are not so much bad for you as that they're packing more fat and calories than nutrition. Still, once in a while you've got to indulge, because these foods are so great for the psyche!

When I was a kid, a grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate malt did the trick for me. Two pieces of toasty white bread with tons of melty processed cheese oozing out, and a tall frosty glass of thick chocolaty whipped ice cream. Every time we ate at one of those ubiquitous diners that dotted the Texas landscape in the fifties, my folks knew I was going to order a grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate malt.

Still, no short-order cook in the Lone Star State ever knew, then or now, how to make those dishes as well as the man who ran a tiny little eatery in a classic stainless-steel diner on the (then) outskirts of San Angelo called Burley's.

I will never know how Mr. Burley produced the creamiest, most perfect malts I have ever tasted, but he was a master of the art. Even better, the secret to his best-in-the-universe grilled cheese sandwiches was obvious, so when the "slings and arrow" of life get to be too much for me, I can duplicate his feat and create my own best-in-the-universe grilled cheese sandwich.

To begin with, Mr. Burley would assemble the sandwich ingredients the same way everybody else did, slathering butter on two slices of white bread with the dry sides flanking a slice of American cheese, but instead of tossing this concoction on the griddle, buttered sides out, he--and here's the secret!--grilled the sandwich in a waffle iron.

Now that I'm on the shady side of 50, I have to watch my cholesterol, so I don't do this kind of thing very often. Still, the recipe can be tweaked in different ways to satisfy anybody's diet requirements or restrictions. For one thing, there's no meat involved in the basic recipe, but you could fancy it up by throwing in a bit of ham or bologna, if you like, and call the sandwich grilled ham or bologna and cheese, instead of just grilled cheese.

Vegetarians who eat dairy, like me and my husband, can stick to the basic recipe, but we can lower the cholesterol damage by using a low-fat substitute for the processed cheese slices and brushing the bread with a little olive oil instead of butter or margarine, and wheat bread works instead of white. Besides the olive oil, vegetarians who don't eat dairy can use a cheese substitute made from tofu called Galaxy veggie slices or another brand of that product, available in several delicious flavors in the produce section of most grocery stores.

According to my internet research, there's no more Burley's Diner in San Angelo, nor does anyone named Burley live in that west Texas city. But even though he might no longer be there to whip up the best malts and grilled cheese sandwiches in the universe, Mr. Burley's legacy will live on in our kitchen and, after some of you have read this article here, maybe even a few others in many places around the world.

Until you've enjoyed one of Mr. Burley's heavenly concoctions, you cannot know how good crisp waffled toast and gooey melted cheese can taste. Why, even the crust is delicious. What a master he was!

 


Debbie Jordan