Thursday, June 21, 2012

New in New York: At Say Cheese, You Don't Have to Be Grilled

Say Cheese makes people of all ages happy when they are dining in New York
By Mitch Broder

Stella Ballarini wants to make you a grilled cheese sandwich just like your mom’s, assuming your mom made hers with truffles or candied bacon.

And with sourdough or Tuscan. And with Gruyère or Gouda. And with a side of tomato soup with parmesan crostini.

All right, Stella wants to make you a grilled cheese sandwich not like your mom’s, which is probably for the best, because you can’t compete with Mom. She wants to make you a grilled cheese sandwich just like your mom’s if your mom threw parties for the Emmy Awards and Tommy Hilfiger.

The sign for Say Cheese makes this new in New York restaurant stand out from the street
Stella runs Scoozi Events, a boutique party-thrower. She has thrown parties for clients also including Bloomingdale’s and Mattel. And now she’s throwing a party for you, at a little shop next to Scoozi that specializes in grilled-cheese sandwiches, which is why it’s called Say Cheese.

Here a grilled cheese sandwich means Swiss, Gruyère, and Apple Compote on Tuscan Bread; or Gruyère and Candied Bacon on Peasant Bread; or Swiss, Parmesan, and Truffle on Tuscan Peasant Bread. Here a grilled cheese sandwich runs from $6.50 to $9.50. Or $2 more if you add maple bacon.

Here a simple grilled cheese sandwich is Mascarpone and Nutella. Here your mom’s grilled cheese sandwich is White American on Potato Bread. Here there are also a Pork Belly Slider with Candied Watermelon Rind, Gourmet Mac & Cheese, and, surprisingly, Tater Tots. Though you can add truffle sauce.

Stella is not the first to glorify the grilled cheese. A dozen years ago I wrote of a place on the Lower East Side called Grilled Cheese NYC. It enticed you to create your own sandwich by choosing one ingredient each from a list of cheeses, a list of vegetables, and a list of spreads. And a list of two breads.

Its cheeses included Dill Havarti and Jalapeño Yogurt. (There was no American.) Its spreads included Basil and Black Olive Pesto. To help you, it had a blackboard with a full-color sandwich schematic. (I am uneasy with such restaurants, which explains why Grilled Cheese NYC is gone.)

By contrast, Say Cheese has already created its sandwiches, potentially reducing your decision workload by hours. You pick one sandwich from a handful, leaving you time to admire the nostalgic décor or to patronize the family’s third business, Zoë Ballarini’s Girl Scout Cookie Stand.

When dining in New York at Say Cheese, step right up to the counter and place your order

I picked the special, which was Honey Goat Cheese and Blackberries on Semolina-with-Golden-Raisins-and-Fennel Bread. It would have taken me days to create it. I had it with Watermelon Mojito, which contained watermelon, lime juice, mint, agave nectar, and lemon juice. It would have taken me months to create that.

Grilled cheese is complimented by a S'mores treat at Say Cheese a place for dining in New YorkThe sandwich came in a black skillet and was crunchy, creamy, and fruity. The mojito came in a tin cup and was fruity, minty, and agavy. These were a grilled cheese and a fruit drink, but they were flavor festivals, as was the dessert of graham-cracker-dusted toasted marshmallows on a pipette of chocolate, which I would never even have thought to create.

Stella loves making stuff like this, which is the main reason she opened Say Cheese. Basically, she was looking for a good time. “It’s something relatively simple to do, which is just what I wanted,” she says, “because what we do next door is so high-end and so labor-intensive.”

Her main challenge is the customer estimate of sandwich arrival time. Plainly put, Say Cheese is not as quick as Mom. “People get impatient,” Stella says. “People expect grilled cheese to be fast because it sounds like a fast food. But good grilled cheese takes a little while.”

When dining in New York there are so many choices, Say Cheese makes your choice easy.

Slow down at Say Cheese, 142 West 83rd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, in New York City.


  1. Surely sounds like a place where the wait is worth it! A bit too hot today for thinking about grilled cheese but a good place to put on the list. Thanks Mitch!

  2. This is a scrumptious post! My favorite grilled- cheese memory is of my own mother making them for my brothers & me while we watched The Wizard of Oz, which only aired once a year at the time. We were able to eat the sandwiches in front of the TV, too. All-in-all a very special night and this post reminds me of all that. I'll have to stop in and try a sandwich (or more). Thanks!

  3. Well, I was doing so well on the diet today, until I read this and had to pop a mac 'n cheese into the microwave (organic, at least). MUST you be so descriptive in these blogs? This place sounds awesome. I wonder if she's got any vegetarian maple bacon? And actually, my mom's grilled cheese sandwiches were open faced, toaster ovened, not grilled, but I loved them anyway. Especially when the cheese stuck to the roof of my mouth. Aaaaaaah, the good ole days..........