Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Country Cooking Meets Diner Food

My mom is a great cook. But I never had a full appreciation of how great a cook she is until I went away to college. Yup, nothing like campus food -- specifically weekend campus food -- to make you long for mom's home cookin'.

So once the dorm furniture was rearranged and my bags unpacked, the task at hand was to find other sources of food. I didn't have a car on campus my freshman year, so "real food" was how I described take-out pizza and chinese -- two places that delivered to campus. When my parents came down to visit they would treat me to dinner off-campus, usually the Olive Garden. Unlimited salad and breadsticks? It would make my week!

My sophomore year I brought a car back to campus, and I was able to branch out more with my off-campus dining experiences. But it was my junior year when I was introduced to the diner of all diners -- Mastoris.

For those of you who don't know, New Jersey is the essentially the diner capital of the U.S. (A diner, by definition serves breakfast at any hour. So if your diner doesn't, then it's not a real diner.) And while they may not be the most glamorous and the uniforms the waiters and waitresses wear won't be on the cover of Vogue, diners are known for having some of the best food and at a reasonable price. Music to the ears of any college student.

And Mastoris takes "diner food" to a whole new level.

I call it the glorified diner. The cheese bread and cinnamon bread they serve while you wait for your food ... the loaded potato skins ... chicken parm sandwich served on their fresh-baked sunflower bread ... and my favorite meal, #61. A grilled chicken breast with dijon mustard and apple slices, served on a torpedo roll and topped with melted cheddar cheese. Biting into it is an experience like no other.

But it's been 12 years since I've graduated from college, 12 years since I've tasted the wonder that is #61, and I still think about that sandwich. So last year when I saw an article in an issue of Martha Stewart Living on making "grown up grilled cheese," I knew immediately the flavors I wanted to use. Good ole #61!

So before I deconstruct my sandwich for you, I leave you with the lessons I learned from this endeavor:

  1. Play with your food. Experiment with flavors and textures. Putting a new spin on childhood favorites is fun.
  2. Just because you may live in a different state from where you can get one of your favorite meals doesn't mean you should go without. Find new ways to bring the flavors you love to the table. Twelve years is too long to go without. Trust me.
  3. Even young taste buds, like those of my son, can appreciate a variety of flavors. Kids are a great to experiment instead of sticking to the same old menu.
  4. You're never too old for grilled cheese.

Autumn Grilled Cheese
Based on Mastoris' #61
Makes 2 sandwiches (because 1 is not enough)


  • 4 slices of your favorite bread (I use honey wheat)
  • Dijon mustard
  • 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese
  • Thin slices of your favorite apple (I like Gala)
  • Butter


  1. Spread mustard, to taste, on each slice of bread.
  2. Top each slice of bread with a slice of cheese.
  3. Cover 2 slices of bread with the thin apple slices.
  4. Put sandwiches together and butter both sides of each.
  5. Toast bread on a griddle until cheese is melted and bread is golden.

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