You know those bone-chillingly unpleasant rainy days that come around in the fall? The ones where you don’t have a cold but feel like you do, and if you so much as look at the road, you get splashed by muck that soaks the cuffs of your jeans so they get stuck to your legs? Well, mozzarella sticks in your grilled cheese tastes kind of like rushing home, throwing PJs on, and hiding under a blanket for the rest of that cold, gross fall day. It’s comforting. Soft. Cozy. You probably shouldn’t do it every day. But go ahead and try.
The Food Network has a recipe for this wonder, which is amusing, because it’s really pretty straightforward. You make a grilled cheese, but in between the cheese slices, you put (cooked, hot) mozzarella sticks.
The recipe has one review, from an anonymous user, who gave it four stars and added zero context as to why they didn’t give it five stars. I guess maybe I’d give it four stars, too. Definitely not five. Maybe three. The thing is, mozzarella sticks in your grilled cheese is fine. It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s fine. I made a mozz stick grilled cheese and I found it bizarrely comforting, as noted in the rainy-day metaphor above.
The comfort doesn’t come from any sense of nostalgia, because it’s not a meal from my past. Though it is a thing from the past—Denny’s past, to be exact.
After learning about grilled cheese with mozzarella sticks in it, my husband mentioned it intermittently as something we should make for dinner. At first I thought he was joking, because we are adults and don’t need mozzarella sticks in our grilled cheeses. Then I realized he wasn’t joking, so why not?
Are mozzarella sticks on a grilled cheese any good?
I went in with the hypothesis that the mozzarella sticks wouldn’t stay warm and gooey enough, nor would the outside stay crunchy enough, for the sandwich to be altogether pleasant. To see if one technique might yield longterm goo better than the other, I baked half the mozzarella sticks in the oven and made the other half in the air fryer. Sure enough, neither stayed particularly gooey in the center once added to a grilled cheese, sliced, and plated—by then, their cheese had congealed into a firm mass.
While that might have annoyed me had I just been eating the mozzarella sticks on their own, it actually didn’t bother me at all in the context of a grilled cheese. Compared to the sandwich’s crispy, buttery bread and its gooey melted cheese slices, the sticks were kind of spongy. They almost played the role of halloumi, in a way that we found welcome.
We also played around with the sliced cheese, making one sandwich with American, a la Denny’s, and one with cheddar, because that’s what we usually make grilled cheese with. The American provided a stronger flavor contrast with the mozzarella sticks, whereas the cheddar-mozzarella combo was more cohesive. I preferred the cheddar; my husband preferred American. This is the polar opposite of our usual cheese preferences, but I guess the mozzarella stick grilled cheese just put us in a different state of mind.
Using everyone’s favorite appetizer to adorn other dishes isn’t too rare, nor is it exclusive to Denny’s. Wendy’s recently debuted a burger in New Zealand topped with mozzarella sticks, a creation that arose organically among fast food customers and is sometimes referred to as a meatball sub. Additionally, fans of the Dallas Cowboys can reportedly get a similar burger at AT&T Stadium this year:
I went into this thinking I would not like this sandwich. And I don’t love it enough to make it all the time. But on those bone-chilling, puddle-splashed-jeans rainy autumn days? You’ll find me cozied up with one.