Everyone knows there’s only one place in South Walk to get a grilled cheese, and it’s Dino’s. This is beyond question.
Time and again, fast-food cheeseries like Melteez or Cheese Palace have tried to gain a foothold in South Walk. Every year or two, you’ll see an ambitious uptowner in a fancy suit wandering the Walk’s dingy alleyways, his eager eyes scanning for a future home for the franchise so temptingly teased in the documents he clutches. The people, he’ll convince himself, want something classier. He’ll think in phrases like “uptown grilled cheese at a downtown pricepoint” and “family dining experience”. The really oblivious ones will even start construction.
But they will fail. They all fail, because nothing can beat Dino’s grilled cheese.
The only sign for Dino’s is a screen-printed cling on the front door. You’d miss it if you didn’t know where you were going, but, of course, everyone knows where Dino’s is. It’s said that South Walk babies settle for mama’s milk only until their legs can take them to Dino’s door. The lettering is blocky and unprofessional and starting to peel in some spots, but it serves its purpose, marking the portal to the stuffy dining room and the best melts you’ll ever taste.
“Meltz the Way You Want ‘Em”—that’s the Melteez slogan. Step up to the counter and you’ll be faced with a staggering list of options, and if the chipper, cap-wearing youth behind the counter sees you squinting at the menu, they’ll immediately recite them for you: classic American, Monterey, Pepper Jack, Provolone, Havarti, Cheddar, Mozzarella, Dubliner, Brie, Blue, Feta, Chevre, Gruyere, Cream, Camembert, and Spray, and that’s not including the seasonal specials. It’s all imitation, of course, since no franchise is going to waste its money on actual dairy when there’s a shortage, and there’s always a shortage.
Then, once you’ve selected a cheese, it’s on to Round Two: deciding what to wrap it in. Your choices, as the youth will declare—a flicker of pained exasperation behind their bright eyes–are white, wheat, rye, pumpernickel, sourdough, seven-grain, eight-grain, buttermilk biscuit, New York bagel, Montreal bagel, pita, naan, tortilla (corn or flour), flatbread, noodle buns, rice buns, and, for the guests with dietary needs, lettuce leaves. Melteez corporate is reportedly still trying to devise a way to keep disheartened guests from walking out the door at first sight of the options.
At Dino’s, there’s one item on the menu: grilled cheese. He makes it with buttermilk bread and real cheddar cheese—shredded, not sliced, so it melts better. You tell Dino’s nephew behind the register how many you want, and Dino expertly grabs exactly enough slices of bread, dresses them each with cheese and a shake of his seasoning mix, and in one swift move—fwip fwip fwip—spreads butter, real butter, on them all before dropping them on the hot grill. Three minutes later, the bell rings, Dino’s booming voice shouts, “ORDER UP!” over the kitchen’s sizzle, and Bennie hands you your tray.
It’s prompt. Unpretentious. Polite in the economical, just-enough, keep-your-distance way. And when you bite into that sandwich, you immediately understand why, for all its 288 bread and artificial cheese combinations, Melteez will never hold a candle to Dino’s.
The butter, rich and indulgent, hits you first, setting a silky stage for the act to follow. Crispy toast crackles as your teeth pierce the bread. The inside is still soft and spongy, and it tastes sweet, with the slightest hint of tartness to keep it from cloying. Your jaws, still closing, hit the hot cheese, which oozes most satisfyingly onto your tongue, and as soon as the tang of cheddar—real cheddar, shortages be damned—meets your palate, Dino’s secret blend of seasonings appears as well, an aromatic glitter wrapped in fat and dairy.
It is, quite simply, heaven. And so is the next bite, and the next, until your sandwiches are gone and you recline, spent, basking in a sort of hazy afterglow.
Doesn’t matter that in the blistering South Walk summer, Dino’s only relief is a rattling box fan and green plastic glasses of ice water. Doesn’t matter that Bennie only remembers to wipe down the crumb-covered linoleum tables once or twice a day. Nowhere in the city—hell, nowhere in the world—can beat Dino’s for grilled cheese, and you can take that to your grave.