IN THE KITCHEN Following a long corporate career, Lisa Dowd decided it was time to follow her passion. “I cooked my way through Julia Child’s cookbooks. I decided, why not do something with food?” she said. Her grilled cheese-focused food truck hit the road in Connecticut in 2014. “I always loved grilled cheese. Who doesn’t like grilled cheese and other comfort foods? It’s nostalgia,” she said. “I wanted to pick a concept that wasn’t too trendy. Grilled cheese has staying power.”
In launching the truck, “I experimented in the kitchen with different recipes and tried to come up with different flavor combinations. I wanted to appeal to toddlers as well as senior citizens,” she said.
A couple of years later, Dowd was traveling on the MassPike while taking her son to college and realized some travel plazas were leasing out space. Welcoming more permanent footholds, she sold her truck and opened the first brick-and-mortar locations of Cheesy Street Grill in June 2016 in two service plazas: Natick (eastbound) and Westborough (westbound).
THE LOCALE The third Cheesy Street Grill location (and its first franchise) opened in Wellesley in mid-September in the new sports complex on Route 9 east near the Natick line. The squeak of basketball sneakers and the sound of skates slicing through ice might not be the typical background noises while dining (there are only a few nearby sit-down tables, anyway), but don’t let that deter you. The counter service set-up is inviting and welcomes menu perusal and customization.
ON THE MENU Creative customers can assemble a sandwich with their choice of bread, cheese, and toppings, or else select from one of the menu’s specialty sandwich combinations. Start with American, cheddar, mozzarella, asiago, goat, or Swiss cheese (or a blend) and top it with fixings ranging from vegetables like roasted red peppers to spreads like guacamole to meats like chicken and ham.
We gravitated toward the specialty sandwiches and had to try the “Get Shorty” ($9.25) featuring boneless beef short rib with curly cavatappi mac ’n’ cheese grilled between two slices of buttered white country bread. Given the choice of barbecue sauce or chipotle mayonnaise, we opted for the latter, which gave the already indulgent sandwich a slightly spicy kick.
We also tried the All-Star ($8.25) and were bowled over by the luxurious blend of goat cheese, red-wine caramelized onions, and sweet fig jam. The cheese oozed from between the two browned slices of bread, and the savory and sweet flavors played off each other perfectly.
The chipotle chicken sandwich ($9.25) is a “fan favorite,” according to Dowd, loaded with chicken, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, and chipotle mayo. The “Cheddar & the Sea” ($9.25) combines tuna, cheese, mayonnaise, pickles, and tomatoes in a playful take on the tuna melt.
Vegetarian sandwiches include the French onion, with bubbly Swiss cheese and caramelized onions combining to resemble the decadent, broiled top layer of the eponymous soup. There’s also a caprese grilled cheese, with melted mozzarella and tomatoes and choice of pesto or balsamic reduction.
Beyond the grilled cheese sandwiches themselves, Cheesy Street Grill serves crispy baked potato tots, either plain ($3) or loaded up with cheddar-beer sauce, bacon, jalapenos, barbecue sauce, and sour cream ($6.50). Mac ’n’ cheese ($6.50) can be served solo or dressed up with any of the sandwich toppings. Tomato bisque and broccoli cheddar soup act as homey sandwich accompaniments.
Many people — Dowd included — associate grilled cheese with childhood memories of warming up on cold days. This winter hasn’t been the coldest or the snowiest, but there’s never really a bad time of year for gussied-up grilled cheese, and it’s nice to find an establishment to satisfy that eternal craving.
Cheesy Street Grill, 900 Worcester St. (Route 9 east), Wellesley, and other locations. 781-489-3187, www.cheesystreetgrill.com.Rachel Lebeaux can be reached at [email protected].