No ordinary grilled cheese sandwich, the cheese frenchee brings nostalgia to locals

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The cheese frenchee holds a special place in the hearts of Nebraskans. Photo courtesy of Mallory Bart
Mallory Bart
CONTRIBUTOR

Nebraska is home to many local delicacies including the Runza, Kool-Aid, Dorothy Lynch dressing and allegedly the Reuben sandwich–but the cheese frenchee is extra special to many Nebraskans.

The cheese frenchee is no ordinary grilled cheese sandwich. It’s made with ingredients that are common in many households: American cheese, mayonnaise and crumbled saltine crackers.

There are many variations of the cheese frenchee including tuna, ham and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly.

“I found out about it when I was like 5 or 6,” said Sean McClenathan, a local cheese frenchee fan. “I’ve been eating cheese frenchees all my life.”

Some people claim the cheese frenchee is an imitation of a French sandwich that is also deep-fried with cheese.

The cheese frenchee was developed at King’s Drive-In in 1955, which later became King’s Food Host. There were many locations opened throughout the Midwest until the company declared bankruptcy in 1974.

King’s faced competition from McDonalds and Burger King in the early 70’s when television advertisements claimed better value and lower wait times.

The restaurant was a popular place for high schoolers to meet after football games to grab food, which is why so many Nebraskans have a fond memory of the cheese frenchee.

“Well, it’s cheese and it’s fried. That’s pretty much the cornerstone of American cuisine right there,” said McClenathan.

King’s also introduced telephone ordering to their restaurants. Telephones allowed customers to place their order without leaving their homes.

Although King’s went out of business, their recipes were acquired by investors Dean Rasmussen and former senator Bob Kerrey. The investors opened Grandmother’s restaurants in Ralston, Lincoln, and Omaha, which all offered the cheese frenchee.

Rasmussen then brought the recipe to his new restaurant chain, Don and Millie’s in 1989. Don and Millie’s operates five locations in Omaha, two in Lincoln and one in Bellevue.

Many of the items on the original King’s menu are available for purchase, including the cheese frenchee. Arno Moyyad tried the cheese frenchee for the first time at Don and Millie’s.

“I have never been to Omaha and never been to Nebraska, it’s my first visit,” Moyyad said. “Our hosts brought us here to this restaurant to try something unique and that was unique. It was delicious.”

Moyyad also says he likes the cheese frenchee because it fits his vegetarian diet.

“I had my first bite and I was like this is heaven. Very good, it was excellent,” said Moyyad. “I will have it again when I come to town.”

According to a former King’s cook, the original recipe is pretty simple – but many people prefer to make it their own.

  1. Two pieces of white bread
  2. Put mayo on the inner surfaces and American cheese in the middle
  3. Put together, cut diagonally
  4. Combine milk, eggs, flour, and dry powdered cheddar cheese to make the batter
  5. Dip in batter, let a lot run off, and then coat in crumbled saltine crackers (cracker meal).
  6. Leave in refrigerator overnight so the bread can absorb the moisture and solidify the sandwich
  7. Deep fry until golden brown
  8. Serve with pickles, ranch, or ketchup

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