It’s warm and it’s filling, and after a cold and wet winter, April couldn’t be a better time to celebrate National Grilled Cheese Month.
No, this not a joke or a carryover from April Fool’s Day. National Grilled Cheese Month is a very real thing that deserves all the glory it can get.
Grilled cheese sandwiches have been around since the 1920s, and over the past century, the classic American sandwich has been transformed in innumerable creative ways.
Husband and wife team Steve and Anika D’Amico know all about that. They run Millwood Melt, a haven for grilled cheese lovers where the iconic sandwich comes in all shapes and sizes.
Visitors to the quaint restaurant, located at 902 Millwood Rd. in East York, are welcomed by a delightful aroma, warm smiles and a unique decor. Steve D’Amico says the space is a reflection of who they are as a couple and the food they serve.
“We want people to feel like we’re welcoming them into our kitchen and our dining room,” he said. “We wanted to create a community space where people could come and indulge in a grilled cheese sandwich, but do it in a guilt-free way, because it’s really good ingredients.”
The owners of Millwood Melt grow their own ingredients when weather permits and buy their bread from St. John’s Bakery, a social enterprise business that provides work for single parents, those who are new to Canada and people struggling with addictions or emotional or mental illness.
They use St.John’s sour dough bread, which is good news to Toronto nutritionist Tara Miller. Although she wouldn’t recommend grilled cheese sandwiches to her clients, she says there are healthier ways to go about making them, and using sour dough is one of them.
“If you get a sour dough grain bread, it’ll probably be better than a white…bread,” she said, adding that it makes the bread a “little bit more digestible.”
Miller also suggests using goat cheese or sheep cheese for easier digestion and substituting coconut oil, gee or grass nut butter for conventional butter.
The D’Amicos offer choices that anyone can bite into, including vegan and gluten-free sandwiches. However, running a grilled cheese establishment wasn’t their original plan.
They’d initially thought about opening an ice cream store, but decided it wouldn’t work year-round. So together, they sat at their dining room table trying to figure out exactly what they wanted to sell in their restaurant. It just so happened that Anika D’Amico had purchased a George Foreman Grill that year after being inspired to make grilled cheese sandwiches because of her friend.
“We knew we wanted to do something food-based, but we just couldn’t figure it out. We had to think: what would be good for Leaside?” Steve D’Amico said.
“While we’re trying to figure this out, she’s (Anika) making these amazing grilled cheese sandwiches at home… no, this is not even a lie!…we would be sitting there having business meetings and say (imitates biting into a sandwich) ‘So what should we do? What kind of restaurant should we open?’ and even then, right in our hands, we weren’t getting it.”
The D’Amicos grew up in the city, where they say it’s easy for people to build walls. When people walk into their store, they value connecting with them through the medium of grilled cheese.
“When you come into the space — this happens almost every time — people let down their guard,” Steve D’Amico said. “There’s camaraderie and community here. People sense that.”