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Say Cheese

Posted by Alexandra Grigorescu / Listed on October 3, 2012 / review policy

say cheese torontoSay Cheese opened in the Annex several months ago, but has been operating mainly as what owner Nigel Koo terms a "test kitchen." It wasn't until about a week ago that they finally settled on a menu of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, and erected a bold sign outside. Foot traffic in the interim was predictably sparse.

Koo was also a partner in the space's former business, Mon Berri. Originating out of his wholesale yogurt business, the storefront faltered even as his wholesale operations flourished. His disappointment in the venture's failure is obvious, as is his tentative optimism for the new business.

say cheese toronto"Why grilled cheese?" is both an obvious and stupid question. It's a market that's becoming saturated, but it's not quite a trend--it's the ultimate comfort food, and the poor student's go-to snack. "I ate so many grilled cheese sandwiches in school," Koo tells me.

The interior has maintained some of the fluorescent accents I vaguely remember from Monberri. Bright, pastel booths, a flat-screen pumping out comedy, and a scatter of chuckle-inducing cheese-related quotes round out the space, with two high-top tables by the entrance. The patio is already beginning to look bleak as the weather cools, but you'll still sometimes see Koo or chef Chris Blondell cooking on the outdoor grill.

say cheese torontoThe menu, which features oddballs like the Bulgogi and Kim-cheese (which Koo swears strikes a fine balance between the sharpness of the kimchi and smooth, rich mozzarella), was a labour of love. During its not-quite-open phase, the restaurant was host to parties for Koo and Blondell's friends where they feasted on an array of unusual sandwiches.

The sandwiches themselves are simply delicious. Their list of sides includes mac 'n' cheese ($2.25), soup ($1.75) or my choice, a very simple and petite spring mix salad with a light vinaigrette ($1). You can also add premium cheese such as Beemster XO for an extra $2.

say cheese torontoFirst up is the Nacho Libre ($5.50), which combines homemade avocado guacamole, tomato salsa, jalapenos and extra-old cheddar for an incredibly spicy sammie. As with the mushroom sandwich below, I opt for bacon (additional $2) to avoid full-on vegetarianism. You can also dress yours up with add-ons such as fried egg ($1), fried mushrooms ($1.25) or gluten-free bread ($1). It's a piquant dish that nicely approximates Mexican flavours, but the cheese itself gets drowned out by the ample guacamole, and really, the cheese should be front and center.

say cheese torontoThe pulled pork and pasta sandwich ($5.50) is a perplexing little number. Built (I assume) on the notion of uniting two great, if humble, cheese dishes, it suffers from carb redundancy. It's a very dense dish, and although the cheese is there--mozzarella and cheddar--it's subsumed in bread, pasta, and yes, pulled pork.

The last is delicious; marinated in mystery spices (when gently prodded to reveal them, Blundell exclaims "I'm not telling you!" in hopefully mock outrage, although cayenne and paprika are good guesses), then slow-cooked, it's incredibly tender and retains an almost smoky flavor. With the added touch of Bechamel sauce, it's truly the most haute sandwich that five bucks and change can buy.

say cheese torontoFungi Fixation ($5.50) sees brie, oyster mushrooms, button mushrooms, and tomatoes (an extra $0.75) blended into a decadent sandwich. Not only my favourite on the menu, but quite possibly my favourite in recent memory, the mushrooms take second billing to the cheese, which is lush and earthy.

There's a drop or two of white truffle oil for pungency and character (and depth of flavour), but they don't advertise this on the menu. Why? Because they were able to score a deal on it, and it's in limited supply. Something about this warms my cockles--it's indicative that compared to, say, Cheesewerks, these guys are underdogs.

When I stop it, the clientele is students spilling secrets, students talking school, and students doing the ol' grab-and-go. The area is, undeniably, student centre, but Koo argues that there's not really a non-pub option for hanging out in the immediate area. True, you can walk a bit west and hit the strip of restaurants nestled between Spadina and Bathurst, but affordability is a sticking point for Koo.

say cheese toronto"We've done a lot of price drops, and I'm always negotiating with suppliers," Koo says. With Kensington Market nearby and a pass to the Food Terminal, Say Cheese strives for freshness with most sauces made in-house--except for the bottled Heinz on each table, of course. Grilled slowly and thoroughly, the sandwiches come out surprisingly compact, but make for a satisfying snack more than a full meal. I suggest you do as we did, and order three to share--the price point more than allows it.



Lubin / October 3, 2012 at 11:54 am
This place looks like a lot of fun.
Ken / October 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm
Prices sound great, especially seeing how they're jammed-packed with quality ingredients.
Had I known, I would have stopped in during Nuit Blanche.
Great insight into the business too. Thanks again for the great writing.
APOW / October 3, 2012 at 01:49 pm
APOW @ George Foreman on Twitter
@GeorgeForeman make APOW sandwichzo?
@GeorgeForeman restaurantzos copy your stylezo
@GeorgeForeman wherezo sandwichzo?
@GeorgeForeman yr not so cool georgezo
You have been blocked by @GeorgeForeman
Ace McNugget / October 3, 2012 at 04:19 pm
i walked past this a while back and thought it sounds like a terrible idea for a restaurant and gave it until the end of the year until it closes, the owners throwing their lot in. This write up only confirms those thoughts.

And the write up itself.... Talk about pretentious nonsense!
deyan replying to a comment from Ace McNugget / October 3, 2012 at 04:39 pm
^^ wow poster above does seem quite angry! It's almost as if the owners killed your family or something...

I personally find it great that there are still small businesses willing to take the risk in a market full of bigwigs. I will definitely check this place out because I think its a great idea and people of TORONTO do support small businesses!
Mikey / October 3, 2012 at 05:10 pm
The grilled cheese craze was more of a frothy fizzle than a full-fludged bubble. And thank goodness: what a waste of--in some instances, at least--very good real estate it would have been if it had grown to cupcake proportions.

As for this place, it will no doubt become an obsession for nearby first- and second-year students (mostly female) but it will quickly fade. Like all fads do. Ever the optimist though, I'd give it two whole years.
Junk / October 3, 2012 at 06:24 pm
Overpriced garbage
amazing / October 3, 2012 at 06:56 pm
Amazing! Good find this place is a hidden gem! Just tried the bulgogi sandwich and it was great! Guy above me ... really overpriced??? Lol I guess you stay home and eat kraft dinner all day.
Rachel / October 3, 2012 at 07:45 pm
I love their logo. Soooo cute!!!! Bulgogi and kicmhi with cheese...Mmmm I can't wait to try it
jd replying to a comment from Junk / October 3, 2012 at 08:26 pm
"Overpriced garbage"

At $5.50?

You sound poor.
brittany / October 3, 2012 at 10:34 pm
OMG I wish my dorm was close to a place like this! SO YUM

I used to get grilled cheeses at my cafeteria all the time, but after having a couple of different ones at saycheese, its so hard to order a grilled cheese with kraft slices anymore knowing I can get something so much better.

Grilled cheese with REAL cheese tastes so much better lol!
Chittral / October 4, 2012 at 11:11 am
The price is right
Dave / October 4, 2012 at 04:25 pm
Despite the middling review of it I will definitely be stopping by for the pulled pork & pasta. I hope Nigel Koo can make this place work! I've lived in the area for years and this is just one of those cursed locations that seems to have a new business every year or so.

Same with that spot tucked in between the Metro and the Dental Office at Bloor & Spadina. On Google Street view it's a bagel place but in Maps it's a yogurt place.
P replying to a comment from Junk / October 4, 2012 at 07:49 pm
da fuq are you talking about? Are all your meals purchased from Dollarama?

Wish them all the best. Cheesewerks, take note of their price point.
SNAP / October 4, 2012 at 10:10 pm
I'm the lyrical Jessie James!
bravo / October 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm
Bravo, finally someone is going against the trend and providing quality food for a very fair price. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with pricing gourmet sandwiches at a premium price as they do take labor and know how to make rather than being made in a factory or being ordered from a distributor.

I wish their business does well, and will try to stop by to support a local business! Hopefully the pricing does not hurt their success!
amy / October 5, 2012 at 07:40 pm
Omg so good! Went there today, workers are so nice (and cute too!) Will be back.

Oh and the food is great, cheesy goodness
why oh why / October 7, 2012 at 02:50 pm
Why!! Blogto I hate u... now you just baited out my favorite lunch spot... so rammed at lunch now.. Damn u!

But I agree owners deserve props on quality and price.
Bizlia / October 7, 2012 at 09:27 pm
This looks delicious! Gonna give this a try sometime soon.
Liz / October 8, 2012 at 12:08 pm
I went in when it was still "Mon Berri". The frozen yogurt was soo GOD DARNED NASTY! They used the powdered bubble tea mix to put with the yogurt.

The cheese sandwiches do look more promising...
Wanda / October 11, 2012 at 05:33 am
Love this place! Pulled pork was amazing!!!! The salad was a perfect mix as well! Looking forward to trying the rest of the menu!!!
evan / October 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm
Beemster XO? Sign me up.
todd / October 24, 2012 at 08:59 pm
you want a real grilled cheese go to Melt in etobicoke. they have poutine which none of the others do
Marianne / November 11, 2012 at 01:35 am
I just had them today. They were AMAZING! I had the Say Rib, which is the pulled pork with moz cheese and tomatoes. My friend had the Fungi Fixation. Both really great, though I'm a meat eater, of course I prefer my pork. The price is well worth it, $5.50 + tax each. They may look small, but it's satisfying. Next time, if I want a full meal, I'll order a side too.

When I was there, there were more people in their late 20s than students. A couple of guys in suits, and a mom with her kid. Student center or not, their stuff is great. I would eat there everytime I'm around this area. And I live in Richmond Hill!
dor / January 8, 2013 at 07:31 pm
LOVE! Fast service & their sandwiches never fail to satisfy my craving.

The cheese is in the batter, and it's just... amazing
kay / April 3, 2013 at 09:02 pm
Good taste
Good service
Good location
Good price
Mark / June 1, 2013 at 09:17 pm
OMG stopped here on a whim and the philly cheese steak was outrageously good
Jamie replying to a comment from Mikey / June 24, 2013 at 02:58 pm
why female? My buddies and I eat here all the time, pulled pork/mac and cheese grill cheese doesn't seem like a meal girls generally gravitate towards. Pretty sure they care a lot more about how they look an what they are eating to make a grilled cheese spot the place to go.

Grilled cheese seems to be quite popular, even if it starts to fade out say cheese will probably still be there. Location is very helpful.
JF / July 4, 2014 at 01:38 pm
NOOOOO!!! I tried to visit today and there's a sign saying they're closed for good!?

SAY CHEESE! WHY!!! :( I loved you so...
LR / July 15, 2014 at 12:53 pm
Are they still open? Everytime I walk by, it always looks empty and deserted. So depressing.
Steph / September 10, 2014 at 05:43 pm
So, I have eaten here many times over the last two years, since school started. Great location, friendly staff, and good atmosphere. Today however, we walked past and yes, they are closed for good, which I cannot understand. Business was always good, there were always people eating. The food was usually good, had a few flops, but it was still acceptable. The last time I went in they had cut almost all of their menu, but seemed reluctant to answer why though I got "Just kept what people seemed to like." Which didn't seem like a decent selection. Hopefully they open in another location, maybe under a different name, I would hate for this to really be the end of a good restaurant.
Marissa / October 27, 2014 at 01:28 am
Sigh... So sad. Like the commentator above me I do not understand why they closed down. They always had line ups to the door whenever I went and the food was always spot on and affordable.

I do hope they open another location in the near future as this was one of the last affordable great spots in Toronto. RIP Say Cheese hope to see you resurrected soon.!

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