Mozzarella Sticks Are the World’s Greatest App

Just don't pair them with marinara sauce.

<p>Allrecipes/Jiaqi Wang</p>

Allrecipes/Jiaqi Wang

Halfway between the local bars and the room I rented in a house with seven other people, sat my savior. Just above the upswept roof of the 1960s-style architecture, the hexagonal yellow sign shone like a 24-hour beacon: Denny’s. Here is where mozzarella sticks saved my life on so many late nights in my early 20s. I left bad dates on the green, patterned pleather banquettes and ate stacks of those cheesy  sticks, just mediocre enough to pull  keep me from the brink of overconsumption.

In the late aughts, two places in my neighborhood served mozzarella sticks, but the bar kitchen  that offered  a butter-stick-sized version closed at midnight. So, Denny’s became my regular. Because when I went out, the night needed to end with mozzarella sticks. They are the world’s greatest appetizer: flowing seamlessly from happy hour snack to midnight munchy, both a kid pleaser and alcohol absorber. Truly, they are the little black dress of frozen fried foods.

Humans have been finding ways to put soft, stretchy cheeses inside crispy cocoons of dough since the dawn of time, from the spiritual ancestor of mozzarella sticks, mozzarella in carrozza to the Arabic sweet, knafeh. But the mozzarella stick itself is a relatively new, deeply American invention. Its vaguely Italian roots skew more Jersey Shore than Amalfi Coast; any aspirations to subtlety or complexity fell overboard on the boat over from Naples.

"Truly, they are the little black dress of frozen fried foods."

The mozzarella stick, emerging from the deep-fryer in late-20th-century bars and pizza joints, relies on over-the-top sensory pleasure, balance be damned. The exterior crunch, whether thick panko sharp enough to cut your gums or bargain basement breadcrumbs, serves as insulation against the molten cheese as much as anything else, a salty chest to hold the stretchy treasure within. The dish’s pizza joint roots show in its common co-star, the one downfall of fast-casual sticks: the ramekin of marinara sauce.

Bucking the grand American tradition of overdoing everything, the thin acidity of a tomato sauce fails to do justice to the regal mozzarella stick. On those youthful mornings when I failed to stave off the aftereffects of the previous night with Denny’s finest, I took an early lunch and headed out for the only place that served mozzarella sticks in downtown Seattle: Red Robin. The local chain that made it big sat on the pier, doling out bottomless steak fries and free refills on strawberry lemonades, which, with the mozzarella sticks, created a hangover-crushing trio. Most importantly, they always happily brought over ranch in place of marinara. A creamy dressing as brutish and powerful as the stick itself, I learned staring out at the murky waters of Elliott Bay, is the true soulmate of the mozzarella stick.

That Red Robin went the way of the Ballard Denny’s a few years ago–a fitting complement to my ability to have more than a single drink in a night without feeling like death for a week. Thankfully, the advent of the air fryer means that I didn’t have to say goodbye to my chain restaurant mozzarella stick habit: I keep the packaged TGI Fridays version in the freezer almost all the time. They’re not perfect (they come with marinara, for starters), though, squinting back at the ones from Red Robin and Denny’s, I can’t promise those were either. But when I raise a mozzarella stick to toast the new year at 9pm on December 31st so I can put my kids to bed and then sleep off a cheese hangover, they are perfect for the moment. Just like they always are.



Get the recipe: Fried Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

Read the original article on All Recipes.