Among New York City’s many classic sandwiches is the humble grilled cheese served at E.A.T., the Upper East Side cafe owned by Eli Zabar (yes, of that Zabar’s, one of the most well-known gourmet foods empires). Served on thick, golden-brown slices of bread, with aged gruyère melted perfectly over the sides, the dish is the reason to make the trek uptown (and happens to be one of Ina Garten’s all-time favorite foods).
But you might be surprised to learn that Eli Zabar’s trick to a perfect grilled cheese is a decidedly low-tech toaster oven by Black & Decker. He was first introduced to the machine over three decades ago by his wife, Devon Fredericks, and it remains this most-loved kitchen appliance.
What’s so special about the simple (and inexpensive) toaster oven? First of all, Zabar says, “it’s not very big — it’s quite compact,” but it still fits three thick slices of bread. Then there’s the heating. “It’s a very even heat,” he says. “[It] does a uniquely good job of melting cheese sufficiently, where the bottom doesn’t get burnt.” Besides the grilled cheese (the directions for which are here, for the curious), Zabar likes the Black & Decker for heating baked goods like quiche (“the top gets a little crispy, almost slightly burnt”) and for the fancier trick of caramelizing sugar atop pastries.
Plus, it’s built to last. “My intentions are always to throw it away, but it never seems to wear out,” he says.
At the takeout café at his latest spot on the Upper East Side, Bar 87, Zabar says there will soon be Black & Decker toaster ovens on display — partly for reheating dishes for customers, but also for decoration.
“It sounds silly, of all the gadgets I could enjoy,” he says with a chuckle, “but I use that toaster oven more than anything else.”
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