Lost in Suburbia: In search of the perfect panini

Tracy Beckerman

Every once in awhile, I discover some new dish that I fall in love with, and then I order it whenever I go out to eat. For example, there was a point in time when I was really into duck. 

I had sampled a crispy duck at a new restaurant, and it was love at first duck. For six months I ordered it every time I saw it on a menu. Then one day a pair of mallards arrived in our backyard, and the next thing we knew, the place was silly with cute little duckies. That pretty much ruined the whole duck dinner thing for me.

Right now, my obsession is a panini. In case you are not familiar with it, a panini is basically a grilled-cheese sandwich for grownups. 

Instead of American cheese on white bread, it is usually made with mozzarella cheese on focaccia, with other things stuffed into it, such as chicken, pesto, roasted peppers, etc. 

“Panini” is the Italian name for sandwich, which, I think, is a much nicer name than “grilled cheese,” or even the French term, “Croque Monsieur” (pronounced “croak miss-yur”), which makes me think of male frogs. Kind of an appetite killer, if you know what I mean. 

Anyway, ever since I sampled my first panini, I have been on a quest to find the perfect panini, with just the right blend of melted cheeseness and crispy breadness. 

After traveling far and wide and sampling many a panini, I have determined that: a) There are a lot of places that call a panini a panini but in reality they are just serving glorified Hot Pockets, b) No one actually does make the perfect panini, and since I think so, c) I am a panini snob and furthermore, d) I still don’t like the name Croque Monsieur. 

Once I determined that there was no restaurant that served the perfect panini, I felt it was my duty, as a panini lover, to make one myself. So the first thing I did was run out and buy a top-of-the-line, super-duper, magic panini maker. Then I went out and I bought a beautiful French bread, some fresh grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, tomato and pesto. 

I came home, lightly browned the inside slices of bread, added al the rest of the ingredients between the slices, and then put my soon-to-be panini in my brand-new, super-duper, magic panini maker and closed the lid.

A moment later the nurse called from my daughter's school to inform me that my daughter had a headache. 

While we were calculating the level of the headache (2) on a scale of 10 versus the amount of time left in school that day (one hour), I suddenly smelled smoke. 

I hung up, whirled around, and found my perfect panini was now a blackened panini hockey puck.

Fortunately I am over my panini phase and have moved onto bruschetta - it needs no cooking.

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