If you're old enough to remember dining out in Denver in the 1970s or earlier, you might recall a diner chain called King's Food Host, founded in 1955 by James King and Larry Price in Lincoln, Nebraska. The company grew quickly, and by the early 1970s, there were several Front Range locations of King's, including outposts in Littleton, Arvada and Boulder. The family-friendly eatery was known specifically for a sandwich called the Cheese Frenchee, which was nothing more than a grilled cheese sandwich made twice as tasty because it was battered, dipped in cornflake crumbs and fried to a golden crunch.
King's Food Host declared bankruptcy before the ’80s arrived, but the Cheese Frenchee (also known as a Cheese Frenchie) remains popular in Nebraska, where you'll find it in fast-food restaurants, diners and home kitchens. But when King's pulled out of Denver, the Frenchee went with it; if you want a taste, you'll need to take a Midwest road trip or a nostalgic dive into an old cookbook (don't forget the mayo).
There's still one restaurant that was part of the King's chain, but it's in Bismarck, North Dakota, and is now called the Wood House. The name changed when the rest of the company folded, but you can still get a Frenchee there. That's even farther than North Platte, which is the closest Nebraska town to Denver where fast-food chain Amigos/Kings Classic still makes the decadent sandwich. Farther east, the seven locations of Don & Millie's (five in Omaha and two in Lincoln) are popular stops for Frenchees.
The sandwich has all but vanished from the Front Range, but there's one option not too far from Denver. Jeff and Amy Marchio (pronounced Markio), owners of the Marchio's Grill food truck, are firing up the fryers at breweries and other stops in and around Fort Collins. "We're from Omaha originally," Amy says. "We moved here twenty years ago. But when we go back to Omaha, one of our first stops is always Don & Millie's for Frenchees."
The recipe for a Cheese Frenchie is simple, but perfecting it on a food truck takes finesse. It's nothing more than cheese (usually American), mayonnaise, a thick batter that will cling to the bread and a coating of crushed cornflakes (or a mix of cornflakes and breadcrumbs). But cornflakes contain more sugar than standard breadcrumbs, so the sandwich can burn quickly if it's not watched closely. "Jeff is really intuitive about how to make things," Amy notes, adding that they looked up recipes initially but that her husband used his own batter recipe and turned out a great Frenchee without much trial and error.
Amy adds that Jeff's family owned an Italian restaurant (which never served Frenchees) in Omaha, so the food truck is somewhat of an homage to his memories of growing up around food. The Marchios have been serving up Italian eats since 2018 in Larimer County, so as long as you're making the drive, don't miss the chicken parm or meatball sandwich.
But we know that Midwesterners won't be satisfied until they get their Cheese Frenchee. Amy says the sandwiches are time-consuming to assemble and cook, so they're only offered when Marchio's Grill stops at Timnath Beerwerks (4138 Main Street in Timnath) on Saturdays. The truck also serves other Midwestern specialties such as a fried pork tenderloin sandwich (which, like the cheese Frenchee, only appears occasionally) and breaded cheese ravioli (for those who grew up in St. Louis).
Business has been difficult for Marchio's Grill during the pandemic, but Amy says that their regular customers have stepped up. "We're really fortunate that we're a couple of years in and have developed a customer base who have really helped us out," she notes. The Marchios will be bringing their truck to more Larimer County festivals and truck rallies once those start happening again. In the meantime, visit the Marchio's Grill Facebook page for upcoming appearances.
Do you know of any diners or sandwich joints serving a Cheese Frenchee here in Denver? Let the cat out of the bag by sending the details to email@example.com.
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