“You can’t ride in this little red wagon,” even if the front seat is not broken and the axle is not draggin’. I can, however, with that ridiculous children’s song stuck in my head, tiptoe up to the window and order a grilled cheese better than anything I can make at home.
Until this past summer, Grilled Cheese Mania had found its temporary home on S High St. Now, the red wagon nestles in the gravel lot next to Sunrise Church of the Brethren on S Main St, in front of the house that business owner Kathleen Mania-Casey plans to convert into a permanent restaurant by next year. While she works on renovations, Mania-Casey’s customers can still enjoy her southern hospitality and “simple comfort food” outside.
Walking into the space feels like walking into a backyard cookout. Picnic tables sit in rows around the wagon with lawn and table games scattered in their midst, just begging to host a large group. There is corn hole, life sized “Jenga,” hoola hoops, and a set of those jumbo checkers with its itchy mat that everyone’s rustic relative seems to own.
At the entrance to the space, two signs stand like ushers: “Respect This Place” and “Love One Another,” they say in warm calligraphy. Flower boxes surround the space and burst with marigolds, capturing in their colors the air of happiness this eatery exhales.
Mania-Casey and cohorts have been cranking out gourmet grilled cheeses since 2012, when the truck first opened its sliding windows. The menu offers seven sandwiches, the names and flavor combinations collected from people in Mania-Casey’s life, according to the truck’s website.
Her mother inspired the “Mama Mania:” mozzarella, pesto, tomato, and sriracha sauce for $5.95. “Casey Snowcap” is the truck’s most popular sandwich, with roast beef and mozzarella cheese on a garlic-buttered baguette for $7.95. Mania-Casey named this one after her late husband Gerard Casey.
After a long, difficult decision, I choose the “Larold,” which is named after Mania-Casey’s bacon-obsessed nephew, Larry. The sandwich resembles a BLT on steroids, with the addition of mayonnaise and melted cheddar. I add a 24 ounce Lulu’s Limeade for $1.95, ringing my total in a penny under $10 with tax — not too bad for a lunch in Harrisonburg.
The “Larold” comes wrapped in foil, browned to perfection, and cut in the superior sandwich shape: the triangle. The halves pull apart like taffy, the cheddar cheese thick and stringy. I watch the cheese stretch, my eyes widening with every inch, before it finally frays. Perhaps this is why the restaurant is called Grilled Cheese Mania: the craft of the sandwiches sends you into a mania of amazement. By craft, I in no way mean the cheap plastic slices you can find at your local grocer. This stuff is legit. This stuff is art.
The bacon, the lettuce, the tomato, the mayo, the cheddar — all ingredients in a masterpiece of crunch and goo and warmth. In the background, heavenly choruses sing “Buttercup” and “Brown-eyed Girl” on the stereo. Cars rush by. Flags flap in the wind. My napkin leaps off the table. My foot stomps it to the ground, a reflex. I do not notice; I am enjoying my own mania moment, mayo dripping down my hands.
Grilled Cheese Mania will visit EMU on Saturday afternoon for Fall Fest, so you can experience a bite of mania for yourself, with the added convenience of not having to drive across town.