In 1976, while the United States was wrapped up in all things Bicentennial, electing a former Georgia peanut farmer to the White House and watching the future Caitlyn Jenner win the Decathlon at the Montreal Olympics, kids in the Midwest were going nuts for the latest school lunch — the Cheese Frenchie.
The Cheese Frenchie (also spelled Cheese Frenchee) is basically a Corn Flake-coated, deep fried, cheese sandwich, and for kids in some schools in town, it blew the doors off the normal school lunch fare.
With the start of school here or upon us, I started thinking about eating Cheese Frenchies and chocolate milkshakes for lunch when I was at Agassiz Junior High in Fargo, N.D., in the ‘70s. (This was obviously before there was a great deal of concern over school lunch nutrition. Despite eating this kind of stuff everyday, I still managed to fit into my HASH jeans, which of course, were a necessity to accompany my attempt at Farrah Fawcett hair. But I digress.) I started to wonder about other people’s favorite school lunches through the years. Was the Cheese Frenchie a favorite for everyone? So I asked them on Facebook and received nearly 100 comments.
The answers were varied, of course. I learned that kids in smaller schools often had made-from-scratch food. My husband, who grew up in a small town in Iowa, talks about Sea Dogs, which are tuna melts on hamburger buns. He’d barter with the girls to get their extras. Other favorites for schools, large and small, were the rectangle pizza, barbecues, muffins and caramel rolls. And to my delight, there were a few others, like me, who have fond memories of the Cheese Frenchie. The Facebook comments included:
“Cheese Frenchies, for sure!”
“The Cheese Frenchies at Ben Franklin were awesome!”
“I assume you are referring to the yummy corn flake-dipped/deep fried grilled cheese sandwiches. Were they also called the Wildcat Special?”
“The chocolate milkshakes and Cheese Frenchies at Agassiz were the best!!”
“Oh yum! Cheese Frenchies. French fries were our vegetable.”
The Origin of the Cheese Frenchie
While many of us remember eating them in school, the Cheese Frenchie was popularized by the Midwestern chain restaurant King’s Food Host, out of Nebraska. Fargo’s King’s Food Host was located at 1322 Main Avenue, the most recent site of Mom’s Kitchen, which continued to serve the Cheese Frenchie until its closure this February.
Moorhead’s King’s Food Host was located at 916 Holiday Drive. The restaurants might be best remembered for the way you ordered your food — by calling the kitchen from the telephone in your booth.
A 1970 article in the local publication, Howard Binford’s Guide, spelled out some other differences.
“Where can you go to eat where tipping is discouraged and only good food, but no cigarettes are sold?” the first paragraph read.
The back of the restaurant menu explained that tipping was discouraged because they wanted all customers to receive equal service and employees to receive equal wages. The no-tobacco policy was “to protect the health of young people who patronize King’s Food Hosts.”
The Cheese Frenchie is listed on one old menu at 40 cents.
Most likely, the name came from the sandwich’s similarity to the French sandwich the Croque Monsieur, a hot ham and cheese sandwich dipped in an egg batter and fried. It’s also similar to a Monte Cristo sandwich.
My sister, Cheryl Lausch, was a waitress at Fargo’s King’s Food Host in the late ‘70s. She remembers eating "ooey, gooey" Cheese Frenchies while attending Agassiz Junior High, but also remembers making them at the restaurant.
"The ones we made at the restaurant had a finer coating on the outside, and we ended up cutting them into smaller triangles. But it didn't really matter, they were delicious in both places — King's Food Host and Agassiz," Cheryl says.
Making your own Cheese Frenchie
Cheryl’s memories got me thinking. All of the Cheese Frenchies I ate in the ‘70s were made by someone else. I should try to make them myself. An added perk? My high school-aged daughter will be online schooling from home part of the time this fall, and I’m working from home these days, so it would give me the opportunity to introduce her to the delights of ‘70s era school lunch cuisine. (Maybe I should serve it to her wearing my Shaun Cassidy t-shirt.)
I’m using the recipe I found from King’s Food Host and followed it almost exactly. However, I just cut the sandwich in half and not in quarters because that’s how I remember it being served at school. Other recipes call for the sandwich to be fried in butter like a regular grilled cheese sandwich, but I opted for old school deep fat frying. (Too bad I don’t still have my mom’s old Fry Daddy — remember how those stunk up the kitchen?)
What did my daughter think after I forced her to try it? She winced as she took a bite of the decadent sandwich. (Kids today, am I right?) But she actually said, “Hmmm, I don’t hate it.” After a second bite she said, “I could get addicted to this in a bad way.” I made her vegetables for dinner.
Sure do! 24% No, my school didn't have them 71% I don't know. I hardly remember what I had for lunch yesterday 5%
Do you remember eating Cheese Frenchies for school lunch?
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No, my school didn't have them
I don't know. I hardly remember what I had for lunch yesterday