By Della Hasselle
LOWER EAST SIDE — Competition got hot at the Lower East Side's premier grilled cheese cookoff at Mulberry Street's Openhouse Gallery Saturday.
Wafting in the aroma of browning butter, brie, cheddar, bacon and grilled onions, customers salivated in anticipation as chefs from around the city grilled and spread their best concotions for the first 'Big Cheesy' grilled cheese contest.
"It's a big competition, everyone's bringing their A-game," Stuytown resident Pastorek, 27, said about the cookoff, adding that he thought the event was "awesome."
Other guests agreed as they tasted new inventions such as The Artisinal Fromagerie's wild mushroom, red onion and truffle slices sandwich, appropriately named "The Frenchie."
Ingredients like creamy bleue, smoked truffle, Pecorino and gruyere really attracted gourmet cheese enthusisasts, Long Island resident and actuary Adda Baranowki, 24, said.
"When my friend told me about this, I was ecstatic," said Baranowski, who loves cheese so much she dressed as macaroni and cheese for Halloween last year. "I thought it was a calling from heaven."
As a cultivated grilled cheese taster, Baranowski's friend added that it was important to keep in mind cheese-to-bread ratios, toppings, and portion sizes to maximize the best cheese taste. Her favorite was a mushroom, provolone and rosemary foccacia concoction served by The Milk Truck.
"It's fun - It's like the regular person gets to be top chef for the day," Murray Hill resident Alison Speilman, 24 said.
While many were there to taste the city's latest gourmet fare, some enthusiasts had more practical reasons, Stuytown resident Bob McAndrew pointed out.
"It's a great way to start a Saturday, especially if you went out Friday night," McAndrew, 27, said as he slugged down a hair-of-the dog and chomped on The Big Daddy's parmesan encrusted American, jack and cheddar cheese sandwich topped with sugar-coated bacon and macaroni and cheese.
All in all, the event was a huge success, Openhouse operator Whitney Shanks said.
Shanks said the space aims to have the contest at least once a year, and chefs invited to this year's event agreed that it was a good idea.
"Grilled cheese is the perfect food," The Plaza Food Hall chef Mike Suppa said. "There's nothing not to like about it - it's crunchy, gooey, fatty and delicious."
Winners of this year's contest, to be posted on the Openhouse Facebook page Sunday, will have their recipe published in Edible Manhattan.