The beloved grilled cheese. There’s really nothing like it. Simple and comforting, it’s amazing how satisfying this holy trifecta of bread, cheese and butter can be. The grilled cheese of my childhood was far from gourmet – Wonder bread and Kraft singles – but truth be told, it soothed my young soul. When mom placed a grilled cheese sammie in front of me, gooey American cheese oozing from two slices of crispy, buttery white bread, cut into triangles, all was right in the world.
Today, the allure of this nostalgic sandwich is sweeping the country and people are falling in love with the grilled cheese all over again. Whole restaurants are devoting their menus entirely to the glorious grilled cheese, food trucks are popping up in every major city, there’s even a highly competitive and well-attended Grilled Cheese Invitational, now in its 8th year. This isn’t the grilled cheese of your youth though. No, she’s all grown up now, with artisanal bread, high-quality cheese, and gourmet toppings.
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco sports a perpetual line of customers spilling out the door who cheerfully await their cheese binge. A popular choice is the Mousetrap, a hefty three-cheese stack of Tillamook sharp cheddar, creamy havarti, and monterey jack on artisanal sourdough bread from Pinkie’s Bakery. Order it with “The Works” and you’ll get your Mousetrap topped with applewood-smoked bacon, roasted tomato, and house-made bread n’butter pickles. The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is open for breakfast as well. The Breakfast Piglet is especially good for a rough morning — sharp cheddar, cured ham, egg, apple mustard, and rosemary butter on a rustic levain. Co-owner and Commander-in-Cheese, Heidi Gibson, was inspired to open up a gourmet grilled cheese restaurant after her many victories at the Grilled Cheese Invitational.
In Los Angeles, fellow GCI champion alum Eric Greenspan, also has sights on opening up a grilled cheese restaurant. Greenspan, chef-owner of the Foundry on Melrose, plans to open Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese right next door…although developments have been delayed for quite some time. If it happens though, you can bet his signature haute grilled cheese will be on the menu. The Champ features creamy taleggio, slow-braised short ribs, oven-dried tomatoes, and an apricot-caper puree on raisin bread. (Here’s the recipe, courtesy of LA Weekly).
Food trucks represent a burgeoning food scene, and many a melty grilled cheese has found a home amongst these roving food-mobiles. The Grilled Cheese Truck (Los Angeles) has a devout following with its over-the-top creative combos. Their famous Cheesy Mac and Rib is a full Southern meal in a sandwich, with sharp cheddar macaroni and cheese, BBQ pork, and caramelized onions stuffed between buttery grilled white bread.
The Grilled Cheese Grill (Portland) has two vehicles, a double-decker bus and a school bus, serving up heart-stopping concoctions like The Original Cheesus, a behemoth 1/3 pound burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches (American cheese and pickles in one, Colby jack and grilled onions in the other).
Milk Truck Grilled Cheese (New York), feeds hungry weekend shoppers at the Brooklyn Flea. They do classic well with their Ham & Cheese: applewood-smoked ham, Vermont aged cheddar, and spicy Colman’s mustard on rosemary Pullman bread.
Inspired to make your own gourmet grilled cheese masterpiece? It doesn’t take much, just some attention to making the few ingredients involved really shine. A trip to the farmer’s market inspired my Honeycrisp Harvest Melt. I sampled some delicious New York extra-sharp cheddar from my cheese guy, and then feasted my eyes on a basket of shiny honeycrisp apples. Honeycrisps are a cross of Macoun and Honeygold apples. True to their name, they are incredibly sweet, juicy, and crispy.
As I carried my bounty home, hints of sage and gingerbread swirled through my thoughts. I decided to experiment with an oatmeal-molasses bread recipe, combining it with elements of my favorite dark gingerbread recipe. The result was a wonderful discovery – a hearty, homey loaf of whole-wheat/oat bread sweetened with molasses and honey, and spiced with ginger, cinnamon, and allspice. The bread rises beautifully, puffing up over the top of the bread pan, and with a finishing glaze of honey-butter and a sprinkling of oats on top for some extra crunch, it is just gorgeous.
I brushed my Ginger-Molasses Bread with generous amounts of sage butter and grilled it up in my frying pan. The scent of fried sage bits and warm spices filled the kitchen. Oozing melted cheese and delicately crispy, sweet-tart apple slices finished off the sandwich. Try pairing this meal with an Alsatian Gewurztraminer. The wine’s lush, floral, fruity perfume will bring out the honey notes of the apple while its spicy notes complement the gingerbread. Now that’s a grilled cheese lunch, grown and sexy.
Grilled cheese made with New York extra-sharp cheddar, honeycrisp apple, and sage butter on ginger-molasses bread. Enjoy this with a velvety rich bowl of butternut squash soup and you'll think you've died and gone to heaven.
The bread is adapted from Bon Appetit (November 1994). It's a gorgeous whole-wheat/oat loaf, sweetened with molasses and honey, and spiced with ginger and a touch of cinnamon and allspice. Hearty, homey, and best of all, you can hand-make it without even a mixer.
Bread can be made 2 weeks ahead. Wrap tightly in foil and freeze. Reheat wrapped bread in 350F oven about 15 minutes.
Recipe Source: LickMySpoon.com.
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The Foundry On Melrose
7465 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
113 SE 28th Ave (The Double Decker)
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 206-7018 â€Ž
* Both locations closed Mondays
Williamsburg Brooklyn Flea
27 North 6th St.
(between Kent Ave. & East River)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
This post was published in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Unreserved.