At this grilled cheese empire, which boasts five locations in Ohio and Kentucky, purists might be tempted to stick to the classic American on white bread. But risk-taking gourmands will be delighted by Tom + Chee’s glazed grilled cheese doughnut concoctions, featuring everything from fresh bananas and peanut butter to mozzarella and mascarpone. For something more savoury, the Armagoetta (highlighted on Travel Channel’s Man v. Food Nation ) is as gourmet as it gets: goetta (a local breakfast sausage made with ground meat and steel-cut oats), spicy cherry peppers, fried onions, pepper jack and mustard squeezed between two pieces of bread (one rye, one sourdough). But our calorie-busting favourite had to be the crunchy barbecue potato chip, bacon and American cheese special, a classic sandwich served with a bowl of freshly made creamy basil tomato soup. Like the menu says, “Yum + Awesome.”
133 E. Court St., Cincinnati , 859-291-2433
Until recently, Dale Levitski’s take on grilled cheese was served as the intermezzo cheese course on Sprout’s fine-dining French-influenced prix fixe menu. Now the Top Chef alum presents the dish as a surprisingly elegant dessert: apple slices, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese sandwiched between slices of regular white pan bread. Call it what you will, Levitski’s reinvention – a half a sandwich served upright like a shark’s fin with a garnish of cherry mustard – elevates the lowly finger food to all-star haute cuisine.
1417 West Fullerton Ave., Chicago , 773-348-0706
It comes as no surprise that this grilled cheese and soup chain calls the start-up hub Bay Area home. Launched by Flip camera creator Jonathan Kaplan in 2011 and backed by venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, the Melt marries technology and comfort food like never before. Customers order from a computer or smartphone and receive a bar code, which they can scan at any location to initiate cooking. In 60 seconds flat, infrared-heat-powered panini presses melt your cheese to geeky perfection. But this concept is way more than a gimmick. From their fontina and provolone on garlic bread to their brie with apple honey on country French, the Melt takes its grilled cheese very seriously. The mega-successful entrepreneur has Chipotle-like aspirations for his humble venture, aiming for 500 shops in five years.
115 New Montgomery St., San Francisco , 415-691-6536
On most days, Three Sheets is a swanky lounge and rooftop patio favoured by young professionals looking for an after-work cocktail and some good tunes. But once a month, this date-night destination goes cheesy, hosting a $30 five-course Grilled Cheese and Wine Dinner for 40. Call it an affordable luxury. Whether it’s Italian night, when guests seated at communal tables dig into grilled gorgonzola with pear honey-truffle butter, or Sparkling Grilled Cheese eve, when Swiss and flank steak sandwiches get twinned with bubbly, these cheese-studded tastings are always a sellout.
6017 Sandy Springs Circle Northeast, Atlanta , 404-303-8423
Yes, Dave Danhi’s Cheesy Mac and Rib sandwich was overlooked at L.A.’s Grilled Cheese Invitational three years ago. But today, when his rolling kitchen, the Grilled Cheese Truck, wheels through the City of Angels, his pulled pork/southern macaroni and cheese/French bread combo is the top seller. That folks turn to familiar foods in tough economic times partly explains why his movable feast sells some 6,000 cheese creations weekly. But Danhi goes one better, taking “childhood memories and feeding the adult palate.” Chicken and Waffle Melt with sausage gravy, anyone?
Originally published in enRoute magazine .
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