Guest Blogger Scott Kerns Visits The Big Cheesy
In the pantheon of comfort foods, the grilled cheese occupies a space all its own. Gooey, creamy, sharp and crispy, this sandwich has been an American go-to since time immemorial. Just what ingredients make a great grilled cheese is, however, very much a matter of opinion.
No surprise then that the lovely folks at Open House Gallery have devoted an entire event to the myriad interpretations of this classic nosh by hosting The Big Cheesy with Time Out New York. I was fortunate enough to take part in the first day of this all-weekend event down on Mulberry St in SoHo and let me tell you, the lactose lover inside me has rarely been happier. Six New York restaurants compete for the the title of Big Cheese, happy voted on by each patron. Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery supplies the drinks in what is perhaps the best pairing of all time: cheese and beer.
Before I get into the specifics of each offering, a word on grilled cheese philosophy as offered by John, a fellow grilled cheese aficionado:
“Dude, for me it’s all about the basics, right? Butter, bread, cheese – that’s it. Anything else is just a sandwich.”
Everyone has a different take on just what it means to be a grilled cheese. For some, like John and his personal pick Artisanal, simplicity reigns supreme. This Midtown Manhattan fixture chose a wonderfully gooey mix of five cheeses on crispy, sliced French bread as their offering. Just one bite of this blissful blend sent my arteries into submission. Crunchy, smooth and tangy – classic take on a classic dish.
Not everyone is so meat and potatoes (or cheese and bread as the case may be). My new friend Jill – another patron I chatted with over an IPA – had a very different take:
“I like stuff with my cheese. You know, little bits of things that taste awesome.”
The rest of the field fell much more in Jill’s corner. From bacon to squash, guacamole to Sriracha, each restaurant brought a little something unique to their grill.
Mrs. Dorsey’s Kitchen, a speciality grilled cheese place just down from Tom’s in Prospect Heights, went all out. Bacon, avocado, onion, tomato and cheddar all mix with their signature “Mariracha” sauce – a spicy blend of Sriracha and mayo – for a taste that packs a punch. This one’s all about the tang, and is not for the delicate palate.
Queens newcomer Twist ’N Smash’doffered a sandwich that in particular played on my heartstrings. Every year, just after Thanksgiving, I make a special “leftover melt” on buttered potato bread, which includes every aspect of turkey dinner covered with melted cheese. Twist’s fried chicken grilled cheese with avocado spread and chipotle mayo hit that same sweet spot: hearty, creamy and homey.
Croque Monsieur of Union Square went for the double whammy: one veggie offering with cartelized onion, squash and brie – a sweet and lovely combo; one meat with Bresaola and smoked gouda. My preference was for the veg, which surprised me given my love secret love affair with bacon.
Perhaps my favorite presentation came courtesy of Williamsburg’s Dépanneur and their “Hangover Grilled Cheese.” Packed with avocado, egg and spicy Sriracha, this platter come complete with a Mexican Coke, McClure’s Bloody Mary Chips, a saltwater taffy dessert and a temporary tattoo. Everything a poor boy needs to get through a rough day after.
Though each sandwich was delicious – especially when washed down with cold suds – my vote in the end went to The Wheelhouse Brooklyn. This Bushwick joint does only grilled cheese and does it well. For their entry, “el toro bravo,” they put Jamon Serrano with a blend of Manchego, Parmesan and Gouda smothered in a Romesco sauce and guava preserves on a toasted ciabatta. The result was bliss: salty and spicy with a hint of sweet and oh so wonderfully gooey.
What makes the best grilled cheese? Tell ya what, go decide for yourself! Taste them all and choose your own happy place. Tickets are still available online (http://www.timeout.com/bigcheesy) or at the door. It’s an hour of your life you’ll never want to take back – no matter what your arteries may think.
~ Scott Kerns, A Forest of Trees