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There are those of you – and you know who you are – who have not journeyed beyond the Land of the Expected, when it comes to grilled cheese. You think of grilled cheese as American cheese on white bread, grilled in a skillet, eaten while covered in an afghan (or a Slanket) from your special winter cozy place on the couch.
And that’s fine. Far be it from us to challenge your special winter cozy place and what you eat there. But an exhaustive survey of area chefs and cooks has revealed many noteworthy updates – dare we say, improvements – to the tried-and-true grilled cheese sandwich.
The following tasties are not exciting by virtue of the cheese, exactly. These sandwiches are worth seeking out because of what has been added to the cheese. Other ingredients between the bread slices that play off that luscious melted-cheese taste and texture are what excite us here.
In the spirit of this list, we now present St. Louis’ top innovations in the grilled-cheese game. Please tell us about your favorite grilled-cheese sandwiches – either from a restaurant or created by your own hand – in the comments section below.
1.The Not-So-Humble Truffle
A little truffle oil goes along way.
-Dressel’s: Three cheeses and truffle oil on brioche
-Ernesto’s Wine Bar: White cheddar, fontina, truffle oil, mushrooms, and greens
-Home Wine Kitchen: Sharp white cheddar, fontina, truffle oil, mushrooms, and arugula
-Baileys’ Range: Truffle butter is rubbed on the outside of the sourdough bread; the sandwich innards include Ozark Forest Mushrooms’ crimini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms with Camembert and green onions
-The Cheese Shack food truck: "Bruschetta Melt” (below) with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil on garlic-crusted Italian bread drizzled with a Balsamic truffle glaze.
2. The Pesto People
Pesto tastes good on anything – pasta, vegetables, a finger – and on grilled cheese, it really works.
-The Royale: Cheddar and provolone with tomatoes and pesto
-Hartford Coffee: Specials like a chicken-salad sandwich made with creamy pesto, and a grilled cheese with Monterey jack, cheddar, Swiss, tomato, and pesto on sourdough.
-Sarah’s Melt Down food truck: The “Pupillo’s Special" (below) features house-made pesto, salami, and black-olive tapenade canoodling with mozzarella and Provel on peasant French bread
3. French Onion Soup Dreams of Being a Sandwich
The caramelized onions and gruyere of a classic French onion soup – or variations thereof – work very well on a sandwich, too.
-The Orchard Café & Grill at Eckert’s in Belleville: Caramelized onions and gruyere are grilled between slices of French bread
-The Big Cheese booth at Tower Grove Farmer’s Market: They add a little beef stock and fresh thyme to the caramelized onions, and grill them with an alpine-style cheese. (See below, also.)
-McGurk’s: Onions are marinated in Guinness before joining Monterey Jack, cheddar, goat cheese, and tomatoes
-The London Tea Room: Caramelized onions join a sumptuous lava of sharp English cheddar, Swiss and chèvre cheeses on Pugliese bread (below)
4. Cheese and Fruit – Who Knew?
Well, all of us, actually. Cheese and fruit pair well, but the combo of melted cheese and fruit within a grilled-cheese sandwich really opens up possibilities.
-The Big Cheese: Seasonal pairings like fresh strawberries with goat cheese or quark and mint, and blueberries with honey and alpine-style cheese
-The Crow’s Nest: Apple-rosemary compote and hazelnut honey join cheddar and mozzarella on Pugliese
-Copia Restaurant & Wine Garden: Manchego and fontina with quince jam
-The Fountain on Locust: Fuji apple slices and their "secret sauce" to white cheddar and mozzarella
-Rooster: Emmenthaler, fontina, and asiago are joined by roasted garlic, oven-roasted tomatoes, and basil – with the option of bacon jam -- on focaccia
-The 2 Girls 4 Wheels food truck: Fresh date pieces on Muenster and Colby, between Texas toast, with a tomato/beef stock sauce for dipping (below)
5. The Grateful Bread
Let us not forget, grilled cheese needs good bread to tie everything together.
-The Grateful Inn: Like the band it was named after, the restaurant is defunct, but many will recall their spectacular-looking grilled cheese, which was actually served on tie-dyed bread, made with food coloring.
-Big Sky Café: The frequently changing, seasonal grilled-cheese sandwich is bracketed by slices of vanilla brioche that are a revelation. One recent iteration: truffle-roasted pears, blue cheese, and caramelized onions grilled on that bread (below)
6. The Mavericks
A creative chef can reconfigure comfort food into a weird, wild meal.
-The Wolf Public House: The "Double Dill" doubles down with dill Havarti and sliced dill pickles on marble rye.
-Fozzie’s Sandwich Emporium: The “Fatty Melt” is a legendary abomination with two grilled-cheese sandwiches made with bacon and caramelized onions serving as the “buns” for a triple cheeseburger with Swiss, jalapeno, an egg and Fozzie sauce (Thousand Island), served with a bacon-praline milkshake! (It’s not one of those eating challenges, just an obscenity.)
-Franco: A grilled cheese sandwich becomes “grilled-cheese croutons” bobbing in the sandwich’s symbiotic partner, tomato soup (below)
Finally, Kansas City’s canine-cookie co. knows that the combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup is good for dogs, too. The Tomato Soup & Cheese Wafers for the four-legged set are a testament to the power of the grilled cheese sandwich, heaven for dogs and pretty close for people, too