Grilled Cheese Meltdown

A nostalgic lunchtime favorite is popping up on menus across the county.

April 12 is National Grilled Cheese Day; what better way to honor this American treasure than by sampling some local offerings?  

Let’s face it: Cheese and bread warmed up together has been around a very long time. It’s a combo that features in just about every culinary tradition, from French croque monsieur to Mexican cheese quesadillas to British toasties. The uniquely American version of this concept, however, can be traced back to the 1920s, when sliced bread and pasteurized sliced cheese became readily available. With these breakthroughs, the stars aligned and a classic was born.

But what is the classic model? Ask any three people, and you’re likely to get three different answers. In my household, grilled cheese and ginger ale were my mom’s tonic for me on a sick day from school. Her version was white bread and American cheese, pan-fried with a pat of butter in a cast-iron frying pan, the best conduit to crunchy, melty goodness. My husband’s dad, on the other hand, swore by brown bread, cheddar, and a smear of mustard. The grilled cheese truly is as individual as the American spirit. Just have a look at the sandwiches gracing our county menus, and you’ll see that this humble childhood stalwart comes in many different guises.

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For those of you not convinced that grilled cheese has broken out of the kiddy menu, behold the truffled grilled cheese featured at Rye House in Port Chester. This sandwich is sophisticated enough to grace not only the lunch menu but the adult dinner menu, as well. Executive Chef Chris Colom says, “Grilled cheese evokes happy childhood memories for me, like when my sister would watch me after school and make me grilled cheese sandwiches as an afternoon snack.” Rye House’s grilled cheese, which boasts a mix of California’s Midnight Moon Gouda with pungent fontina and shaved black truffle—all pressed between The Kneaded Bread’s country white—will certainly put you in your happy place.

Lobster claw and knuckle plus three types of cheese go into 105-Ten’s lobster grilled cheese.

I happened to be in luck the day I visited Rye House because one of the specials was tomato soup, the ultimate complement to grilled cheese. Chef Colom’s tomato soup features grilled cheese croutons floating in the fragrant purée, taking your meal to delicious heights.

Also elevating things is 105-Ten Bar & Grill. The lunch and dinner menus at this Briarcliff favorite feature the delectable lobster grilled cheese. Owner Anthony Fortunate sees grilled cheese as being “second only to burgers in American fare,” certainly worthy of a chef’s creative imaginings. 105-Ten’s version has thick brioche toast surrounding lobster claw and knuckle and melted Brie, Swiss, and cheddar. The whole lot is finished off with a true signature of decadence, truffle oil.

If it’s all-melted-cheese, all-the-time you’re looking for, Melts in Armonk is your kind of place. The catchphrase at this eatery boasts that it is “offering creative takes on a classic comfort food,” and that just about says it all. Melts’ menu features a cornucopia of hot cheese on bread options. Choices include its most popular custom sandwich, the patty melt, which features a beef burger, smoked cheddar, and crispy bacon between two pieces of crunchy sourdough. Also popular is the tuna melt, a classic that Chef/Owner Nathan Kramer views as a sandwich that “comforts because it’s so familiar.” And that’s a common theme when talking about grilled cheese. Its familiarity only increases its appeal.

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So, what about a grilled cheese sandwich that’s not dressed up? Does it still pass muster after middle school is a distant memory? If it’s executed as perfectly as the sublime grilled cheese served up at Bella’s Restaurant in Tarrytown, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” And of course, neighborhood diners—the early adopters of grilled cheese—have got the sandwich for you purists, as well.

Mast Brothers chocolate is used in the chocolate surprise at Plum Plums.

Believe it or not, there’s also a grilled cheese out there for the sweet-toothed among us. Plum Plums cheese shop in Pound Ridge has got the sweet and the savory covered. Its Chocolate Surprise is a heady mix of Parmesan Stravecchio and Mast Brothers chocolate. As owner/cheesemonger Gayle Martin extols, “Our goal with this sandwich was to bring together two complementary flavors: salty and sweet. When the cheese and the chocolate melt, the magic happens.”

A cheese, meat, and gourmet foods specialty shop at heart, Plum Plums wasn’t always known for excellent grilled cheese. That all came about April 2015, when they decided to celebrate “National Grilled Cheese Month” by offering specialty grilled cheeses. The idea caught on like wildfire and patrons demanded that it become a permanent feature. A year later, the griddle at Plum Plums is still fired up and creating grilled cheese masterpieces. What a delicious way to celebrate.

Nancy Duran is a food writer and editor living in Sleepy Hollow.

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