Mon, Sep 17, 2012
Big Apple Comfort
Where to go to discover a new comfort-food trend in New York City: gourmet grilled cheese.
Grilled cheese, a simple and undyingly nostalgic sandwich, has melted the hearts of New York foodies and buttered the beards of Brooklyn hipsters.
Count me as one of the disciples. I’m so hooked on these outrageously delicious creations that I roam the city looking for the next great sandwich. I even launched a blog (grilledcheesesocial.com) to spread the wealth of recipes.
These aren’t the Kraft Singles and white bread sandwiches from your childhood. Instead, these handcrafted delicacies transform this American comfort food into elevated artisanal cuisine.
Using exciting and unconventional ingredients, New York chefs are throwing the city a curve ball and changing the grilled cheese game. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rustic purist or more of a culinary adventurer; the grilled cheese scene is well rounded and making as much culinary commotion as the rise of other sub-cuisines in the city, such as Southern fried chicken or Russian sushi.
Melt Shop (meltshopnyc.com), located in midtown Manhattan, offers an abundance of interesting grilled cheese sandwiches for both breakfast and lunch. Its famous buttermilk-fried chicken grilled cheese (made with red cabbage slaw, pepper jack cheese, ultra-thin fried chicken and the shop’s special melt sauce) is a must-try.
Another specialty shop that serves grilled delights is Little Muenster (littlemuenster.com) in the Lower East Side. Here, you can get the traditional grilled cheese you know from your childhood: white American singles with tomato and bacon. Or, if you’re looking for something a little more avant-garde, try the Oaxaca: cotija, tomatillo and corn puree. The taste is at once pacifying and shocking to the palate—the litmus test for grilled cheese success, at least how I see it.
Among the many food trucks that roam the city, the Food Freaks Grilled Cheese Cart (facebook.com/foodfreaksGC) is definitely worth hunting down. The cart can be found in Central Park or in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The Food Freaks have devised a brilliant method for cooking their grilled cheese. Instead of buttering their bread, they grease their sandwiches with mayonnaise. Because mayonnaise has a much higher burning point than butter, their grilled sandwiches can cook longer. The result is a crispier and non-greasy crust, perfectly melted cheese and a surprisingly light finish. Try their showstopper, which features nutty gruyere, blackberry jam, watercress, pickled red onion and braised short rib.
And then there’s the Commodore, which is my favorite spot to eat grilled cheese. Unlike the venues mentioned above, this isn’t a specialty shop, but rather a low-lit dive bar in Williamsburg that dishes one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the five boroughs. Stephen Tanner, a chef known for co-founding Pies & Thighs (a brunch spot in Williamsburg that’s always packed), created the menu that glorifies the goodness that is Southern food.
The Commodore’s specialty? The Adult Grilled Cheese: a mammoth sandwich that oozes a spicy and rich blend of something that resembles your grandmother’s pimento cheese, only better. Thin, perfectly crisped bread envelops this rich poblano mixture, making this sandwich the ultimate grilled cheese.
Still, licking the drippings off the plate might just be the best part.