To say that the grilled cheese sandwich is one of my favorite things in the world would be an understatement. And you know what? I’m not alone in that. I come from a generation that grew up on the beloved grilled cheese. The dish I came to love was simple and comforting: a layer of warm, melty American cheese embraced by two fluffy slices of toasted white sandwich bread, so crispy and buttery that it crackled like the top of a creme brulee at every bite.
Ok, so maybe I’m romanticizing a bit. I grew up on Kraft singles and Wonder Bread, and if I ate those things today, I doubt they’d taste as good as I remember. I grew up, and dammit, I wanted my beloved grilled cheese sandwich to grow up with me.
After years wandering in a grilled cheese arctic wasteland, someone stepped in to save me: Nate Pollak and Heidi Gibson, the “Big Cheeses” at a hot new South Park lunch eatery, the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Nate and Heidi matured the dish, taking it to a level of adult grilled cheese perfection that will completely overshadow any trace memories you have of thin Denny’s cheese sammies that linger in your subconscious. Think gourmet cheeses, local produce, and a levain bread that would make Baby Jesus cry.
To give credit where credit is due, I was introduced to this place by my good friend Kirstin Jackson, the goddess of all things dairy. Whenever Kirstin tells me to jump at a new cheese dish, I listen. Kirstin and I met for lunch at the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen a few weeks ago, and I ordered something called the Butternut Buster. I had no idea what I was ordering, though I knew that I love butternut squash and cheese, so why wouldn’t they go together?
A few minutes later my lunch showed up, and before me sat a sandwich that must have measured 4-inches thick. Between the thick, moist slices of toasted levain bread were layer upon layer of fresh sage butter, caramelized onions, roasted butternut squash, tender prosciutto, and some of the most gooshy, melty gruyere and fontina cheese I’ve ever eaten. I dove into the sandwich like a dinosaur eating a caveman, and before long I was covered in cheese, meat, and breadcrumbs. I swear, I don’t think I took a breath through the first half of my lunch. For that two minutes, my life was nothing but a lambada of flavor, texture, and aroma.
The menu at the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen changes frequently, peppered with a series of tantalizing daily specials on top of their hometown heros. Here’s a sample of their current lunch offerings:
- Piglet — Tillamook sharp cheddar, artisan cured ham, apple mustard, rosemary butter
- Mushroom Gruyère — fontina, gruyère, roasted wild mushrooms + gold potatoes, melted leeks, caramelized onions, thyme butter
- Jalapeño Popper — chèvre, monterey jack, applewood-smoked bacon, apricot-jalapeño relish
- Club Turkey — Tillamook sharp cheddar, creamy havarti, Willie Bird smoked turkey, applewood-smoked bacon, Sierra Nevada stout mustard, roasted tomatos, arugula
- Mousetrap — Tillamook sharp cheddar, creamy havarti, monterey jack, on artisan sourdough (extra add-ons: applewood-smoked bacon, artisan cured ham, roasted tomato, and/or bread n’butter pickles)
- Moscone — fresh mozzarella, fontina, roasted tomatoes, basil-lavender pesto, kalamata olive tapenade
- Smoky Tomato Soup — house made with crème fraîche, croutons
- Stella’s Cobb Salad — chèvre, organic mixed greens, egg, organic cherry tomatoes, pickled red onions, smoked turkey, applewood-smoked bacon, buttermilk dressing
- Tilly’s Veggie Salad — fresh mozzarella, organic mixed greens, egg, organic cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers, croutons, champagne vinaigrette
Nate and Heidi even offer breakfast sandwiches:
- Classic Breakfast — sharp cheddar, jack, cage-free egg
- Veggie Breakfast — sharp cheddar, jack, egg, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, bell peppers
- Breakfast Piglet — sharp cheddar, ham, egg, apple mustard, rosemary butter
- Farmer’s Breakfast — sharp cheddar, roasted potatoes, applewood-smoked bacon, cage-free egg, chive butter
Food allergy note: Guess what? The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen makes their own gluten-free bread, and all sandwiches on the menu can be served on this amazing bread for only fifty cents more. They even sell their bread by the loaf, and I guarantee you’ll want to pick some up for reconstructing your own grilled cheese dreams at home.
What’s my overall opinion? Get thee to the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen as soon as possible. Only open for breakfast and lunch, this place does mid-day meals right, and I can guarantee that the memory of your perfectly savory, perfectly grown-up grilled cheese sandwich will linger in your mind long after lunch if over. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you headed back the next day.
Butternut Squash Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Caramelized Onion and Sage Butter
By Nate Pollak and Heidi Gibson
Makes: 1 sandwich
3 tablespoons sage butter (see recipe below)
2 slices of country bread
3 tablespoons caramelized onions (see recipe below)
3 tablespoons gruyere cheese
6 thin slices prosciutto
3 slices of roasted butternut squash (see recipe below)
3 tablespoons fontina cheese (preferably a stinky Italian fontina)
Sandwich Assembly and Cooking
Preheat oven to 500°.
1. Spread a thin layer of sage butter on the outer side of each of the slices of bread. Lay the bread butter-side down on a cookie surface.
2. Spread a thin layer of caramelized onions on the inside of one of the slices of bread. Follow with a layer of gruyere, a thin layer of prosciutto, 3 slices of roasted squash slices, and a layer of fontina cheese.
3. Place the other piece of buttered bread (butter-side out) on top of the layer of fontina.
4. Place the sandwich on a baking sheet and slide into oven. Cook for 1 minute, until top slice of bread is toasted and golden-brown. Remove the sandwich from the oven, flip it over, and bake again until the new top slice of bread is also golden-brown and all cheese is fully melted.
5. Remove from oven. Eat and Enjoy!
To Make Sage Butter
1 pound salted butter
2 large sprigs of fresh sage leaves
1. Cream the salted butter with a stand mixer or electric hand beater.
2. Pluck leaves off sage sprigs and chop them coarsely.
3. Add chopped leaves to butter and mix until evenly distributed.
To Make Caramelized Onions
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 white onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1. Coat a skillet with a thin layer of vegetable oil, add the diced onions and salt, and cook on medium heat, stirring regularly, until onions are fully caramelized (dark brown color, sweet smell/taste, no more liquid in the pan).
2. Remove onions from heat and set aside.
To Make Roasted Butternut Squash
1 butternut squash
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Peel the skin off the squash and slice the squash into thin rounds (so you get thin squash “disks”).
3. Spread the squash slices onto a baking sheet with a sheet liner coated in a non-stick cooking spray. Drizzle oil over the squash and sprinkle a few pinches of salt.
4. Bake the squash for about 10-15 minutes, rotating the pan half way through. Bake until the slices are soft and darken in color to a rich orange.
5. Remove from oven and set aside.