The Big Cheesy
Last Saturday I attended The Big Cheesy, an event to discover and vote on the best artisan grilled cheese in New York City. Seven vendors prepared their version of the much-loved grilled sandwich, in hopes to win this year's title. Upon arrival, I received a ping pong ball and my choice of a local brew from the event's sponsor, Six Point Brewery. Don't get excited, no beer pong here, the ball equals one vote, gathered into a large glass container by each vendor, and the one with the most, wins.
First up, Casellula's Griddled Fondue Sandwich with Pickled Pepper Relish, homemade garlic-nutmeg butter spread on Rye bread, with a combination of shredded cheese - 2 parts Scharfer Marx, 1 part Emmenthaler, and 1 part Gruyere, grilled until golden brown and topped with Pickled Pepper Relish. This combination of cheese, named for its perfect fondue-ability, is shredded for easy melting, and to blend the hearty flavors of each cheese. Try this at home! Sweet butter, spicy relish, great bread, mountain cheese - I'm having a hard time holding on to my ping pong ball... (email me for the butter and relish recipes!)
Next up, the quirky diner, Big Daddy's, has created Grilled Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon. In true Big Daddy's style, they have topped their sandwich with a traditional mac and cheese, threw on some bacon and have it held together with an oversize toothpick - and then they handed me a Jell-O shot. Woah. Moving on...
The Melt Shop, a new midtown restaurant dedicated to grilled cheese, serving not 1, but 3 varieties to taste: #1 - Sharp Cheddar with 12-hour braised pulled pork, McClure's pickels, and homemade bbq sauce on sourdough, not a grilled cheese, but a killer sandwich. #2 - Fontina and Goat Cheese with roasted wild mushrooms, and parsley pesto on sourdough. Delicious, but not better Casellula. #3 - Blue and Cheddar Cheese, cranberry pepper jam, Neuske's bacon on sourdough, good, but I can't really taste the blue cheese, and if we've had a cheese conversation, you probably know how much I love blue cheese.
Tartinery, a fantastic spot on Mulberry Street. Known for their French-style sandwiches, so I'm not surprised they have an open-faced creation: Croque Monsieru - Bechamel sauce, a fried egg, ham and Gruyere cheese piled on Poilane bread, with sprinkles of chopped scallions. I believe Tartinery makes one of the best breads available in NYC, and the ham is mouth-wateringly delicious - awesome! But again, it's not really a grilled cheese, so I'm taking my ping pong and going to...
Lucy's Whey, an American cheese shop located in East Hampton and NYC's Chelsea Market. Lucy's sandwich appeared simple and elegant, and that is exactly how it tasted. This grilled cheese is perfect, Prairie Breeze Cheddar with fig jam and olive oil, all in complete balance. This is the kind of grilled cheese I crave, and would love to have at home (and pair with an equally elegant Oregon Pinot Noir, such as Maysara Asha)! I have a couple more to taste, but I'm certain nothing will top this sandwich.
I make my way to our friends at Murray's Cheese, and appreciate the "ohh, make sure you get that one" tip, from a Cheesemonger. The Atomic Bomb - Braised Short Ribs, Taleggio, Caramelized onions, Piri Piri, fire roasted Jalapeno peppers, McClure's spicy pickle relish, and arugula on Pullman bread. Wow, this is a phenominal sandwich, and I will add this to my must-go-back-for -lunch list, but I'm having a hard time calling this a grilled cheese, it's a BBQ specialty!
Last one - Little Muenster, which has the longest line of them all. Intriguing. While waiting, the vendor passed out tastes of delicious tomato soup and Pinot Grigio, which was a nice touch, but I was so full, I could barely enjoy the accoutrements. Gruyere, Taleggio, Fontina, Membrillo (quince paste), and Prosciutto on organic bread, this is a solid grilled cheese, but the flavors don't pop out as much as I had hoped. However, their menu looks go enough to make a trip to the restaurant ASAP!
It's a tough decision, but my ping pong is definitely going to Lucy's Whey - simplicity has won my vote! After an afternoon of incredible flavors, I realize a perfect grilled cheese is up to your imagination. And just like wine, or all types of food, for that matter, your sandwich should fit your taste, and your ocassion - whether that means breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Suit your sandwich to your tastes, and you'll never go wrong.
If you have a favorite grilled cheese recipe or restaurant favorite, please post it in the comment section below!