In this great country of ours, one could eat a different sandwich every day of the year—so that's what we'll do. Here's A Sandwich a Day, our daily look at sandwiches around the country. Got a sandwich we should check out? Let us know. —The Mgmt.
I must say that when Laura of Cincinnati Nomerati—my gracious tour-guide-for-a-day in Cincinnati last week—suggested we meet for lunch at a grilled cheese shop, I wasn't terribly excited. But that's my fault, not hers.
I'm going to go ahead and say that grilled cheese is now the official overplayed food trend of 2011, and for the most part, it's not been a good one (see Melt or Gorilla Cheese Truck for exhibits A and B). Why anyone would pay up to $9 for the world's simplest sandwich—one that nearly anybody can make twice as well at home for under a quarter of the cost—was utterly beyond me, and I had little reason to expect that Tom + Chee, the three-location mini chain in Cincinnati would be any different.
I needn't have worried. Turns out that this is a grilled cheese concept that actually works.
The soul of the business is built around the basic grilled cheese, priced at a very reasonable $3, and available with four types of bread and five types of cheese. Add a buck to that and you get a side of very good soup (three varieties of tomato are offered every day, along with a rotating special—the squash soup I tried was not particularly noteworthy). A whole meal for under $4? Not bad, not bad at all.
The real draw here, however, is in the specialty sandwiches, all priced between $4 and $5.50. The 3 Little Pigs combines a cheddar-swiss-rye grilled cheese with ham, crisp bacon, and crunchy spicy pork rinds. The latter are a genius move, adding some real crunch to what's otherwise a fairly soft sandwich. A duck-stuffed special (The Groucho) came with mozzarella on sourdough with sweet cherry preserves, while a the Smoked Sammy is a close-faced, salmon-based version of a classic cheddar tuna-melt.
The kicker here—the one that gives people the double take—is the grilled cheese made with a split glazed donut ($3). Split in half and toasted cut-side down in butter with a couple slices of American cheese, it's a sticky, sweet, buttery, gooey concoction that is actually way better tasting than it sounds once you can get your head wrapped around the fact that you're eating a glazed donut grilled cheese.
Tom + Chee
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.