Grilled cheese sandwiches
The Grilled Cheese Truck, The Foundry on Melrose
Los Angeles, California
Ask partners Dave Danhi (“The Big Cheese”) and Michele Grant (“Cheese Executive Officer”) of The Grilled Cheese Truck, “Why grilled cheese?” and the answer you will undoubtedly get is, “Why not grilled cheese?” In a sea of trucks serving up unusual fusion food requiring assistance from a Berlitz guide for identification, The Grilled Cheese Truck is one of the few that doesn’t require a vivid imagination and an open mind to figure out what’s on the menu. A staple, comfort food and favorite of all ages who eat, grilled cheese has immediate, recognizable appeal. But what drives someone to focus a mobile restaurant on the American classic? Well, according to Danhi, he attended a few of Los Angeles’ now legendary annual Grilled Cheese Invitationals and thought it would make a good street item after seeing the popular reaction to the contest honoring the culturally iconic sandwich. It appears his assumption was correct; The Grilled Cheese Truck was honored in the 2010 Grilled Cheese Invitational with the People’s Choice Award (not bad for only having been in operation since October of 2009). Numerous foodies and friends recommended the GCT as a “must try”, but scheduling had made it difficult – until the truck appeared prominently in the 2010 Pasadena Doo Dah Parade. Dave and Michelle sat atop the truck, tossing out foil-wrapped sandwiches as it was seemingly pulled along by rope down the middle of Colorado Boulevard. A quick trot beside the truck was enough to find out that they were going to be at Vrooman’s after the parade, and my lunch plans were set.
By the time I arrived, the line was already an hour long in the hot sun, resulting in me being grilled as well, but by the look of satisfaction on the faces of those already digging in to the golden, melted slices of heaven, it would be worth it. I could have ordered the tried-and-true Plain and Simple Melt (with four choices of cheeses and price ranges), but that’s not how Val from Trippy Food rolls (although he does apparently speak of himself in the third person). I chose that phrase in homage to their motto, emblazoned across the back of the truck: “Chef driven grilled cheese, ’cause that’s how we roll”. And roll they do, like the big stone ball in Raiders of The Lost Ark, and so my sights were set on the golden treasure – the Cheesy Mac and Rib Melt. This cleverly concocted and constructed cavalcade of cheese starts with macaroni and sharp Cheddar, and then blends in barbequed pork and caramelized onions. These ingredients had no business playing together, and yet they worked perfectly – the tangy and sweet pork held its own against the sharp and creamy Cheddar, and the macaroni added an odd yet comfortable texture and chewiness to the sandwich. The beauty of having a dining partner is that you can order multiple items and share, which allowed me to also order the Brie Melt. This artisan sandwich was made with double cream Brie embedded with thinly sliced pears and a drizzle of honey on cranberry walnut bread. With those ingredients, this sandwich had the potential of being overpoweringly sweet, and yet the slight pungency of the Brie kept the sugarplum fairies at bay. The contrast in the warm, gooey cheese and the crisp, cool pears made this a meal worth savoring. Just for good measure, we also ordered a sack of tots (get the image of a burlap bag full of children out of your head) which were golden brown and yet moist (without being soggy).
If you prefer eating your grilled cheese sandwich late at night while sitting at a table, then I recommend giving multi-Grilled Cheese Invitational award winner Eric Greenspan’s restaurant (The Foundry on Melrose) a try. Greenspan’s grilled cheese is a thing of sweet beauty, and oh, so rich. The artisan raisin bread is grilled sans ingredients, sizzling away in a shallow pool of butter. Once grilled, the bread is topped with soft cheese melted under flame, and then fresh, crisp greens and braised short ribs, which practically pour onto the sandwich. The result is richer than Bill Gates; a sinfully decadent, gooey sweet conglomeration that you’ll be tasting long after you finish licking your fingers. No side dishes necessary here – a little goes a long way.
The Foundry has elevated the grilled cheese sandwich to gourmet status, and The Grilled Cheese Truck has taken it on the road. Of course if you want to stick with melting a couple slices of Kraft singles between two pieces of Wonder Bread, be my guest; it just seems a little cheesy to me.
The Grilled Cheese Truck
Los Angeles County, California