While the grilled-cheese sandwich may not be the ultimate comfort food, it’s close. Kid-friendly and equally adored by adults, this humble lunch entrée is the staple of diners and the perfect companion to ketchup and french fries, while easily translating into multiethnic snacks (the quesadilla, the paneer-stuffed naan).
Folksy attributes aside, the grilled cheese also cleans up well when re-envisioned on artisan breads with gourmet toppings. Xpress sampled a wide array of gussied-up grilled-cheese sandwiches from Asheville eateries. Wondering whose is best? Well, they all have their merits, and there’s something for everyone, from Southern-favorite pimento spreads to Italian-inspired tomato-basil concoctions. And then there are the noteworthy basics done right, such as the sandwiches at Rosetta’s Kitchen and Over Easy Cafe.
Here’s a sampling of some Asheville offerings, in no particular order—but hot off the grill:
• Rosetta’s Kitchen (111 Broadway, 232-0738)
Basic grilled cheese ($4)
Order up: The bargain on Rosetta’s sandwich menu is whole-grain bread with a choice of Swiss or white-cheddar cheese, served with tortilla chips.
Digest: The great thing about the “basic” sandwich is it can be augmented with items from Rosetta’s extensive list of sides. I ordered mine with both kinds of cheese, tomato and a side of homemade salsa. The end result is a good-sized, perfectly toasty sandwich. The cheese blend and ripe tomato make for simplistic perfection, and Rosetta’s chunky homemade ketchup is an added bonus.
• Over Easy Cafe (32 Broadway, 236-3533)
Grilled cheese ($4.50)
Order up: It’s your choice of cheese on organic bread, served with a choice of home fries, grits or a fruit salad.
Digest: There’s something so perfect about serving breakfast all day long, and while Over Easy’s grilled cheese isn’t breakfast food per se, the addition of morning sides is a fun twist. My sandwich came with a hefty helping of fresh fruit salad. The grilled cheese itself was a simple serving of melty cheese on hearty, flavorful wheat bread.
• Early Girl Eatery (8 Wall St., 259-9292)
Grilled pimento cheese ($6.50)
Order up: House pimento cheese grilled with spinach and tomato slices on wheat bread and served with soup or a vegetable side.
Digest: My sandwich arrived with a zesty cup of eggplant-parmesan soup. The tangy cheese in the sandwich is nicely complimented by hearty bread, though melted pimento cheese can result in plenty of grease, so be prepared. The spinach and tomato give a healthy boost, as does the vegetable or soup side (as opposed to chips or fries). Perfect comfort food.
• Greenlife Grocery (70 Merrimon Ave., 254-5440)
“The ultimate grilled cheese” ($5.99)
Order up: It’s an oversized helping of fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, red onion and pesto paste on herb-infused, grilled panini.
Digest: Though the end effect is more pizza margherita than Kraft’s singles, the sandwich is undeniably delicious. Mild, fresh mozzarella is a perfect foil for ripe tomato and savory pesto. The sandwich is unaccompanied by sides, but is easily large enough for two people, which (along with the deliciously crumbly panini), makes the $6 price tag easy to swallow.
• Mayfel’s (22 College St., 252-8840)
“Triple grill cheese” ($7.50)
Order up: Fontina, cheddar and muenster with pesto and sun-dried tomato spreads on sourdough bread with a choice of french fries, sweet-potato fries or onion rings.
Digest: Pesto sauce is the secret weapon here. While it detracts from the straightforward grilled-cheese experience, pesto (in my book) is always a welcome addition. For those who dislike the oiliness of the typical grilled cheese, this is your sandwich. Thickly sliced white bread is grilled dry for maximum crunch, minimal grease. Sweet-potato fries sprinkled with brown sugar are a nice switch from regular fries or chips.
• Tupelo Honey (12 College St., 255-4863)
Cheesy grill & tomato soup ($7.50)
Order up: You choose two of seven cheese options. The sandwich comes on Texas toast with an oversized cup of creamy, chunky tomato soup and pickled okra.
Digest: I tried havarti with goat and Swiss with Gorgonzola. Both pairings worked well, though the presentation seemed to be more about the soup than the sandwich. Also, since Tupelo Honey serves the rest of their sandwiches on locally made whole-grain bread, the white-flour toast seemed a bit paltry to me. Bonus points for cheese options and the okra instead of a dill spear.
• Earth Fare Cafe (66 Westgate Parkway, 253-7656)
Tomato, mozzarella and basil panini ($5.99)
Order up: The three ingredients heated on the grocery store’s own bread.
Digest: Very similar to Greenlife’s panini, with some twists. Earth Fare also uses fresh basil leaves instead of pesto sauce and the cooking mozzarella instead of the fresh, milk variety. Bonus points for the side of blue corn chips (a nice trade up from the typical white corn chips) and the fresh, doughy, herb-infused bread.
• Sunny Point Cafe (626 Haywood Road, 252-0055)
Pimento cheese sandwich ($6.95)
Order up: This house-made pimento cheese is served on toasted country white bread with a side salad.
Digest: The sandwich itself was oozing gorgeous red-and-orange-flecked cheese spread, and the fresh spring-mix salad added a healthful touch. However, I ordered takeout and wasn’t given napkins or flatware (I suspect I was supposed to grab my own), making the salad tricky. I ended up stuffing it into the sandwich to secure the cheese. The bread was basic, but the wonderfully tangy pimento spread more than compensated with large, sweet chunks of roasted red pepper.
• Loretta’s (27 Patton Ave., 253-3747)
Grilled cheese ($3.75)
Order up: This is an upgraded diner classic. A thick, molten layer of cheddar rests between two large slices of grilled country-style bread. It’s served with rippled potato chips and a pickle spear.
Digest: When I phoned in my order, the server asked if I’d like tomato, onion and mayo. I said yes. However, my sandwich came with only cheese: perhaps Loretta’s knows best, as they say. The crumbly, rustic bread was on the dry side, but the oversized portion was nice—especially at an affordable $3.75.
• West End Bakery (757 Haywood Road, 252-9378)
Grilled cheese ($4.25)
Order up: Listed among panini sandwiches and other gourmet offerings, the grilled cheese seems comparatively simple on this menu. Then again, the sandwich is served on your choice of the bakery’s many fresh breads, and with a side of corn chips.
Digest: The sandwich arrived warm and mouth-wateringly fragrant on Italian herb bread. However, wrapped up to go, I thought the cook had mistakenly given me half a sandwich (a West End Bakery option). When I unwrapped it, I found that it was indeed a whole serving, just on very small (but very good) bread. The cheese was thick and satisfyingly gooey, and the fresh ingredients were a plus.