Grilled Cheese Trend: Is It Time to Grow Up?

Categories: Trends
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Grilled cheese sits in our memories, quietly searing on the back griddle, ready to be served up with a spatula on a rainy day. Most of the time, we aren't even aware of the grilled cheese sandwich until we need one and the time is just right. The alchemical taste of char and butterfat returns to mind, a childhood memory like a mother's embrace or the smell of a soccer field: never to be forgotten completely, there when you need it.

At least, it was that way. The grilled cheese sandwich is now seeing something of a heyday, and it's hard to forget. Soup and a sandwich has left the diner and entered the hip vernacular, spawning food trucks and menu items and whole grilled cheese restaurants. An age-old formula of bread and cheese (panini, baguettes, fondue) is given a distinctly postwar-American treatment. But we pepper it up now, with multigrains and Gruyère.

We should have seen this coming. The generation that's building restaurants now grew up on nostalgia. We emulate the sepia-toned photographs of Mom and Dad on big-wheeled bicycles and work eight-bit Nintendo tones into our music. And we love grilled cheese.

It was cute, at first.

When I lived in Portland, there was a food cart that sold grilled cheese sandwiches and had a dining room inside a whimsically painted school bus. All you needed was Michael Cera and a Klonopin and you'd be back at Montessori School, having snacktime with all your friends and all the colors. Adults eating kid food! How awesome! There were, of course, cheese and filling options: prosciutto, mushrooms, whatever. This is what modern folks being "artisanal" is all about: elevating old standbys with new, smarter, more "adult" ingredients.

And then the virus spread. When a trend makes it down here to South Florida, you know it's serious business. The local cart Ms. Cheezious cranks out an interesting menu of sandwiches that are by all accounts delicious, on marble rye and beyond. A friend recently told me -- much to my horror -- about consuming, voluntarily, a "seven-cheese grilled cheese sandwich" at Boca Raton's Delray Beach's Dada. I was hardly surprised when she described slight gastrointestinal discomfort afterward. There was reportedly sheep's cheese.

The grilled cheese is a natural fit down in Miami, where the childhood desires are just as strong, but they're motivated by a sociopathic state of prolonged infancy rather than twee nostalgia. Miami's all about getting baked, gawking at enormous titties, and eating food a 2-year-old would approve of. Everyone's a step away from crying because they lost their toys, and the oral fixation needs to be sated by something. Sometimes this means grotesquely oversize "gourmet" hamburgers or ice cream or pizza. Stoner food, for when we forget all our adult refinements and nutritional guidelines. And there's nothing wrong with that.

But the crass spread of the grilled cheese into winking haute menu item risks devaluing the deep currency of our childhoods by marketing this simple concoction until it's as overplayed as the burger and ripe for parody. Then we'll get bored and start filling our grilled cheeses with rutabaga or water chestnuts or whatever other bullshit keeps things interesting. The iconic vanilla kid sandwich will start to need kinks. That will all continue for a while until we forget about the whole trend, leaving behind the grilled cheese restaurants in search of the next great trend. A few years may pass, and we'll get older and more jaded, no doubt.

Then you'll stop in an old diner and see soup and a sandwich on the menu for under a fiver. You'll dip in, take a bite, feel the pull of the processed cheese food, and remember how good it is to be genuine, how very adult it is to treat your nostalgia with restraint.

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14 comments
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NJ R
NJ R

Most places, grilled cheese is the perfect off-menu item. Quick, cheap, and easy, it's an ideal palette for a chef who wants to try something offbeat. (Texas toast, anyone? How about grilled shrimp?)

freakerdude
freakerdude

Gruyere is supposed to make a good grilled cheese but it's too damned expensive for my budget.

Tricia Woolfenden
Tricia Woolfenden

Gruyere with some sliced apple (make sure it's tart) or pear does indeed make for an excellent grilled cheese.  

FQS9000
FQS9000

Try a sprinkle of black truffle oil and sea salt when the sandwich comes off the grill.  And for Stefan, pop a couple of lactose pills.

BTW - while the apple is tasty, it is no longer a grilled cheese sandwich, but something else.  Ditto the tomato and bacon. 

FQS9000
FQS9000

Grilled cheese with tomato and bacon is extremely close to the Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich, which is very good indeed.

BTW - Truffle oil does not go well with everything, but in this case, it works well.  Another excellent use is to add it to garlic chicken wings.

Stefan Kamph
Stefan Kamph

Funny, I was thinking of my next rant being about people who sprinkle everything with "truffle" oil. But live and let live, yes, compadre?

Mike Linder
Mike Linder

i'll take a grilled cheese on white bread with a slice of tomato and bacon any day of the week, call me simple if you will.

KennyPowersII
KennyPowersII

Grilled cheese is garbage food. Nothing more than artery clogging ass glue. 

Tricia Woolfenden
Tricia Woolfenden

"Viva the gourmet grilled cheese movement!" Signed, a happy vegetarian.  

Betsey
Betsey

Absolutely brilliant. 

FQS9000
FQS9000

I suspect old Stefan has a bad case of lactose intolerance.  And who appointed him to be the nanny of us all sneering away?

Trends are fun and Stefan is boring and trite.

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