Years ago, a grilled cheese sandwich involved no elaboration. In my childhood kitchen, it consisted of cheddar and white bread. (We sometimes had Velveeta, but processed cheese doesn’t count.) Was a slice of tomato ever on that sandwich? Never. A mix of cheeses? Heavens, no.
Photo by John Cizmas
Purity is a quality to be lauded. But as is perhaps inevitable, the grilled cheese has grown up. Its maturity is expressed in ways that might surprise, intrigue and trigger a raging appetite.
The latest local restaurant to rally ’round the cheese sandwich – you might remember the short-lived Cheesy Grill on Miller Park Way – is the East Side’s Melthouse Bistro, a mix of concrete, wood, stainless steel and new, if sparse, decorations. The restaurant’s featured grilled cheese, The Arla, has havarti and spiced apples on brioche ($6.95). A more basic sandwich is The Heartland, with cheddar, Swiss and caramelized onion on whole wheat ($6.95). Interestingly, the more complicated the sandwiches are, the more cheese takes a backseat. For instance, The Brasserie has tender, nicely seasoned beef shortrib meat and pickled red onion with a smidge of soft, pungent Brie on country French bread ($8.95). For an extra 95 cents, you can get a cup of good herbed tomato bisque, which is chunkier than expected.
Aioli – a fancy word for mayo – appears on a few sandwiches (The Baconmoto, with sharp cheddar, smoked bacon and tomato). Another condiment recruit is pesto, which certainly takes the sandwich to a higher plane of richness – and that’s worth it on The Dominique (Gorgonzola, Parmesan, grilled chicken, dried cranberries and walnut pesto on ciabatta bread, $8.95).
Cheese has few limitations. Melthouse Bistro has a couple of them – visibility and parking. (For the latter, it competes with Beans & Barley.) But maybe those problems will melt away.
1857 E. Kenilworth Pl. (on one-way street south of Beans & Barley), 414-271-6358. Hours: Sun-Wed 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Thurs-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Prices: soups $2.95-$5.45; salads $6.95-$9.95; sandwiches $6.95-$8.95; small plates (after 4 p.m.) $6.95.
Service: place your order at the counter, and the food is delivered to your table, or the carryout bag is delivered to your waiting arms. Credit cards: M V A DS. Handicap access: yes.