This week, while visiting San Francisco, I happened upon a new favorite place, which makes me all the more proud to be a native of the city.
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen really brings it. Looking at their menu, you'll see inspired combinations, but (refreshingly) nothing that favors over-the-top creativity to tastiness. Eating in a large group was key; our table tried the Mousetrap (photo at top), a triple-cheese combo on sourdough with bacon, their Mushroom Gruyere, with both fontina and gruyere enclosing a filling of chopped wild mushrooms, potatoes, leeks, and caramelized onions, and a thoroughly sinful mac n' cheese-stuffed grilled cheese. Enough said.
Other great combinations and add-ins made me wonder why it's not more common of a thing to have grilled cheese parties, with a make-your-own theme. Imagine these other seriously tasty add-ins on offer: apricot-jalepeno relish, stout mustard, roasted tomatoes, and thyme butter. Meats had some serious play on the menu, too: applewood-smoked bacon, roasted chicken, artisan cured ham, and smoked turkey.
What worked best, though, was the toastiness of the bread itself. I recognized some seriously unabashed butter usage in that most tender crunch. Nothing wrong with that. The clementine that arrived in the basket elicited more than one "awww!!" at the table, and wasn't a bad way to finish off the meal, either.
And then, there's the breakfast menu, which brings much shame to the ubiquitous New York deli breakfast sandwich that I see walking the streets most every morning by the dozen. They offer several combinations on a grilled cheese theme, with a breakfasty slant. Eggs and potatoes make their way into their sandwiches, with optional enhancers to round things out.
Not to go unnoticed was the most excellent atmosphere: casual and hip, with friendly service and some nice playful touches, like their blackboard of cheesy puns, perhaps the most fitting of which (considering the New Year) was the following homage to Kool and The Gang: "There's havarti goin' on right here; a celebration to last throughout gruyere."
A party goin' on, most definitely, as evidenced by the line out the door. Not a bad way to start the year, indeed.
The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is located in San Francisco at 1 South Park Street, at the corner of 2nd street.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and used to be a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently a TV Chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Images: Nora Singley)