Great Grilled Cheese from Coast to Coast

Served at fashionable restaurants and cozy bakeries alike, here are 10 nostalgia-inducing takes on grilled cheese across the country.

Photo By: henry@henryhargreaves.com

Beyond the Basic Grilled Cheese

Few dishes conjure afternoons of childhood mirth as well as the grilled cheese sandwich. Regardless of whether it's served alongside a bowl of steaming Campbell's tomato soup, the buttery classic symbolizes pure comfort. Back then the go-to dish was probably plain ol' griddled white bread oozing melted cheddar. Today the gourmet permutations are endless. Served at fashionable restaurants and cozy bakeries alike, here are 10 nostalgia-inducing renditions from across the country.

Photo courtesy of Greenspan's Grilled Cheese

Baltimore: Artifact Coffee

Cheddar from local creamery Hawks Hill is the star of the grilled cheese sandwich at Artifact Coffee, Spike and Amy Gjerde's Hampden hangout set in an old factory. Toasted on a slab of homemade Pullman loaf playfully dubbed "butter bread," it's accompanied by a mound of root vegetable chips.

Photo by Alison Kirby

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Boston: Coppa

Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette's South End enoteca may lean toward arancini and spaghetti alla carbonara, but it's also home to a decidedly compelling grilled cheese sandwich. Nestled between two slices of sourdough are yellow American cheese, housemade sour pickles and a bronzed breadcrumb-free crab cake heightened by Worcestershire sauce, harissa and Bissonnette's own mayo.

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Chicago: La Sirena Clandestina

John Manion, chef and owner of La Sirena Clandestina, lures diners to the Fulton Market area with bold Latin flavors that take the forms of such creations as crispy chicken thighs with gigante beans and Brazilian feijoada. His Fugazzetta is just as satisfying; the three-cheese panini, draped with melted onions, unites mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan. Adding a delicious jolt of texture is a mess of homemade spiced potato chips and tomato soup.

Houston: Underbelly

The breads made at Kraftsmen Baking are among the city’s finest loaves. So for the grilled cheese sandwich gracing the lunch menu at Montrose hot spot Underbelly, chef-owner Chris Shepherd uses the bakery's pain de campagne — aka French sourdough — as a vehicle for his melange of homemade pimento, mayo, cheddar, roasted red bell pepper, paprika and dried mustard powder. A cup of daily changing soup, such as foraged mushroom, makes for a homespun touch.

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Kansas City, Kan.: Best Regards Bakery & Cafe

Yes, there are sourdough crust pizzas and BLTs to savor at Robert and Cherrie Duensing's beloved Best Regards Bakery & Cafe, but not ordering one of the stellar grilled cheese combos would be unfathomable. Among the house favorites is the fresh spinach-laden Espinaca, with Havarti, pepper Jack, Provel and cream cheese on French country bread. The crafty husband and wife also have a knack for confections, which means saving room for a soft orange-cranberry cookie dusted in sugar is another must.

Los Angeles: Greenspan's Grilled Cheese

He runs the kitchen at Roof on Wilshire, atop the Hotel Wilshire in Miracle Mile, but Eric Greenspan, the grad of Le Cordon Bleu Paris who has worked with such heavyweights as Alain Ducasse, is perhaps best known for his sandwiches. At the petite-size Greenspan's Grilled Cheese, creations like the Med, with provolone, artichokes and avocado puree on brioche, certainly tempt, but all first-timers must succumb to the Champ. Featuring Taleggio, beef short rib, apricot-caper puree and dried tomato on raisin-walnut bread, it blissfully straddles sweet and savory territories.

Louisville, Ky.: Proof on Main

While you're sipping on a Proof Positive, one of whiskey mecca Proof on Main's cocktails made with Old Forester Signature and Kentucky sorghum, hunger pangs will certainly strike. Coming to the rescue, then, is the Parmesan-crusted grilled cheese sandwich layered with cheddar, tart apples, arugula and, naturally, bourbon-bacon marmalade.

New York: Bar Sardine

Bar Sardine is a tiny West Village shrine for oysters and cocktails like the Manhattan Bound 'A' Train (rum, Chartreuse, Benedictine, amaro, sherry), but it also turns out a mighty grilled cheese sandwich. Executive Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly amplifies a blend of Gruyere and mozzarella with eggplant-tomato tapenade and tangy beer mustard, served on filone bread from Sullivan Street Bakery.

Photo by Henry Hargreaves

San Francisco: Tartine Bakery & Cafe

Those sublime loaves of organic bread that baker and co-owner Chad Robertson crafts at Mission mainstay Tartine Bakery & Cafe provide the first assured sign that a pressed sandwich here will also be a revelation. Offerings include spicy soppressata with fontina and broccoli rabe, as well as smoky Idiazabal with quince jam (seen here). With the likes of ethereal banana cream tarts from Robertson's wife, Elisabeth Prueitt, it's obviously a prelude to dessert.

Photo by Eric Wolfinger

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Seattle: Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery

Typically it's salted peanut butter cookies and scotch-spiked drinking chocolates that entice patrons to Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery, but Autumn Martin, proprietor of the Ballard Cafe, also has a way with savory concoctions. Consider her grilled cheese sandwich with Gruyere and aged Beecher's cheddar on potato bread. Fittingly, there's also a version oozing dark chocolate ganache, served alongside caramel dipping sauce, for those with a robust sweet tooth.

Photo by Annie Brady