The nostalgic embrace of the grilled cheese sandwich is etched on the DNA of countless Americans. This crispy and gooey classic has a childhood-retrieving power that can transport eaters back to carefree after-school snacks, a quick sick-day comforting from a loving mother, maybe even the first thing someone learned to “cook.” No wonder a goodly number of drinking establishments capitalizing on such squishy memories sell on-the-cheap grilled cheese specials to enhance their booze-pouring bottom lines.
But let’s face it, in its iconic form — plastic-unwrapped, waxy processed cheese food product “singles” jammed between characterless bread — the All-American grilled cheese sandwich is something only a kid could love. In other words, if anything is crying out for an upgrade, it’s this ol’ favorite.
To attract more customers to its sophisticated-yet-casual bar scene (which is great), from 4 p.m. to close on Wednesdays, this stylish Short Norther is hawking bar-only $5 “grilled cheese” sandwiches. Recently perusing these offerings, I’d say Rigsby’s is using an extremely loose interpretation of grilled cheese. Smart move.
About a half-dozen models built with Rigsby’s superior Eleni-Christina Bakery breads get gussied up with a mix of well-curated cheeses and toppings like capers, roasted peppers, super-smoky Nueske’s bacon and olives. Since two sandwiches are my absolute limit for a pre-dinner snack, that’s how many I tried. (Regular humans will easily fill up — dinner-wise! — on one or one and a half of these.)
The more lightly toasted than grilled Farmer manages to balance seemingly hard to “sandwichize” dense, dark and sweet raisin walnut bread by rhyming its walnuts with pignoli and contrasting the loaf’s sweetness with arugula. Befriending all elements of this hearty as all get-out texture fest are grilled onions and tangy Ohio goat cheese. Good stuff.
Even better was Rigsby’s irresistible open-faced take on the Croque Monsieur. This highly recommended minor masterpiece stars velvety, lean and luscious rosemary-scented lonza ham plus sharp Canal Junction gruyere cheese. Holding up their parts of the bargain, too, were a thick and nutmeg-kicked bechamel sauce, crusty and crunchy sourdough bread and grilled (if oily) spring onions that contributed intriguingly smoky and spiky notes.