During a recent trip to Columbus, I was surprised (read: jealous) to be walking along the Short North and stumble upon a swanky new grilled cheese restaurant opening that very night.
An entire restaurant devoted to one of the simplest, most glorious culinary creations of all time?
Sadly, Melt Bar & Grilled was so packed that night I couldn't get in, so I had to resort to drooling over the menu online. In addition to soups, salads, burgers and other options, there are also some 22 different gourmet grilled cheese combinations, each served with hand-cut fries and a crunchy dill pickle . . .
*Wake & Bacon: farm-fresh fried eggs, hickory bacon and American cheese.
*Chorizo & Potato: fresh-ground spicy sausage and potato hash with sharp cheddar.
*Parmageddon: potato and onion pierogi with fresh Napa vodka kraut, sauteed onions and sharp cheddar.
*War Pig: espresso and ancho-rubbed pork, seared pork belly, honey ham, tamale cake and housemade mole sauce with crispy chicharrones and pepper jack cheese.
*Hungry Hungarian: pulled roasted chicken, rich paprikash sauce, homemade herb spaetzle and muenster cheese.
*Dad's Meatloaf Dinner: homemade meatloaf, hickory bacon, chipotle ketchup glaze, potato and onion croquette cakes with crisp lettuce, fresh tomato and muenster.
*Curry Chicken Melt: roasted pulled chicken bathed in sweet-and-spicy curry, ginger and lemongrass lentil cakes with mango chutney and pepper jack.
* Parma, Italy: crispy breaded chicken, sun-dried tomato pesto and roasted garlic with provolone.
* Purple Parma: crispy breaded eggplant, rich marinara and roasted garlic with provolone.
*Big Popper: fresh jalapeno peppers with cheddar and herb cream cheese, crispy-battered, deep-fried and served with mixed berry preserves.
*Mushroom Melt: garlic mushrooms and caramel port onions with arugula and provolone.
*Peanut Butter & Banana: caramelized banana, house-made peanut butter, sweet cream cheese, candied peanuts and mixed berry preserves.
And then for the truly adventurous, there's "The Melt Challenge," a monster grilled cheese featuring 13 different cheeses, three slices of grilled bread and a pile of hand-cut fries and slaw. It's more than five pounds of food, and if you finish it all (without any help or trips to the bathroom) you win a Melt T-shirt or pint glass, a $10 gift card and your photo on the Melt Challenge Hall of Fame.
Although I question the word "win" in this case. I can't imagine the uncomfortable hours after your victory being worth a T-shirt.
Nonetheless, what a great restaurant concept for Charleston — hint, hint.
You can check it out yourself at www.meltbarandgrilled.com.
Speaking of gooey goodness, I've been hearing great things about a new cookbook that might make a nice holiday gift for the foodies on your list.
Author Shane Kearns' new "MELT — 100 Amazing Adventures in Grilled Cheese!" is packed with some pretty tasty recipes for toasted sandwiches featuring hybrid cheeses, drippy sauces, artisan breads and more.
Creations like the "Beer, Kale and Crouton Mash-Up," the "Inside Out Blue Cheese Pecan" and "The Candied Baconator."
Those sound pretty good to me, but then ol' Shane sent a special holiday recipe that had me scratching my head at first.
Candy Cane Grilled Cheese?
I wasn't feeling it until I took a closer look at the recipe (included this week) and realized it was not some weird sweet-savory combination, but rather a dessert-like treat featuring peppermint, gingerbread and ricotta cheese.
Yeah, I could do a nibble or two of that.
To learn more about the cookbook, check out http://bit.ly/1bnAN4m.
Candy Cane Grilled Cheese
1 can Pillsbury Grands! Jr. Golden Layers refrigerated biscuits
1/8 cup crushed peppermint candies or candy canes
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
4 gingersnap cookies, cracked into pea-sized chunks
1. Bake four biscuits according to package directions. Let cool and then slice horizontally. Adjust oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine crushed peppermint and ricotta cheese.
3. Distribute gingersnap chunks evenly on bottom half of each biscuit, followed by ricotta/peppermint mixture and top of biscuits.
4. Bake for 3 minutes on a baking sheet. Remove from oven, and serve warm.