Grilled cheese: the first thing we learned to make on the stove by ourselves and the first sandwich we learned to love. Because really, what more can you ask from a sandwich than crisp, buttery bread and molten cheese oozing out—except for a cup of tomato soup on the side? With the addition of Cleveland’s grilled-cheese-centric cult favorite Melt Bar & Grilled in November, Columbus has acquired some serious grilled cheese cred—which means serious grilled cheese crowds. Here are five of our favorite sandwiches to get your grease-slicked hands on right now.
From the way people talk about it, Cleveland’s ode-to-grilled-cheese-in-a-restaurant known as Melt Bar & Grilled is a life-changer. It’s beloved among both displaced Cleveland natives and occasional visitors, and their menu of massive sandwiches on Texas-style toast with a heaping side of fries is discussed in the same reverential tones a Columbusite reserves for Jeni’s.
Melt’s quirky grilled cheeses may come stuffed with the kinds of absurdist creations only a gourmet 8-year-old could come up with, like the Backyard BBQ with two kinds of meat, onion rings and cheddar, or the Mushroom Melt (right) with garlic, ‘shrooms, balsamic fig jam, arugula and provolone, but they’re still grilled cheese sandwiches at their gooey cores.
And better yet, you can enjoy vegan and vegetarian versions of most of the seasonally rotating, 20-sandwich menu, according to Owner Matt Fish (himself a vegetarian). That includes the favorite Parmageddon stuffed with potato & onion pierogi and napa vodka kraut. Just sub vegan cheese for cheddar.
Melt opened its first kitschy cool Columbus location (and first cafe outside of the Cleveland area) in the Short North in November, the anchor tenant in the new Hub building.
This is the grilled cheese Tommy’s co-owner Kathy Pappas made for her kids when they were little and she and her husband were just opening their diner. Now, her boys are both in their 30s, the diner’s become a West Broad Street fixture and the recipe hasn’t changed one bit: American and Swiss cheeses and Texas toast griddled on a flat-top, with ruby slices of tomato for some sweetness. “I’m a cheese person, so we put on a couple of slices of each kind,” Pappas says. “And the Texas toast is thick enough that it stands up well on the grill.”
On a typical Monday night, Bodega chef Marcus Meacham says they’ll churn out at least 500 sandwiches for their weekly $1 grilled-cheese happy hour. The sandwich is substantial for so small a price—an ounce and a half each of swiss, provolone and cheddar cheeses on an old-world loaf, squeezed in a panini press. But come in any other day of the week for a grilled cheese for connoisseurs: twice the amount of cheese on Eleni-Christina focaccia, even better dolled up in what Meacham dubs “hat-trick style”: with bacon, jalapeno and tomato slices. Unfortunately, that $1 price tag doesn’t stick around—the regular sandwich starts at $6 during the week.
Dress a grilled cheese up for a big night out—swap American for brie and add pureed acorn squash, arugula pesto and an apple-pear jam on sourdough—and you’ve got the sandwich at The Pearl. Chef Ryan Rupe says brie is what makes the sandwich special: “The brie is mild, but it’s still so rich, so you really taste it,” she says. “We finish the sandwich in the oven, so the cheese is so melted that you see that little string of it connecting the halves when you cut into the sandwich.” Even at a restaurant with attractions like a raw bar, this sandwich gets a lot of attention: Rupe says sales spiked the second the weather started to turn colder.
Kevin Burns loves jalapeno poppers, but when he was working on the menu for his Olde Towne East neighborhood bar, The Tavern, last year, he realized he wouldn’t be able to include them on it because the restaurant doesn’t have a deep fryer. The kitchen crew started thinking of ways to get them on the menu, and that begat the Jalapeno Popper Grilled Cheese. They spent weeks testing the sandwiches with various versions of jalapenos for a kick of heat that doesn’t overwhelm and settled on baking the peppers, then removing the skin and seeds. “We’ve got a lot of jalapenos on the menu,” he says. Toasted sourdough subs in for the satisfying deep-fried crunch.