What could be simpler than a grilled cheese sandwich ? Typically the directions for making it are something like this : Put the cheese between the slices of bread. Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet or grill and when melted add the sandwich. Gently press down with a spatula once or twice during the grilling. When one side is golden, add the remaining tablespoon of butter, turn the sandwich over, and brown. The cheese can be Cheddar, American or Swiss and some people like to slip in a couple of slices of crisp bacon or a thin slice of ham but that’s it .
Nothing to it , right ? You wouldn’t think so if you’d watched a recent “throwdown” in which Bobby Flay faced off against the owners of The Pop Store in Collingswood N.J. The term ” throwdown ” may be unfamiliar to those who don’t watch the Food Channel. Essentially , it means ” a challenge ” as in “ throwing down the gauntlet “.Star chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay travels around the country challenging local chefs to go head tohead with him as they cook the special dishes that they are known for.For the Grilled Cheese Throwdown , Flay went to Collingswood , N.J to challenge the husband -and-wife team who run the Pop Store , famous for its thirty versions of grilled cheese sandwiches. Thirty types ? I thought there was only one (LOL).
Anyway , the husband -and -wife team decided to go with their signature sandwich , the Collingswood . It consisted of several slices of Monterey Jack cheese, avocado slices and bacon wrapped in rosemary foccacia and grilled. I may have forgotten a couple of ingredients but I think I’ve got most of them down. The Collingswood was overwhelming , a monument to excess. In close-up, it looked sloppy and unappetizing . With all those different ingredients , with that medley of tastes, how could it be even considered a grilled cheese sandwich ?
Bobby Flay’s entry was a lot more restrained. It consisted of a mixture of Brie and goat cheese, slices of bacon and thin slices of green tomato sandwiched between thick slices of good white bread and grilled .Though it did have a couple of extra ingredients ( green tomatoes, bacon) , they did not overwhelm the cheese. Anyone looking at it would have no difficulty identifying it as a grilled cheese sandwich. The same could not be said about the Collingswood ; it certainly did not look like a sandwich let alone a grilled cheese sandwich.
I was curious about who would win the throwdown. Flay loses more often than he wins because , in an effort to put his personal stamp on the dish , he veers too far from the original . As the judges award victory to his opponent , they often remark that it is closer to the traditional , the way it should be . This time the shoe was on the other foot as the judges voted for Flay for the very same reason. In addition to tasting good , it was more like the original.
Given a choice between the two , I too would plump for Bobby Flay’s sandwich any time. The Brie and goat cheese mixture sounds like an interesting variation (creamier and slightly saltier than Cheddar, not oily like Swiss cheese when grilled) , the green tomatoes would give it a hint of tartness and the bacon would provide some crunch. I might try it myself at home .
In a competition of this type , I can understand the need to be different, to add ingredients in order to be ‘ original’. However , there is something to be said for good food , without any frills, prepared just right. As I was watching the throwdown , my mind flashed back to the Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich I Ever Ate.
It was during a vacation in Greece four years ago. We were in Athens and had set out for sightseeing early one morning. There was a slight nip in the air and all the walking made us hungry. At the foot of the Acropolis , we stopped at a restaurant, the only one that was close by. They were just opening for the day and lunch was not yet ready. However , they said they could give us sandwiches and we accepted. It took them a long time , about 20-25 minutes, but when the sandwiches arrived they were well worth it . They couldn’t have been simpler : cheddar cheese sandwiched between slices of white bread and grilled in butter. The bread was dense, thick cut, and the slices were square and bigger than usual , almost 6 inches a side.I think there might have been two slices of cheese in each sandwich , just enough and not too much. The sandwiches had been grilled in butter to a beautiful golden color , without a speck of brown. There may have been a sprinkling of black pepper though it must have been on the inside ; there was nothing to mar the perfection of the exterior. We would have liked to admire the sandwiches some more but we were hungry and bit into them at once. What a heavenly taste ! The crisp, warm bread with its buttery goodness, the slightly salty richness of the melted cheese as it hit the tongue… nothing could have been better. All too soon the sandwiches were only a memory , one that is still vivid four years later. They were not cheap . A sandwich and a coffee set us back 15 euros ( about $ 22) apiece but they were worth it . We enjoyed them then and they still give us pleasure now when we think of them.