@ Grilled Cheese & Co, in Sykesville

Grilled Cheese & Co

We began day 2 of our trip bright and early, hurling down the highway towards the coast with eighty other rumbling german imports. The rally had a number of planned stops before we reached Ocean City, so I figured skipping one of those would easily afford me this (teeny) little 7 mile deviation off highway 70, right?

Grilled Cheese & Co 3

“The Fresco: Fresh mozzarella & provolone cheese, fire roasted red peppers, basil pesto and a balsamic glaze:

We lost the rally. A little bit. BUT LOOK AT IT. It’s hemorrhaging all things good, right there in my lap. Finally, 967 miles from home, a sandwich with enough heft and hot cheese to make my home state proud. If all that weren’t enough, (and it is, btw) they slathered the whole thing in peppers and pesto. Both tasted legitimately fresh, and came surfing out when I pulled the halves apart. Structurally, this bread was a delicate choice, barely equipped to support the load. Ultimately, though, it was perfectly grilled, and left a perfectly insufficient barricade between me and the best part of the sandwich. 9/10 ($7.99)

@ Steak ‘n Shake in Elkhart

Greetings, my cheese loving friends. Every year, Grilled Cheese Month somehow manages to reenergize me (i.e., fill me with guilt) and get me off my lazy, neglectful posterior. I hope this post finds you well, and appropriately celebrating comfort food’s finest holiday. I spent this past weekend in Madison, (swilling wine, abusing my credit card) and returned home with 5 lbs cheese in tow – including a 2 lb loaf of Tillamook Vintage White that I scored on my maiden voyage to a Costco. (YES, the very same cheese I forgot in a Portland refrigerator in 2010.)

The below begins a road trip I took out east in September of 2011. (I know, SHAME.) I convinced my husband that the largest VW show in the US would be much more fun than a drive west to see state parks, purely because the grilled cheese prospects west of WI looked positively dismal. This is the first (of nine) I ate on that trip.

I enjoyed the above (Grilled Cheese + Bacon) in Elkhart, Indiana – day 1 of our trip. I’ve only been to a Steak ‘n Shake once before, but have always thought of it as fast food. It’s not. This wouldn’t have been that important, except that we were trying to catch up to a rally, and needed to make it to Pittsburgh(ish) by nightfall. They weren’t busy, but we managed to escape the wait staff’s radar for a full 15 minutes. When she discovered she’d neglected us, she was loudly, wildly (and embarrassingly) apologetic. From here, things moved quickly.

The sandwich was good. The American cheese was melted and sufficient, bacon was decent, and it had a good crunch on it. I also noted that it was appropriately sized for an adult – not a kids menu item serving dual duty. I awarded it a satisfactory 6/10. The free milkshakes and cookies we were forced to take with us weren’t bad parting gifts, either. ($4.48)

@ Five Guys burgers and Fries

I like it here, for several reasons.

They name their current potato farmer on a whiteboard at the entrance. They have a giant sign inside, wherein they claim to be the “Willy Wonkas of burgercraft.” They keep their groceries in the middle of the dining room. Their fries are both greasy and magical, and taste of potatoes. And almost everything you’ll see is eatable, edible. I mean, you can eat almost everything.

Maybe not the grilled cheese, though. It’s an inside out hamburger bun, with some american cheese falling out of it. If you close your eyes for a minute, I expect you already know exactly what this tastes like. So, I’m not even going to go through to motions, and insult you with a lot of snarky wordplay.

Ok, fuck it. I wrote a haiku.

my palate is sad

how many guys does it take

to make a grilled cheese

@ Club 45, in Conover

Day two of my weekend: “Grilled cheese on texas toast with beer battered fries.” (+pickles)

Club 45 is your typical lakefront, northwoods tavern, and a seemingly popular fish fry destination. It’s a nice spot, with a patio over looking the water, a swing set for the kids, and more video gambling than you can shake a stick at. There were six of us, and our collective order was probably something like, “five fish frys, and a grilled cheese with pickles.” Right off the bat, my zany request is met with a raised eyebrow and dubious look from our waitress. (I don’t know why this annoys me so much, but it does.)

Delightful pickle placement aside, this was an expected disappointment. Sandwiches made with texas toast are almost always a big, fat let down, and this was no exception. (“Hey, guys. Know what would be even awesomer than boring white bread? THICKER boring white bread!” – Some guy in Texas.) The bread was dry, the cheese was ample but unmelted, and the pickles were super skunky – no doubt, fished from a giant jar opened sometime during the Bush administration. I was a few bites in before I identified the source of the foul infraction, and I promptly fished them all out of there. I wound up dissecting it, eating a few bites out of the middle, and leaving the tragic remains in the basket for the waitress.

She, later, observed in a hushed exchange with the other bartenders:  “Pickles??!”  “Yes,” she says, deadpan. “PICKLES.”

@The Flour Sack, in Eagle River

Greetings, friends! It’s been some months since my last post, and I’ve done quite a bit of traveling since. I have a positively daunting backlog of reviews to write. (Including a couple GC destinations you might have actually heard of!) The one below was enjoyed last summer, but I can still taste it. Get here, if you can.

“Apple Pie Grilled Cheese: Cheddar cheese topped with apple butter, sliced apples, and grilled on cracked wheat bread.”

 I’d been anxious to try this one ever since the owner mentioned it during my last visit, but just couldn’t seem to get there. Finally, headed up to the cabin one saturday, I placed a calculated call from hwy 17. (It’s very important to time these things – styrofoam does terrible things grilled sandwiches.) I was also sort of starving, which always helps add a point or two to a sandwich score. It turned out, though, this one didn’t need any extra credit. It. Was. Amazing. For some of you, the whole cheddar cheese on apple pie thing might be old news, but I’ve still never had it. I’ve never even had apple butter – come to think of it. (If anything, this proves what I’ve been saying for years – cheese is good on fucking everything.) That said, this is a fine example of a sandwich being greater than the sum of it’s parts, because each part was perfect: abundant cheese, REAL apples, and scrumptious bread. Although the menu just calls this cracked wheat bread – it was something special. It was straight up buttery, with some kind of sugary crunch buried in it. I was only about a half mile down the road with the first half of it stuffed in my mouth when I knew. Ten. This thing was a ten.

@ North Star Casino, in Bowler

“Ham & Cheddar Panini,” at “Deli-licious.”

If you’re looking for something to make you feel better after losing 40 perfectly good dollars in a slot called the “Amazing Money Machine” at 1am on a tuesday morning, you should probably stick to schadenfreude, or maybe nachos. However, if you’re looking for the genuine casino experience, and the hissing oxygen tanks, stench of failure and loneliness, and pocket of ATM receipts doesn’t quite get you there – the Stockbridge-Munsee band of Mohican Indians now brings you delicious, gas-station-fresh sandwiches. Seemingly pressed with dry heat and the weight of a large, glassy-eyed elderly woman, I suspect this little gamble could be broken back down into its original parts by throwing it up in the air. I gave it a 2, which is the same number of times I (unsuccessfully) attempted to pass it through the bill accepter. ($2.75)

@ Barkers, in Hudson

“Southwestern Grilled Cheese: Grilled sourdough with melted hot pepper and sharp cheddar cheeses, topped with our house-made salsa.”

I was headed out of state a few weeks ago, and quite eager to put another pin down in Minnesota. (As one would expect, initial scouting turned up quite a few intriguing prospects in the cities.) As I discovered though, not all brand of travel companion are easily sold on a twenty mile deviation from the route for a “cheese sandwich.” Pfffffffffffft. 

Whatever, mom.

SO instead, I had to settle for Barker’s in Hudson – a “more reasonable” 2.5 blocks off highway 94. Ok, maybe it wasn’t really settling – both the sandwich and the restaurant did seem worthy of a stop. Hudson *is* the Gateway to Wisco after all…and I’m a big fan of salsa and peppered cheeses. Fortunately, I’m a big fan of bruschetta too, because that’s really a better classification for their “house-made salsa.” Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the sandwich. It was tasty and well-made, well-melted, and generously proportioned. All that aside, it certainly contained nothing “southwestern” enough to warrant the deceptively zesty name. (I don’t like being lied to, Barker.) I couldn’t really stay mad, though. It was a rad little town, a good restaurant, and they made DELICIOUS french fries. I gave it a 7. 


@ the friendship house family restaurant, in rhinelander

“The Chicken Bacon Melt: Crispy bacon, lightly-breaded chicken and melted swiss.”

I wound up at this unassuming family restaurant a couple weeks ago; (pretty much the quintessential, locally-owned-and-badly-named, in the still recognizable body of a failed chain) and was pleasantly surprised to find this little beast. Actually, once I saw the size of their menu, I was feeling pretty lucky – this thing had to be like, 6 full pages of laminated possibilities. Victory. 

Well, I can’t lie. It was downright scrumptious. Big and crunchy, delightfully salty, and abundantly cheesed: everything a good grilled sandwich should be. Well played, Friendship House. You earned a meritable 8/10. (Ok, barely an 8, but an 8’s an 8, right?)  *slow clap*   ($6.95)

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