- 1704 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY, 40205
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A hot skillet. A couple of slices of bread smeared with butter (or margarine). A slice of processed yellow cheese. A can of tomato soup.
For moms and kids growing up in the early years of the space age, a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup were the quintessential American lunch — fast and easy, gooey and fun.
Nowadays, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches are a hot commodity — they have their own cookbooks, they’re central to the gourmet food truck scene, and not surprisingly they’re going mainstream in the form of full-fledged brick and mortar operations.
If Tom + Chee (just say Tom and Chee), the Cincinnati-based micro-chain (three outlets opened to date), is any indication, grilled cheese lovers are in for some grand, cheap, affordable fun as this phenomenon grows.
The firm was founded by fellows named Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward. Louisvillians Richard and Natalie Tinsley fell in love with the idea after visiting one of the Cincinnati locations. They joined with another Louisvillian, James Tyler, and opened a Louisville branch in the old Penn Station location on Bardstown Road.
It’s a simple space — long, narrow and functional. And it’s a simple operation. You queue up at the counter, try to comprehend the brightly colored menu on the enormous chalkboard, place your order, take a number and a seat, and a few minutes later your meal arrives on the table — piping hot and with all the golden grilled glory you could hope for from a sandwich.
You can mix and match breads (white, wheat, rye, etc., including a gluten-free option) with American, cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella or pepper Jack, and have a sandwich for the modest fee of $3.50. For a dollar more, you can go all tycoon on your bad self and have brie, fresh mozzarella, smoked gouda or blue (there’s even a vegan option).
If you want to melt some vegetables into the mix (or basil pesto), it’ll set you back 50 cents, and if you want slices of the house-roasted turkey, beef or chicken, you’ll pay a buck more.
And as every kid knows, it’s easy to build a double-decker grilled cheese sandwich (for $2 more).
Yes, you can build your own, but let’s bear in mind that the Tom + Chee people are grilled cheese professionals, and as such they’ve gone to the trouble of designing some sandwiches that are pretty spectacular. If you’re looking for something that sounds pretty guilt-free, you might try the Hippy+Chee ($4.50) — hummus and cucumber, greens, tomato and cheddar on wheat (and I think they’ll let you substitute the vegan cheese if you so wish). If what you crave is gushing luxury, the Swiss+Shroom (with grilled onions on rye, $4.50) is very fine.
Lest we forget the Tom part of the Tom + Chee equation, there are always at least three tomato-based soups available ($3-$4.50). The classic smooth soup is an austerely grown-up concoction, tart and flavorful, but without the vapid sweetness found in the iconic can. Two tomato-basil soups are on offer, one chunky, the other cream-based. Summer offerings often include variations on gazpacho (and come winter, I’ll be looking forward to split pea and other hearty comforts).
Some nice salads ($3-$5.50) are offered, including a caprese and a mixed green salad — with grilled cheese croutons! Want a kid’s meal? $3.50 for a sandwich, soup and drink (or sub some fresh fruit).
Back to those sandwiches. I like that these guys know how to bring the heat: the Armagoetta features Cincinnati’s signature sausage (a well-seasoned grind of pork and oats that’s usually seen as a breakfast sausage), which gets the fiery assistance of cherry peppers, fried onions, mustard and pepper Jack (and is served between a slice of sourdough and a slice of rye, $6).
Besides a fascinating list of rotating specials, there is also a standing list of ultra-guilty pleasures: sandwiches enhanced by the addition of potato chips (specifically, various flavors of Grippo’s chips).
If those things strike you as over the top, wait till you get a load of the dessert list, headed by the infamous Grilled Cheese Donut ($3.50) — featured on multiple TV shows (think you can eat 13 of those guys in 10 minutes? If so, take the Baker’s Dozen Challenge. Or just relax, and take your time over a grilled doughnut with fresh strawberries and lemon mascarpone.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.