Four Fantasy Grilled Cheeses
To celebrate April (National Grilled Cheese Month), we asked some top Hampton Roads chefs to step outside the bread box and reimage the classic to create their own Fantasy Grilled Cheese. Here are the results:
The Place: Fat Canary
Since Fat Canary is fine dining, there isn’t a grilled cheese sandwich on the current menu, but that could change. “I have been considering a version with fresh truffle to accompany grilled beef tenderloin,” says executive chef Thomas Power Jr.
The Big Cheese: Executive Chef/Partner Thomas Power Jr.
The Sandwich: Canarino tre Formaggio
Cheese: Piave Veccio (grated), Fontina Val d’Aosta (rind removed, sliced), Robiola (rind removed, sliced)
Other ingredients: pan-sautéed shrimp, chopped rapini leaves and stems, freshly minced garlic, cooked pancetta, charred tomatoes
“Italian food may be my favorite,” says the chef. “All of these ingredients are bold on their own and pair in a harmonious and very satisfying way together. Grilling focaccia adds the toasty, crispy texture and smoky flavor. Rapini has a fresh, slightly bitter flavor that works well with garlic and the full-flavored cheeses. Pancetta is salty and crispy; shrimp adds unexpected pleasing flavor and chew.” Alongside, Power says to serve some charred tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
The chef says to pair his Fantasy Grilled Cheese with a good cool beer. “I have to say that Legend’s Brown Ale is my go-to; we’ve had it on tap since we opened in 2003.”
Fat Canary is located at 410 W. Duke of Gloucester St., Williamsburg. 757-229-3333
The Place: The Grilled Cheese Bistro
Open for just a few months, The Grilled Cheese Bistro has already melted its way into many folk’s hearts.
And no, you are not reading this incorrectly: the menu consists of only grilled cheese sandwiches. Learn more about them here.
The Big Cheese: Dina Taylor
“I grew up in a home where entertaining was a form of art,” says Taylor. “My parents took it as a way to bring family and friends into their home and make them feel comfortable in every sense of the word. My mother was the key to my inspiration later in life when I realized what my career should be, and I turned to catering.”
She opened The Grilled Cheese Bistro in late 2014.
The Sandwich: The Mind Trip
Bread: Walnut and bleu cheese rustic sourdough
Cheese: Sharp Wisconsin cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano
Other ingredients: Chorizo, prosciutto, chimichurri, sun-dried tomato, artichoke hearts and caramelized onions
“These are my favorite ingredients, and when brought together, the flavors blend deliciously,” says Taylor. “I call it the Mind Trip because your mind starts tripping when the flavors kick in.”
Alongside, Taylor says to serve a thick soup for dipping, like their Tomato Bisque.
She notes to pair her Fantasy Grilled Cheese with Starr Hill Brewing’s The Love, a German hefewisen-style beer. “This wheat beer is just the perfect complement to the flavors in the sandwich.”
The Grilled Cheese Bistro is located at 345 Granby St., Norfolk. 757-233-2512
The Place: Salt
“We use full linen service in a relaxing and calming atmosphere,” says executive chef Justin Kealiinohomoku. “We focus on fresh, local cuisine with an Asian twist. Our tagline is ‘modern, eclectic, fusion.’”
If this grilled cheese sounds tasty to you, you don’t have to make it at home, says the chef; it will be featured as a dinner special at Salt and will also be added to the lunch menu.
The Big Cheese: Executive Chef Justin Kealiinohomoku
Starting his culinary career in 2004 after exiting the United States Navy, Kealiinohomoku learned the art of cheese and charcuterie, then opened Soya Sushi Bar and Bistro in Virginia Beach as head chef in 2005.
“It was there where I learned regional culinary flavors and the love for fine foods,” he says. In 2009 Kealiinohomoku began a tenure with Eurasia where he remained before opening Salt in 2013.
The Sandwich: Spammm
Cheese: Edam, fontina, both sliced thin
Other ingredients: Scallion, Spam, duck fat (to grill the bread in)
Hawaii is the biggest consumer of Spam, and it’s used in this recipe as a nod to Kealiinohomoku’s heritage.
The salty, meaty flavor of the spiced ham pairs well with the rich, creaminess of both cheeses, Edam and fontina, and is offset with a bit of texture and sharpness from sliced scallion. Kealiinohomoku’s creation is made even more decadent by grilling the piquant sourdough bread in duck fat.
“[Grilled cheese sandwiches are the ultimate] comfort food and are delicious, he says. “They can be made in so many different ways, so it makes it fun for the family.”
Indeed, the chef says that it is with the family where the life-long love affair was kindled with him. “As a kid, I loved snowy days and coming inside when my mom had made grilled cheeses with Campbell’s tomato soup.”
Alongside his creation, Kealiinohomoku says to serve some sweet and spicy tomato bisque to have the ultimate grilled cheese and soup combination.
The chef says to pair his Fantasy Grilled Cheese with a good Virginia beer and recommends Devil’s Backbone’s Vienna Lager.
Salt is located at 1716 Pleasure House Rd., Virginia Beach. 757-962-2325. Read more about them here.
The Place: Vintage Tavern
Vintage Tavern has been a top pick for Coastal Virginia Magazine’s Platinum Plate awards and was one of OpenTable’s top 50 restaurants in the nation.
The Big Cheese: Executive Chef Kenny Reynolds
Reynolds grew up on a 16-acre farm in Danville, where his mother was a chef and his father a “restaurant guy.” “I went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales from 2002 to 2004 and worked with Amy Brandt at the Lucky Star for about two years,” he says. “I moved to Vintage Tavern in 2006, where I’ve been since. I started as a sous chef/pastry chef, and in 2013 I became the executive chef.”
The Sandwich: Foggy Mountain Grilled Cheese
Bread: A sweet, buttery brioche from pastry chef Brandon Hill
Cheese: Humboldt fog, a goat cheese that has a layer of ash separating the morning milk from the evening milk
Other ingredients: Smoked apple-bourbon jelly, Edwards Surryano ham
“Grilled cheese is probably the first thing my mom ever taught me to cook,” he says. “[I love its] simplicity.” “The comfort of a grilled cheese is in no way comparable to that of any other comfort food out there. It just says ‘mom.’”
Alongside, Reynolds says to serve some pickled fruit to help cut the richness from the other very indulgent ingredients.
The chef says to pair his Fantasy Grilled Cheese with a good local cider, such as Bold Rock.
Vintage Tavern is located at 1900 Governors Pointe Dr., Suffolk. 757-238-8808 www.VintageTavernVirginia.com
Need more beer suggestions to pair with these fantasy grilled cheeses? See our picks for local spring beers.