Those who know me well also know that there are two things I like to eat most - bacon in any form and grilled cheese sandwiches. It doesn't matter where I go, I order one or both of these yummy food treats. I've had bacon in countries where bacon is not considered a food to even ask for.
As an example, when we were shooting one of our Grannies on Safari travel shows in Morocco, I yearned for some bacon. While eating breakfast in a five-star hotel in Casablanca, I was moaning and groaning about no bacon. A few moments later a waiter leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I can get you bacon. Shall I bring you some?" I whispered in awe back to him, "Yes, oh yes" (I know, it seemed very romantic). Later, he gently placed a beautiful plate of bacon in front of me and walked away. Did I share my treasure with the rest of the crew? Well, yes I did. And, from then on during our time in Morocco, I was considered a hero because every hotel we stayed in, I was able to get bacon.
Grilled cheese sandwiches may seem like pedestrian food but a good grilled cheese sandwich is a work of art., and hard to find. I'm not talking about processed cheese and white-bread sandwiches; I'm talking about a golden, crusty-bread creation made with a rich, creamy cheese served hot and "melty." To me, it's all about the butter and bread, and the right kind of cheese - Gruyere, Brie, Wisconsin cheddar, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella, Swiss, or any cheese that easily melts.
In my quest for the tastiest grilled cheese, I've tried them all from sea to sea, and on many continents - delicate, buttery finger cheese sandwiches and robust, hearty sandwiches. But, my favorites are those that are full of melted cheese with fresh vegetables - tomatoes, basil, grilled onions, etc. Of course, if anyone throws in bacon then it's an additional plus for me.
A week or so ago, I was in Charleston, S.C., where I was invited to lunch at Eli's Table. What a classy restaurant located in the downtown area, and in walking distance to many of the well-known tourist destinations in the city. A "homey" feeling place known for its Lowcountry and Continental cuisine, I liked it immediately. Led to an outside table on the patio and, thanks to the friendly hostess, I felt as if I was invited to a private home. My lunch companion told me the executive chef, Joel Lucas, was dedicated to using farm-fresh ingredients along with ensuring the flavors and feel were consistent with the area's culture.
The lunch menu was really interesting and filled with good choices like the Crispy Oyster Salad, a BST (bacon, salmon, tomatoes and dill on sourdough bread), and Fried Green Tomatoes. But then I saw they offered a grilled cheese sandwich made with local tomatoes and basil. I had to try it along with my other favorite - onion rings. When the sandwich arrived it was perfect - melted cheese, fresh tomatoes and basil enfolded in buttery well-toasted sourdough. The tomatoes actually had flavor - I guess I'd been in the Midwest too long and forgotten how rich and sweet good tomatoes were. I inhaled the sandwich and the onion rings and decided that chef Lucas moved onto my best-grilled cheese sandwich list of all time. He was in good company because my other favorite place for grilled cheese is the Michael Jordan Steakhouse in Chicago. Their menu offers a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch every day - they just change the bread and the different types of cheese, with other ingredients. Yummy! I once had a grilled cheese on raisin bread with wonderful Brie.
So imagine my happiness to find Eli's Table and their offering of a grilled cheese sandwich. It was then I knew that Chef Lucas was a serious chef who understood the nuances of taste and the pairing ingredients that make what could be a common sandwich even better. The next time I go to Charleston you can bet Eli's Table will be my first stop - and not just for the grilled cheese, as his shrimp and grits and duck entrees are up next for me. Thank you, Chef Lucas!
So onward I go continuing to seek the tastiest grilled cheese sandwiches out there. If you find a restaurant that has great grilled cheese concoctions, let me know.
~ Granny Regina, anticipating another visit to Eli's Table and eating through Chef Joel's entire menu.
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