Grilled Expose

Written by Carey Sweet Category: Three Bites Issue: February 2012

Kentak’s globetrotting take on grilled cheese is called a griddled halloumi. For folks not up on the traditional cheeses of Cyprus, halloumi is crafted from a mixture of goat and sheep milk, and has a mozzarella-like texture (sometimes so firm that when it’s cooked, it squeaks against your teeth). While Kantak’s sammie is squeak-free, it’s full of flavor, topped with earthy chickpea puree, tart pickles, sweet Campari tomato, tender greens and pungent tahini – all stuffed in a slightly spongy Serbian lepinja flatbread roll that soaks up the tomato juices while staying crunchy on the edges. Also look for grilled cheese concoctions in Kantak’s daily specials, such as mozzarella, tangy sopressata and pickled Peruvian peppers; or ham, cheddar and pickled cherry tomatoes on caramelized French bread.

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Archie’s Deli
17221 N. Litchfield Drive, Surprise

This New York-style deli specializes in mile-high deliveries of meat, cheese and veggies stuffed between two pieces of house-made bread. Their stacked-to-the-rafters griddled cheese beauties are a bit challenging to get your mouth around, but worth the effort.

Archie’s offers multiple versions of the venerable grilled-cheese, such as Rosa’s Walk in the Park, which layers handmade mozzarella, tomatoes and garlic pesto on grilled whole wheat bread, or Tony’s Special – mozzarella, sweet piquillo peppers, lettuce, tomato, olive oil and vinegar stuffed in an Italian roll and grilled. The Motor City Meltdown is blissful simplicity, with oodles of American cheese grilled to gooey golden perfection on  challah. For spice fiends, Al’s Excuse delivers mounds of muenster cheese topped with fire-roasted green chile, tomato and avocado on grilled whole wheat bread. Everything is better with butter, of course, so the Maggio’s Magic Home Run contains an extra layer of butter and Swiss cheese grilled into a crunchy crust on the outside of a farm bread sandwich already bursting with ham, Swiss and dijon.

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Essence Bakery
825 W. University Drive, Tempe

Chef-owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos champions local, seasonal and organic ingredients, baking her own breads and displaying the finesse she learned during her culinary training at Ecole Lenôtre in Paris. So even though her venue is a casual café plush with pastry cases, the food is of the finest caliber.

Consider her clever salute to grilled cheese, which comes, unexpectedly, in a tangy-sweet salad. The base begins with organic greens, glistening with zinfandel vinaigrette and tossed with warm, red wine-poached pears, caramelized onions and pecans. For the crowning touch, Theodosopoulos adds a grilled bleu cheese sandwich. Though listed on the menu as “mini,” the sammie is an ample half-portion. Similarly, she marries grilled cheese to a Caprese salad with a sandwich crafted from fresh-baked brioche, fresh mozzarella, Willcox-grown tomatoes and organic basil. And for a French twist on what’s essentially grilled cheese, Theodosopoulos offers a mouthwatering Croque-Monsieur, layered with gruyere and savory ham, sparked with jalapeños and brushed with béchamel.