It has all the qualities of classic comfort food: a steaming mug of sweet tomato soup served with a sandwich of melting cheese inside slices of golden buttery toast. Moms have been presenting grilled cheese sandwiches to happy children for decades.
Once relegated to kitchen tables, school cafeterias, lunch counters, and diners, this satisfying combo is making a comeback in popular culture and high-end restaurants, and is poised to become the new mac and cheese. Slices of processed cheese and ordinary white bread have been replaced by farmstead favorites and chewy or rich loaves. The top lunchtime seller at Woodward in the Ames Hotel consists of thick brioche, comté and Gruyere cheeses, tomato, and applewood smoked bacon. For dipping or slurping there’s a side of fresh tomato soup. “The brioche sops it up nicely,’’ says executive chef Mark Goldberg. At the gastropub Garden at the Cellar, Iggy’s dense pullman is grilled with Vermont cheddar, and at Restaurant Dante, every Tuesday night you can order a different $2 grilled Italian-inspired cheese sandwich. Owner Dante de Magistris says, “I love all types of food, but crunchy bread and oozy cheese is crazy satisfying.’’
Rick Katz sees a similar response. At Picco, diners indulge in Clear Flour’s sourdough bread slathered with a five-cheese mornay sauce, filled with cheddar and brushed with butter. “We offer more interesting panini,’’ says the South End restaurateur, “but none sell as well as grilled cheese.’’