So what makes the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich? Is it the type of cheese? Bread? And, well, is bread even necessary?
We checked with the experts at the Los Angeles Times Food section, asking each to describe what constitutes the ultimate grilled cheese. Descriptions are below; photos are above.
Have some napkins handy and enjoy.
PHOTOS: Celebrate grilled cheese with 12 recipes from the Test Kitchen!
A child's party hat made of cheese
-- Jonathan Gold, L.A. Times restaurant critic
I may bang on about this a bit too much, but I am a fan of the chicharrones de queso at Loteria Grill -- not a grilled sandwich, per se, but actual grilled cheese -- grated onto a griddle, cooked until it flattens into a cheesy dosa, then folded while still hot and pliable into the shape of a child's party hat. A child's party hat made of cheese.
It comes to the table still hot enough to sizzle on your tongue, with a bit of fresh guacamole and a small stack of warm, just-made corn tortillas, with which you assemble any number of crunchy cheese tacos. Get a michelada too, a cold beer fortified with chile, lime and a whole lot of things you're probably better off not knowing about, and you've got an afternoon.
I always thought chicharrones de queso was an invention of Jimmy Shaw, the Mexico City-raised proprietor, until a fairly exact facsimile was served to me at 3 a.m. in a Durango-style Guadalajara dive. You can find a recipe for chicharrones de queso here.
Loteria Grill, with various locations including 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (323) 930-2211
Something almost mystical
-- Russ Parsons, L.A. Times Food editor
OK, admittedly, this might be stretching the definition just a little bit. But I’ll argue that the main thing everybody really loves about grilled cheese sandwiches is melted cheese. And at least I didn’t suggest pizza (an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich?). Seriously, though, this quesadilla has become a part of our regular weeknight rotation, if you allow for variations based on what we happen to have in our fridge. And although I’d never argue for the superiority of one bread over another, I have to say there is something almost mystical about the smell of toasting corn tortillas when you’re really hungry. Click here for the recipe.
A French grilled cheese sandwich slathered in béchamel sauce
-- S. Irene Virbila, L.A. Times restaurant critic
"The menu... [at Bar Covell includes a] stellar hot offering, a classic Croque Monsieur, which if you don't already know, is a French grilled cheese sandwich slathered in béchamel sauce. Presented with a thatch of baby greens in a sharp mustardy dressing, I caught the scent of nutmeg in the béchamel as our server set the bubbling cheese sandwich on the low table. It's a very good Croque, that's for sure..." -- from an "Early Bird" write-up, July 26, 2010
Bar Covell, 4628 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles 90027, (323) 660-4400
-- Betty Hallock, L.A. Times deputy Food editor
The grilled cheese sandwich served at the bar at Lucques is a classic. I love strong, buttery Cantal, which has enough tang – I don’t like mild cheeses in my sandwiches. It’s also known for being fondue-friendly (i.e. it’s very melt-able), and there is enough of it that it oozes out between the two slices of country bread. The sandwich also has caramelized shallots that are cooked with thyme. No tomato soup necessary. And it goes equally well with a gin martini, glass of Burgundy or malty brown ale. Click here for the recipe.
Lucques, 8474 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles 90048, (323) 655-6277
-- Jenn Harris, L.A. Times Web producer
My favorite grilled cheese of all time is the grilled cheese sandwich from Martha’s 22nd Street Grill in Hermosa Beach. When I was a child my aunt and uncle, who lived nearby in Redondo Beach, would take my sister, mom and dad and I to Martha’s for brunch on Saturdays. My mother and I would order the exact same thing every time: the grilled cheese sandwich with Havarti cheese and a bowl of chicken and cilantro soup. You can choose whatever cheese you want for the grilled cheese, but the mild and nutty Havarti is perfect with the toasted, buttery sourdough. It’s simple, but delicious with three ingredients -- sourdough bread, butter and cheese. After each bite, the melted cheese would create long strands of runaway Havarti. I’d gradually pull the sandwich away from my mouth, stretching the cheese as far as it would go, then wrap the strands around my fingers before eating them. After the soup cooled, I’d take the sandwich and dunk the crust corners straight into the bowl. The bites that caught up stray, wilted pieces of cilantro from the soup were by far the best.
Martha’s 22nd Street Grill, 2nd St., No. 25, Hermosa Beach 90254, (310) 376-7786
Kind of like a turducken -- but with cheese
-- Noelle Carter, L.A. Times Test Kitchen manager
This sandwich -- a turducken, but with cheese -- starts out simply enough. Take a couple slices of sturdy bread and stuff with a layer of cheese. Place on a lightly buttered hot skillet and start to grill. When the first side is golden brown, flip the sandwich over. Top the already grilled side with another cheese and a little something extra -- say, mozzarella and sliced tomato. Flip the sandwich over and do another layer. You get the idea.
More here on how to build a nine-layer grilled cheese masterpiece.
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You can find Noelle Carter on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest. Email Noelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.