National Grilled Cheese Day: It was his favorite Saturday sandwich, and they killed it

April 12, 2013|By Jonathan Gold
  • Kokomo was home to a savory grilled cheese sandwich. "Upgrades" to the sandwich didn't do it any favors.
Kokomo was home to a savory grilled cheese sandwich. "Upgrades"… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

There was a period in my life when I had lunch every Saturday at Kokomo, a lunch counter in that odd part of Farmers Market between DuPar's and the place where they grind the horseradish.

Kokomo had a rack of movie magazines to read while you waited for your malted, and it was famous for its overloaded hamburgers and its New Orleans-style egg dishes. But the dish I ordered every time was the grilled cheese sandwich – the torta de queso al carbon – which was a crunchy, toasty thing stuffed with smoky gobs of chipotles pureed with sun-dried tomatoes, a few leaves of cilantro, and melted cheddar and provolone cheese that oozed from the crisped, sourdough toast with every bite.

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You could get the sandwich with a rasher or two of chewy, double-smoked bacon inside, and I always did. In the days before Barq’s sold its soul to the Coca-Cola Co., Kokomo was the only place in town where you could score an icy bottle of the intensely herbal root beer, which they flew in from New Orleans.

My wife despaired: She liked going to different restaurants, not the same one every time. I was faithful and happy.

Then Kokomo changed its formula -- substituting ripe heirloom tomatoes for the sun-dried, I think, and possibly swapping out the bread for something more artisanal. On paper it may have been a better sandwich, but I always thought the juiciness of the fresh tomato interfered with the essential crispy-chewy interplay, sogging the bread out just that extra 2%, and the crust of the better bread interfered with the meaty chaw of the bacon.

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Did I try to replicate that sandwich myself? Of course I did, experimenting with sun-dried tomatoes, oven-dried tomatoes and imported tomatoes preserved in oil; with sourdough from La Brea Bakery and the old Pioneer; with bacon from Nueske’s, Father’s and Benton; with homemade mayonnaise, Best Foods and doctored Miracle Whip. None of them ever came out the same.

By the time Kokomo pulled up roots at the market to move to a proper restaurant space half a mile away, the torta al carbon had long disappeared from the menu, and my weekly visits had become closer to bi-annual ones -- and just a few months ago, the second Kokomo itself faded away.


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