Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Restaurants

Craving grilled cheese? These Tampa Bay restaurants serve the best

Grilled cheese is home. It's a quick meal that's filling and tasty and so easy to execute that it mystifies when someone messes it up.

Most restaurants reserve a place for grilled cheese on their kids' menus, a universal option to satiate junior who is going through his picky eater phase. I am not a child. Also, I love grilled cheese. If calories weren't an issue, it would probably be one of only four things I ate everyday.

Because it's so easy to make, many find it hard to justify paying $10 for a couple slices of white bread and a some Kraft Singles. But we live in the age of nostalgia, and as such, some restaurants and eateries are getting hip to the awesomeness of grilled cheeses by making them for adults. Taking it up a notch from your mom's grilled cheese with gourmet ingredients and unexpected pairings, there are many new ways to eat this old comfort food.

Vaunted by many, The INDIE Grilled Cheese from Tampa's Independent Bar and Cafe delivers on the grown-up dining experience simply by substituting the tomato bisque of old with a tiny house salad jam-packed with field greens, maytag blue cheese, walnuts, grapes and poppyseed vinaigrette. The sandwich itself seems to be press-grilled with little rivets in blackened rye slices that hold together pears sautéed in honey and spices, and gouda. Keeping the pears on the sandwich increases the level of difficulty for the simple dish, but it doesn't make an obscene mess. The bread also stays warm long after they've plopped it on your table. It all feels very chic even as you wash it down with a beer.

Wright's Gourmet Cafe elevated the classic recipe with fresh ingredients and lots of them. The busy South Tampa bakery and deli offers indoor and outdoor and seating for lunch, but the vibe is no different from any other neighborhood lunch spot. The grilled cheese is a different story. Clocking in at almost half a pound, the fresh-baked white buttercrust bread is packed with a tomato (salt and pepper optional) and imported Jarlsberg cheese. The gooeyness recalls rainy days, cartoons and tomato soup. The bread didn't get soggy even after sitting on the table for 15 minutes. It also travels well in a foil sleeve and stays hot.

There's no place to sit around The Cheesery Food Truck, but that's no problem, because their piping hot creations keep warm in stryofoam containers as you travel to your destination or back to your desk. Menu offerings stick on everything from apples and cinnamon to jalapenos and cranberries. But our winner was The Great White, a grilled cheese filled with ricotta, parmesean, mozzarella, asiago, roasted tomato and basil. Similar to a pizza sandwich but far more elegant, as the unexpected texture of ricotta takes the taste closer to fine dining. Honorable mention goes to the simply named The Grilled Cheese, which has a blend of cheddar, harvati and American that tastes like home-cooking if you went to Le Cordon Bleu.

Curiosity drew me all the way to Alesia Restaurant in St. Pete after rave reviews of the French/Vietnamese cafe's croque monsieur hit the net. Not technically a grilled cheese (the sandwich is baked or toasted) Alesia's version didn't disappoint. The croque monsieur with jambon de paris (ham), sautéed onions, gruyère, portobello mushroom and mornay sauce is a knife-and-fork meal best eaten slow lest you finish it and regret the massive caloric intake. All savory with soft-but-not-soggy bread, the sandwich satisfies quickly. That doesn't mean you'll stop eating.

There's a slight carnival atmosphere at the Burg Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg — see the Fried Twinkie a la Mode on the dessert menu, for example. Or try the Double Grilled Cheese Bacon Burger, which is as unholy as it sounds: An 8-ounce burger with two whole grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches serving as the bun. Despite the impressively toasty crisp to the crust, the sandwiches themselves leave a little to be desired. The gummy yellow cheese congeals quickly, and four slices is simply too much bread — the thing is a solid 3.5-inches thick, and it falls apart too easily. Still, the sheer monstrosity of the otherwise tasty burger is what's worth savoring. If you're looking for fair food minus the fair, this is a pretty close approximation.

Contributing: Jay Cridlin

Comments
Where you can trade in your Gasparilla beads for doughnuts

Where you can trade in your Gasparilla beads for doughnuts

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts will be trading old Gasparilla beads for its famous glazed doughnuts.Anyone who brings in 12 pounds of beads to Krispy Kreme on Saturday will be rewarded with a dozen original glazed doughnuts, according to a news release.For t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

This week food fests celebrate collard greens and Jewish foods

FIELD OF GREEN: COLLARD FESTOn Saturday you can devote your whole day to the beauty of collard greens. Well, that’s the jumping off point. Collards are the "central ingredient" at the Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival at St. Petersburg’s Historic Deuc...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

Review: Platt Street Borough is casual Tampa dining with high standards

TAMPAIt wasn’t that long ago that Platt Street was a bit of a conundrum for restaurateurs: Not exactly downtown, without the dense auto traffic of Kennedy, and far enough off the South Howard main drag that it didn’t entirely qualify as part of SoHo....
Published: 02/19/18
The Reading Room’s Lauren Macellaro and Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

The Reading Room’s Lauren Macellaro and Columbia’s Richard Gonzmart are James Beard semifinalists

It’s almost a sick joke. On the morning after Valentine’s Day, the second-busiest restaurant day of the year, chefs all over the country are hauling themselves out of bed early to find out: Did I make it onto this year’s James Beard Foundation list o...
Published: 02/15/18
Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters opens in South Tampa, plus learn how to roll sushi at Kelp

Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters opens in South Tampa, plus learn how to roll sushi at Kelp

LOVE STUNT: SUSHI ROLLSIf you dropped the ball Wednesday and did bubkes for your sweetie, here’s a tip: Through Sunday at Kelp in South Tampa, couples can dive into a reservations-only chef-led art of sushi rolling class that comes with bottomless sa...
Published: 02/14/18
Out of time this Valentine's Day? Five ways to still have a romantic meal

Out of time this Valentine's Day? Five ways to still have a romantic meal

Valentine’s Day is Wednesday, and that means your odds of scoring a reservation at a popular restaurant are roughly equal to the odds of you opening your own restaurant in time for dinner. Thinking about showing up somewhere with no reservatio...
Published: 02/13/18
Review: 2nd & Second will serve you 24/7 in St. Petersburg

Review: 2nd & Second will serve you 24/7 in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURGAn older couple sits at a booth, hunched over mugs of coffee, occasionally murmuring in a way that seems more soliloquy than conspiracy. Outside at a table, two travelers pay their tab, plates streaked with cold yolk. They ask for direc...
Published: 02/12/18
Review: Maybe the Lure can beat the odds at this unlucky South Tampa location

Review: Maybe the Lure can beat the odds at this unlucky South Tampa location

TAMPA - This will be my fourth review of restaurants in this space, all of them more or less favorable: Bistro Bleu (a sophisticated New American charmer), Marrakech (Yay! We have almost no Moroccan food here! Bring on the tagines!) and Catrinas Taco...
Updated one month ago
Here's what you can eat at the Armature Works' new Heights Public Market

Here's what you can eat at the Armature Works' new Heights Public Market

TAMPA — "This project will change the DNA of Tampa." Bold words from Ferdian Jap, co-owner of Zukku, one of 14 vendors who began selling their food and drink to the public Thursday at the anticipated Heights Public Market at the Armature Works...
Updated one month ago
Valentine’s Day ideas for Tampa Bay foodies: wine and chocolate, berry picking and more

Valentine’s Day ideas for Tampa Bay foodies: wine and chocolate, berry picking and more

PICKING: BERRY FASTLooking for something fun, yet competitive, to do with your sweetie in advance of Valentine’s Day? Wish Farms and Monte Package Co. are collaborating on the fifth annual Strawberry Picking Challenge this weekend.The main event Satu...
Published: 02/01/18
Updated: 02/07/18