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The grilled-cheese sandwich is ours, and I want it back.
I propose that the revolution begin at Chedd's Gourmet Grilled Cheese, a little place close to downtown Denver that specializes in that most humble of modern peasant foods, which shall hereafter be known, in the French style, as the American mother sandwich.
15775 E. Briarwood Circle
Aurora, CO 80016
Gourmet grilled cheese, one
bread, one cheese:
Daily bratwurst: $4.50
Chedd's is a nice spot. Open for six months, it's spare, clean, bright and unassuming, flanked by a yoga studio, surrounded by the well-scrubbed facades of brand-new loft apartments. Better still, there's unmetered parking all around it -- and I know how much culinary rebels hate to pay for parking.
Inside, the walls are sparsely hung with mementos of Wisconsin, home state of Dirk Bruley, the owner and a man richly steeped in cheese. There's a state flag, some framed posters with pictures of cheese or witty sayings about cheese, a map where you can stick a little pin to mark where you came from (if you are one of the lucky few to have escaped from Wisconsin), another map that shows the hundreds of cheese- (and beer-) producing regions of America's Dairyland. (New state motto: Wisconsin -- More than just snow!) In back are the counter and cooler cases packed to their glass fronts with cheese, cheese and more cheese. And behind the counter is Dirk or his wife, Wendy, or sometimes both, and sometimes their boys as well, the whole bunch of them looking just as pure and wholesome as a tall glass of fresh milk. In short, Chedd's is the last place anyone would expect to foment a revolution.
Which is why it's so perfect.
From here -- from this very spot -- we will take back the sandwich as an archetype of American cuisine and elevate it to the lofty heights where it belongs. And it will start with the lowly mother sandwich, because grilled cheese is all that Chedd's does, and I respect the Bruleys for this single-minded, brilliant, peasant obsessiveness. On the chalkboard hanging behind the counter, Dirk and Wendy have writ large all we need to know about the revolution, listing twelve kinds of bread, 35 kinds of cheese (almost thirty brought in from Wisconsin), eight meats and a dozen varieties of vegetables and spreads. There are also condiments, mustards and dressings. Taken in toto, according to my careful calculations, this makes for 17 billion possible sandwich combinations.
Take that, Escoffier.
The plain grilled cheese, font of all wonders, results from the simplest unification of yellow cheese, white bread and heat. At Chedd's, the mother sandwich is built with Vienna white -- a soft, dense bread with a tender crust like Wonder's Continental cousin -- and mild Wisconsin cheddar, grilled in a sandwich press. This is a calculated, studied, perfected version of the Velveeta-on-white-bread sandwich we grew up with as kids, a taste that wakes in anyone who was ever a child in America some seriously comforting sense memories of snowy nights or long summer afternoons with Mom (or Dad) at the stove and cartoons on the TV. This is what we ate when we were poor and there was nothing else, or what we ate if we weren't poor and wanted nothing else. It is Americana typified, Norman Rockwell, Ozzie and Harriet and the nuclear family all rolled into one. It is childhood on a plate.
And from this most basic of beginnings, the variations are endless. Maybe you spent summers with your hippie aunt in San Francisco -- the one with all the cats, who always smelled like burnt grass clippings -- and were forced to endure her vegetarian, macrobiotic, cruelty-free diet. At Chedd's, turn your bread to cracked wheat or Aspen seven-grain, your cheese to Monterey Jack, maybe add some pesto or sun-dried-tomato spread, and there you go: grilled cheese, Haight-Ashbury style. If you were more of a So-Cal kid, there's the California Coast -- one of Chedd's signature melts -- with Jack, sun-dried tommy and tuna on grilled Dakota bread.
Or perhaps you grew up among the brownstones of the Upper West Side and would feel at home with the Rye Knot -- wonderfully mild light rye grilled with delicately sour aged Swiss, pastrami and Thousand Island dressing. Me? I was a Rust Belt kid and miss my beef on weck, but there's a melt in the new American mother sandwich pantheon that goes a long way toward filling that particular hole in my belly: the Heartburn. Sharp, mean, green horseradish Jack melted on a white rustic roll with roast beef, onion and spicy mustard -- but hold the sauerkraut, please. Not all food memories from my childhood are good ones.
There's the Oinkey for the pork fanatic, with bacon and salami, bacon cheese (sharp cheddar studded with bacon bits and greasy with pork fat) and salami cheese (done the same way, but with salami) on a beautiful, solid and crusty potato-rosemary roll from Bluepoint Bakery. Another version combines farmer's cheese (like a sharp white cheddar), dill havarti (soft and smoky European), pesto and relish on marble rye; it emerges from the press crisp and greasy and packing more competing and complementary flavors between two slices of bread than any sandwich since the Dagwood.
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