The Taste Bud: Grilled + Cheese = Yum

By now, you’ve probably already heard that a new restaurant called Tom + Chee opened recently in the Highlands at 1204 Bardstown Road. So what’s up with this place that has the funny name? I went to the grand opening to find out the very same thing.

Well, here it is: A restaurant where the entire menu is built upon the grilled cheese sandwich. It’s almost like it’s too obvious of a concept. And I know what you’re thinking — why didn’t I think of this? Why? Because Corey Ward and Trew Quackenbush thought of it first.

“My business partner and friend Corey came over for a cookout with our wives,” Quackenbush says, “and simply asked, ‘How about starting up a restaurant? How about grilled cheese?’”

Really? It’s that simple? I’ll be damned.

Anyway, Tom + Chee was giving away free samples at the grand opening, and what I tasted was pretty interesting. I had samples of four different types of basic grilled cheese sandwiches, made with various breads and cheeses — you can build your own for $3.50 and choose from classics like white, wheat, rye and sourdough, then stuff them with cheddar, American, pepper jack, etc. You can even get fancy for a buck extra (smoked gouda, anyone?).

I also had a specialty sandwich called the BBQ + Bacon, which is American cheese on white, with bacon and Grippo’s brand barbecue chips on the sandwich. It was crunchy yet creamy, and the barbecue flavoring added a nice spice to go with the salty bacon. You can get one of these bad boys for $5, and Quackenbush admits he’s got a soft spot for it. But there is another sandwich he likes just a tad better: the Bacon + Blue.

“Ooooh, tough choice,” he says, when asked which is better. “That’s like asking a parent which child they love more. The BBQ + Bacon is sweet-salty, spicy — all great characteristics for a sandwich. But being a huge bleu cheese guy, that probably would tip the scales for me. But I would just add barbecue chips to my bacon and blue so I didn’t sadden either sandwich. If I had to choose.”

He also favors the Italian-sourdough bread with mozzarella, ham, pepperoni, and salt and vinegar chips. Yeah, this is not your father’s grilled cheese sandwich.

To wit, one of the menu items that probably will capture a lot of attention is the glazed donut grilled cheese. Yep, you read that correctly — when you build your own, one of your bread choices is a glazed donut. Can you even imagine a grilled cheese sandwich made with a donut and, say, brie cheese?

But wait, there’s more: They’ve even got a full menu of “fancy” donut grilled cheese sandwiches, one of which is called the Mint Julep and apparently includes Woodford Reserve in the ingredients. I’m thinking the S’more might be a bit more palatable. (And yes, it’s chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker inside a donut, and then fried.)

Tom + Chee is actually part of a small chain based in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati. It has been featured on the Travel Channel and garnered some other nationwide attention, which is probably deserving. After all, someone had to come up with this idea, right?

“Well, it seemed like an easy sell,” Quackenbush says. “Who didn’t eat grilled cheese growing up? Most of us carry some fond memory of it. We just jazzed it up, made it a tad modern with some good old comfort roots. It was fun building the menu — picking flavors that melt into cheese and bread wasn’t too hard.”

They even have some wicked good tomato basil soup for dipping. All you have to do now is ask Mom if you can go outside and play after you clean your plate.