Rookie mistake, I think to myself as my eyes slowly drop down to the object on my plate. Well, two objects really. One being a misshapen blob of what was once a substantial gooey, yet crispy grilled cheese sandwich, now about the size of three fat stubby fingers. The other is a half-eaten bowl of tomato soup, which accompanies said sandwich, if one chooses the lunch special. I am sitting at two-top table, by myself, in theÂ Village at Shirlington’sÂ popular cheese, charcuterie and wine shop/restaurant, Cheestique, on a cool, cloudy weekday. It’s lunch time and while the Village is usually bustling, it’s Monday and quiet. This the end of stop one for my search for the “Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich Experience”.
Why in the world am I taking it upon myself to conduct such a hunt? And for those of you who know me personally, yes, I am lactose intolerant, but grilled cheese has never been a digestive issue for me (and let’s hope it stays that way). Think ice cream, cream, milk…ok, let’s not think about that. Ouch. Anyway, since I was a little girl, I found pure happiness in slices of cheese melted between two pieces of bread. Grilled cheese has been one of my go-to comfort foods. The funny thing is, today I would be loathe to eat one of my mother’s original sandwiches which she would call “toasted cheese” because she would place American (aka fake) cheese straight out of the clear plastic, onto bread and pop into the toaster oven. I thought at the time it was delicious because I didn’t know better, like the fact that Kraft slices weren’t even real cheese. Later, when I introduced to real nectar from the cows, I was hooked. I became an addict especially when I was presented with a GRILLED sandwich, from a pan, all hot, melty, crispy and heavenly.
So years and years passed by and I’ve had some memorable versions, unique expressions created by chefs and friends. I’ve even experimented myself, finding new types of cheeses and breads to use, along with various additives to modify the original taste. But lately, as I’ve plopped down in restaurants, I’ve started seeking the menu for the magic words “Grilled Cheese”. It’s been rare. And with cooler weather approaching (so they say, haven’t seen it yet), I’m ready to find a grilled cheese destination where I can cozy up with my favorite comfort meal, a glass of wine, maybe some soup, and look around and feel just good. It’s about the whole experience.
So back to Cheesetique. I say rookie mistake, because here on this day, I try to eat the entire sandwich and I also forget that tomato soup has cream in it, even though on the menu, it clearly states “Creamy Tomato Soup” (“Our classic recipe is topped with shreds of NY Cheese. A perfect grilled cheese dipper!”). The sandwich I choose is the Grown-up Grilled Cheese. It’s described as “a heap of artisan Prairie Breeze Cheddar melted to perfection on grilled sourdough.” It is their basic sandwich of the six listed. The others are: Grilled Pimento Cheese, Italian Stallion Cheese, Brie & Pear Melt, Grilled Caprese, and French Onion Press. I explain to my friendly server who let me choose my table, that I’m in search of the best grilled cheese and many had pointed me the direction of Cheesetique, thanks to Facebook. She expresses her gratitude and is extremely helpful, guiding me through the menu list. While the other five appear interesting, my tastes tend toward “traditional”. She tells me of the lunch special, which will include the tomato soup. I hand the menu back, but before she departs, I ask about the complementary wine. The menu suggests an “Oaky Chardonnay”, I shake my head no, no oaky Chardonnay for me. She has an idea and brings me a taste of a crisp 2013 St. Paul’s Pinot Grigio. It’s a go. The wait is not very long, as it’s a quiet Monday around noon. A few more patrons meander in, also eager to enjoy the spoils of the lunch special. They too seem to desire “comfort food” on this dreary fall day. I note that a group of four has split sandwiches. Smart move I realize later.
The white plate arrives with the sandwich displayed picture perfectly, white cheddar oozing, grill marks across the bread, and the bowl is filled with the steamy thick orangish soup. The first bite is hot, it’s buttery, it’s crispy from the grilled bread, and it’s drippy. I start what the menu suggests: dipping. One witnessing my ritual might think I haven’t eaten in days, or that I am making love to my food, but it is divine. I should have stopped at one half because the sandwich is an undertaking and it gets cold pretty fast. It’s very rich and when you add the creamy tomato soup which also has cheese, the end result is a gluttonous festival in your mouth (then I consider the festival will travel quickly to my belly, thighs, hips, and butt). I halt myself in time to not feel like I really overdid it. The wine is a good choice; it’s a pleasant cold contrast to the cheddar and warm buttery bread. I’m happy, satiated, kind of ready for a nap. My server tells me that when I come back, I can add a protein to the sandwich, try it that way. My entire lunch comes to $20. $10 for the lunch combination and $10 for the wine.
The ambiance of Cheesetique is neighborhoody and intimate. Again, it’s a shop, not just a restaurant, so there are customers who come in ordering from the cheese and charcuterie counter. There are shelves filled with wines, crackers, chocolate, and other items edible and not, that one would expect in a wine and cheese shop. If you like taking your drinks and meals at a bar instead, that’s an option, as there is a long bar with plenty of seating. And before it gets too cold, you can savor your salad, sandwich, wine, on the outside patio.
I give the entire “Grilled Cheese Experience” at Cheesetique : 8 out of 10. Try it yourself and let us know what you think!
Cheesetique in the Village at Shirlington is located at 4056 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA. 703.933.8787