The Definitive Guide to NYC's Best Grilled Cheeses in 2014

Goodness gracious, Gotham's got great grilled cheese!

It’s officially hibernation time in New York City, which means copious consumption of comfort food classics like grilled cheese sandwiches. But really, is there ever a time of year that a grilled cheese sandwich doesn’t hit the spot? It should come as no surprise that there's a plethora of amazing grilled cheese sandwiches in New York to be had anytime. What's astounding is the sheer range of flavor combinations, from traditional melts to seasonal twists to suped up monster ‘wiches. Read on to learn the names, cheesy provenance and trade secrets of the current 11 best grilled cheeses in New York, in no particular order:

1. The Maple Bacon at Melt Shop

With their exceptionally high-ingredients, reasonable price points and cool vibes, artisan sandwich shop Melt Shop has quickly become a beloved mini-chain in NYC. Part of their success is their inspired takes on grilled cheese sandwiches – the options are familiar but always have a unique twist. Spencer Rubin’s personal favorite changes all of the time, but his most recent favorite is the fall-appropriate Maple Bacon starring a double Wisconsin cheese whammy of Cheddar and Widmer’s Cheese Cellars award-winning Aged Brick Spread, layered between Orwasher’s Bakery bread with thick-cut Indiana bacon and Vermont maple syrup. It gets pressed on the grill with some salted butter for a perfect sweet-savory mash-up. Mind the drool.

2. The Valley Thunder at MeltKraft by Valley Shepherd Creamery

When Rebecca Foxman, Chef and Operating Manager at Valley Shepherd Creamery’s Meltkraft, first joined the creamery, she stayed at the Valley Shepherd farm in New Jersey and sampled over 30 styles of cheese to devise both classic pairings and unique flavor profiles for their farm-to-table grilled cheese concept. The R&D paid off and the resulting sandwich lineup balances taste and texture with a healthy dose of nostalgia. The Valley Thunder, for example, pairs a hearty helping of her own Bubbe’s brisket (plus baked macaroni and cheese!) with a sharp, slightly fruity 12-month cave-aged cloth-bound cheddar. The filling is stuffed between buttered slices of LeBus Bakery artisan bread and then finished with a big spoonful of the cooked-down braising liquid before grilling. There’s fennel and tomato soup for pairing, or you can cut some of the richness with a side of their red cabbage and fennel coleslaw.

3. Grilled Kimcheese at Porchetta

Chef Sara Jenkins originally devised this crazy delicious combination for her lunch menu at Porsena/Extra Bar; when Porsena stopped serving lunch, it was decided that the fan favorite was too good to lose and it found a new home at her sister East Village restaurant, Porchetta, co-owned by Matt Lindemulder. In addition to the porchetta, local purveyors supply the all-star ingredients: fresh mozzarella from Little Italy’s famed Di Palo’s, kimchi from Mrs. Kim’s, and crusty ciabatta from Grandaisy Bakery on Sullivan St. Once it’s grilled on a hot Panini press, one bite is all you need to understand how incredible sweet, gooey melted mozzarella works with tangy, spicy and garlicky pickled cabbage, anchored by the best porchetta in town. It’s any chef’s dream to create a dish whose ingredients, textures and acid and fat co-exist in perfect harmony. All you have to worry about is tasting it for yourself.

4. Classic Grilled Cheese at Murray’s Cheese Bar

The inspiration at Murray’s Cheese Bar was simply to create the perfect grilled cheese. With literally hundreds of cheeses at their disposal, Executive Chef Amy Stonionis and her team tested countless flavor combinations to come up with the perfect blend of melty and flavorful cheese for their take. The menu says ‘a blend of secret cheeses’, but the formula will likely go something like this: a base cheese like cheddar, plus a super melter such as Fontina Fontal or Gruyere, rounded out with a flavor boosting cheese like a young goat Gouda. Served on buttery, golden-crisped bread with a side of smoky tomato bisque, it’s pretty much the most perfect classic grilled cheese ever. For more melts, check out the full-service counter at their Bleecker Street retail shop, where there’s a selection of 16 grilled cheese sandwiches ranging from breakfast melts to pulled pork and macaroni and cheese melts.

5. The Original Grilled Cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

At Seattle import Beecher’s Handmade Cheese they rely on their Flagship Cheddar, which doesn’t lose its flavor when melted, to make each of their grilled-to-order sandwiches sing. Take a seat in the café and order up the Original – it’s another study in classic done right, where whole wheat bread from Eli’s bakery houses a blend of Flagship and Just Jack cheese for an out-of-this-world gooeyness factor. You know what I mean – it’s that moment when you pull the bread apart and have to wrap the strings of melty cheese around the bite, lest you lose any cheesy goodness. Double down on the cheese factor and get a side of “World’s Best Mac & Cheese” or cut the richness with a cup of tomato Flagship soup.

6. Casellula

If CheeseRank had a restaurant counterpart, it would be Casellula: a delightful cheese café that’s equal parts sophistication and fun. Chef Megan Johnson has the grilled cheese’s core DNA, but upped the refinement ante by using a blend of two exceptional French melters: Fol Epi, an Emmental-style cheese with a nutty flavor from the Loire Valley, and Comte, a Gruyere-style cheese produced in the Franche-Comte eastern region of France. But being that Casellula is a cheese-focused restaurant, she didn’t stop there. There’s also a complex 12-month aged Tumbleweed Cheddar from 5 Spoke Creamery in Port Chester, NY, and the secret weapon, a spread of tangy goat cheese on each slice of Tom Cat Bakery sourdough. Each bite yields a buttery, firm crunch that gives way to a velvety flood of robust-yet-sweet ooey-gooey-meltiness. If you like a little meat with your cheese, you can add Berkshire smoked ham, Bresaola or when available, Mortadella.

7. The Delicate Cheese at Morris Truck

Mike Jacober always knew he wanted to open a food truck in NYC, but was stuck for inspiration until he tasted a life-changing grilled cheese at a Canadian hole-in-the-wall while on tour with his band, Fang Island. He realized the limitless possibilities for bread and cheese as a platform, and set to work creating a dream team roster of inventive grilled cheese sandwiches for Morris Truck. One of their bestsellers is the Delicate Cheese with its signature naughty-but-nice mix of Caciotta al Tartufo, a firm, semi-sharp white cheese studded with whole pieces of black truffles from Italy’s Piedmont region, plus truffle butter and caramelized shallots, all grilled between sourdough from Orwasher’s Bakery. Since they shy away from using truffle oil, the sandwich is a perfect balance of rich truffles, sharp cheese and a hint of sweetness from the shallots. Keep an eye out for seasonal specials like Raclette with toasty Vadouvan-spiced brown butter and pickled pumpkin, just in time for fall.

8. Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Friedman’s Lunch

My favorite grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch combo is at comfort food eatery Friedman’s Lunch in Chelsea Market. I mean, this thing automatically comes with bacon – from NY meat king Pat LaFrieda no less – so you know you’re off to a good start. Then there’s the blend of cheeses, sharp New York State aged white Cheddar and nutty Gruyere, balanced with sweet caramelized onions. The ingredients are layered on ciabatta from Amy’s Bread that’s been flipped inside out and then griddled with lots and lots of butter, giving the sandwich its trademark deep golden hue and earth-shatteringly crisp texture. Dunked in a cup of made-from-scratch daily tomato soup, each bite is like giving your tastebuds a hug.

9. Caprese at Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro

An Italian, a Frenchman and a Spaniard walk into a bar. Well, technically speaking they’ve always been there, albeit in sandwich form and in a cheese-centric bistro rather than a bar. At Artisanal Bistro, Chef Terrance Brennan takes inspiration from the cheese’s roots, like Brie for the Frenchie and Manchego for the Spaniard, to devise his grilled cheese creations. In the case of the Caprese, delicate and smooth house-made mozzarella is bolstered by Fontina, an Italian cow’s milk cheese that becomes buttery, rich and slightly pungent once pressed and melted. Fresh tomatoes and basil round out the classic Italian flavor profile, and a side of mixed greens, pickled veggies and house-made potato chips make for a complete lunch-only treat.

10. Gouda Grilled Cheese at The Queen’s Kickshaw

Comfort food emporium The Queen’s Kickshaw has a lock on what might be the most creative mash up of flavors in a grilled cheese sandwich. The Gouda takes inspiration from its neighborhood of Astoria, Queens and its diversity of cuisines: Gouda is a popular cheese in Brazilian cuisine, and the other components, pickled jalapeños, black bean hummus and guava jam, embody other ethnic cuisines. It’s a weird-sounding but absolutely delicious combination – the pickled jalapeños lend a spicy kick and help to cut the richness of the cheese, the black bean hummus adds a layer of subtle umami and the guava jam brings a sweet layer of complexity. Housed on a pillowy sliced Balthazar Bakery brioche, the sandwiches are first warmed in the oven to get the cheese melting then finished on the grill with clarified butter for a bronze sheen and toasty texture. The sandwich is so popular, that husband and wife team Ben Sandler and Jennifer Lim know they’d be facing a riot if it wasn’t available all day, so you can get your Gouda on just about anytime.

11. Roasted Butternut Squash Grilled Cheese at Little Muenster

Could the timing be any better? One of Little Muenster’s best-selling sandwiches is a riff on the popular autumnal pasta dish of butternut squash ravioli and sage. It’s a flawless interpretation, with a balance of smooth yet sharp Asiago, Sartori SarVecchio, a nutty Parmesan-style cheese, roasted butternut squash puree and sage brown butter, expertly layered on local Pullman bread. The secret to their Instagram-worthy sandwiches is that they use only flat top griddles (as opposed to panini presses), thereby preserving the aesthetic integrity of the classic grilled cheese. Though they’re always coming up with inventive seasonal twists, this is has fast become a classic; get your hands on one at their Hudson Eats and DUMBO outposts.
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The Valley Thunder at MeltKraft by Valley Shepherd Creamery
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Gouda Grilled Cheese at The Queen’s Kickshaw
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Classic Grilled Cheese at Murray’s Cheese Bar
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Grilled Kimcheese at Porchetta
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Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Friedman’s Lunch
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The Maple Bacon at Melt Shop
The Definitive Guide to NYC's Best Grilled Cheeses in 2014