Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Toasty Melts - The Godfather & Organic Tomato Soup

Grilled cheese has been kind of a thing lately. A certain new restaurant boasts near instant made-to-order grilled cheese sandwiches ordered from your smartphone. Season Two of the Great Food Truck Race until recently featured Roxy's Grilled Cheese from Boston. And on a recent Thursday Toasty Melts made a pleasantly unexpected (at least to me) appearance at Haight's Off the Grid. There are some signs you don't ignore, and this was one of them. Destiny told me to walk up to the window and order the Godfather and a cup of Organic Tomato Soup.

Not so long ago the humble grilled cheese sandwich didn't need a lot of explanation. White sandwich bread, butter, American cheese. Cook it in a frying pan, and serve it with a bowl of canned tomato soup. Every schoolkid and college student knew the recipe. Greasy, gooey, hot and delicious, it was the first thing my sister taught me to cook when I was barely tall enough to work a spatula and frying pan on the stove.

Nowadays the landscape has changed, and like many comfort foods, the basic grilled cheese has spun off an entirely different entity, with adornments ranging from artisan meats, seasonal vegetables, eggs and various sauces sharing the space between slices of bakery-fresh bread. The cooking technique, too, has undergone a change. While a pan or griddle is still a worthy option, some grilled cheeses come off a press or are even baked.

Enter the Godfather from Toasty Melts, and cue the Nino Rota score if you want. This thoroughly modern grilled cheese puts mozzarella, basil aioli, and prosciutto from Zoe's Meats together for a sandwich that your mother probably never made for a weekend lunch. The flavors are all fresh and vibrant. The aioli gives the sandwich a big basil kick, and the prosciutto brings just the right amount of salt, fat and savory flavor. The mozzarella is not the boldest of cheeses, but it does its job of marrying the sometimes chewy meat to the bread. And for an Italian-themed sandwich, there aren't a lot of choices for cheeses that melt.

Toasty Melts uses bread from Panorama, and it comes off the truck's griddle perfectly golden and especially crunchy. It can be a tough challenge to achieve a thorough melt while simultaneously warming the other fillings and not burning the bread, but Toasty Melts has found the right balance of technique and ingredients. Previously they used a softer bread from Sheng Kee that wasn't as forgiving as the Panorama bread. The sandwich comes with a small cup of Italian slaw.

The Organic Tomato Soup from Toasty Melts takes the classic grilled cheese accompaniment and puts a gourmet spin on it. The touch of cream and vegetable stock add depth to the soup and prevent it from being too tangy. There is a bit of peppery spice to it that makes it little overpowering as a dipping soup, especially for a more subtle sandwich like the Godfather. They make a spicier version, too, but the balance of this milder soup is just right. A few croutons take a swim in the red bath, adding a little crunch and heartiness to it. The soup is good. I mean really good. I would not hesitate to order it on its own.

So now comes the dilemma. What is this sandwich that wears the name "grilled cheese" but doesn't much resemble the American classic? While there is definitely a good deal of cheese on the Godfather, it doesn't exactly ooze off the bread and spill out onto the cooktop for that browned fried cheese lagniappe. The bread, while expertly toasted, isn't particularly greasy like the home cooked original, and it is pressed enough that the sandwich lacks a significant amount of height. In the end, this is a toasted cheese sandwich—a damn fine one, to be sure, but a grilled cheese it is not.

And that's OK. The hamburger can stand to be topped with foie gras, edible gold and five kinds of goat cheese while still remaining a burger, but the grilled cheese sandwich is too deeply rooted in tradition to be so gussied up. So leave the basic grilled cheese to the home kitchen, and let me have a Toasty Melt in peace.

Rating: 3.5/5 (ratings guide)

Toasty Melts (@toastymelts) $7 for the sandwich, $3 for a cup of soup

Toasty Melts on Urbanspoon

Does reading this make you want to try this vendor? Tell them that you saw them at I Left My Cart in San Francisco and support San Francisco street cuisine!

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