Everything about a properly made grilled cheese sandwich -- perfectly toasted white bread, browned with a slathering of butter that steps up to the edge of excess; tiny, golden-brown crumbs that cling to greasy fingertips; American cheese so hot it pulls apart in small strings; a satisfying crispness in every bite -- ensures our lifelong love. Bonus points for sandwiches served on a cool and cloudy day. Ditto if a steaming bowl of tomato soup is within reach.
The strength of a grilled cheese sandwich is its simplicity. Children everywhere are convinced their mothers are capable of magic, when most of us -- so long as the butter is soft -- can replicate their sorcery with just one hand. A child with enough patience to tend a low and steady flame can even cast the same spell. For many cooks, grilled cheese sandwiches are a gateway to the culinary promised land.
They're also a great way for restaurants to connect with their customers, who are transported back in time with one bite. And it doesn't hurt that they are cheap to make, which is good for the bottom line. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before grilled cheese sandwich restaurants griddled their way across the country. Here in Dallas, the melted-dairy surge started with Ruthie's, a food truck emblazoned with a cartoon pig that now has four trucks rolling around the city. Lee's Grilled Cheese is a truck based in Fort Worth that subsequently went brick and mortar. And now Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. promises heart-warming sandwiches from the edge of the Bishop Arts District.
Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. is the work of Mack Simpson and Diana Ezzell. They took over a space that held a relocated bookbinding business and gutted it, dressing it out in a style that could be called hardware-store chic, with power-outlet boxes turned sugar-packet holders and galvanized iron shaped into a beer supply system. The bar taps are fed from above, so they look like they're levitating behind the bar.
There's more. Most water supply lines run behind walls and under sinks, but in the bathrooms here, copper emerges from the wall, framing the mirror before it spills out to wet your hands. There's no warm water, but the makeshift faucet looks pretty cool. The bar is a repurposed truck bed, and light fixtures and installations made from angle iron all have a handcrafted appeal. It's a sharp-looking dining room that seems almost out of touch with the humble menu.
While we're talking about plumbing, it's probably a good time to tell you that the majority of those beer taps are devoted to local craft breweries. But there are a few for those craving a cold Bud or similar brews, and there's a sizable cocktail list, affirming that Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. is as much a place for drinking as for chowing down.
Taking center stage is a humble sandwich we all know. "The Classic" offers just what you'd expect, with evenly toasted, soft bread that's not too oily, and melting American cheese. It's just how Mom made it, and if you want (and you should), you can have it with a dressed-up take on the same tomato soup she poured from a can.
Maybe you're a dunker. Maybe, like me, you like to tear off a few hunks of grilled cheese and toss them into the bowl, to be fished out with a spoon after a generous bath. However you unite the two, you'll find they come together harmoniously. The soup is warming, with tomato bits floating about, and it's served with a sizable dish of compound butter you absolutely should use to enrich the soup. Dump in the butter (yes, all of it, if you like) give it a few moments to soften, and then stir the soup vigorously with your spoon. The butter emulsifies easily, and now you know how most chefs make restaurant food taste so good. A slice of bologna makes an upgraded version of this classic more substantial, as does a scoop of ground beef dressed in Manwich sauce, but for the most part, attempts to make sandwiches more alluring by adding more ingredients fall short of that simple, classic sandwich we all know and love. Often, the further the kitchen gets from the basic recipe, the more its flaws show.
The Reuben and Cuban, for instance, shine a brighter light on lesser ingredients. Tough corned beef and bland pork make for underwhelming and forgettable sandwiches. Right around the corner, at ¡C Señor!, there's a Cuban sandwich that blows it out of the water. It's nearly twice the size and a buck cheaper.
There are other ways your bill can creep up at Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. The bacon lollis are a $7 ticket to four thin strips of bacon, and cocktails can set you back as much as $16. These prices aren't high enough to cause sticker shock, but the ingredients are mostly food-service grade and the service, while polite, is far from polished.
Chicken wings? More like pigeon wings. They were small the first time I ordered them, and they seemed to defy the laws of avian genetics on the second. Ingredient sourcing is particularly upsetting here, because the wings are perfectly fried and doused in a solid wing sauce. Get the onion rings, which are crisp and lightly breaded, instead.
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Order those onion rings with a simple grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of that tomato soup and you'll get the most out of Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. Pretend you're at your childhood table and update that glass of whole milk with a cold pint of Community Public Ale. There's a decent-sized patio with plenty of sunshine just outside the front door of the restaurant, and you might want to spend a little more time there as the weather warms up. There's even a second bar that will assure your beer stays topped off.
But there is no grilled cheese epiphany here -- at least nothing most of us haven't already discovered at home. We often look to restaurants to provide us dishes we can't or can't be bothered to make on our own, and Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. provides recipes we already know intimately. Given a little practice and access to a farmers market, most of us could best them easily.
Dallas Grilled Cheese Co. 310 W. 7th St., 214-944-5515, dallasgrilledcheese.com, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday-Friday, $$
Classic grilled cheese $2.99 Bologna $3.99 The Dude $5.99 Onions rings $2.99 Tomato soup $2.99