Big deal, it’s easy to make a grilled cheese sandwich. That’s what the troll on my shoulder reminds me whenever I encounter a grilled cheese restaurant. His words are more nefarious because they’re true. I’m a better eater than chef, and even I have made many exceptional grilled cheeses in my lifetime. And that includes a number of 2-am, after-last-call grilled cheeses, using whatever ingredients were found lying around my kitchen. Even at such late hours, when I’ve had too much to drink to drive myself home, I’ve been able to operate a buttered pan and spatula well enough to melt cheese between sliced bread.
8849 Villa La Jolla Dr #305, La Jolla
So part of me was ready to discount The Melt before I set foot inside its doors, which I found at a university-adjacent La Jolla shopping center. The California fast casual chain started in San Francisco, then made its way south, and virtually every item on its menu features cheese. Aside from a couple of salads, they all feature melted cheese, whether patty melt burgers or grilled chicken breast sandwiches.
Of course the anchors of its menu are grilled cheeses, including those featuring steak, bacon, or mushrooms. And I expected to like them — I would have been more surprised if a shop called The Melt managed to somehow screw up the grilled cheese concept. But I expected to walk away thinking, “Whatever, I can do better.”
Maybe I can. But I haven’t yet.
To begin with, The Melt’s three-cheese blend of sharp cheddar, muenster, and fontina cheese hits the mark, maintaining elasticity without forfeiting flavor or getting lost in grease. The restaurant labels the simple white bread slices used in its sandwiches, “artisanal French bread,” and again my troll side wants to judge. However, it crisps really well with butter, while retaining a soft and chewy center. That’s a fine, basic grilled cheese for $5.99.
What earned my respect, though, is the egg in a hole melt. People have come up with dozens of different names for the act of frying an egg into a hole cut out of a slice of bread. Some households call it egg in the basket, one eyed jack, circus toast, bird’s nest, or — my favorite — hobo toast. At my house, we grew up giving it the backwards name, hole-in-the-egg, and like any cooking technique that involves cooking a slice of bread, I’ve spent a lifetime mastering it. But I’ve never tried to grill a cheese with one. It starts at $6.79, but I added an extra topping (avocado) for a buck. I might have wanted the yolk to be runnier, but with the goopy cheese, having it in that in between liquid and solid state suited the sandwich fine. My pinched little sandwich didn’t look like much, but I found it extremely satisfying.
Even better was the mac daddy: a macaroni and cheese sandwich. Also $6.79, it features bacon and onions. For a dollar add-on, mine should probably have gotten more baby spinach than it did. But the lack of greenery didn’t stop this low carb dieter’s nightmare from permanently silencing my inner troll. A pasta sandwich has definitely been missing from my 2 am kitchen efforts, so if nothing else, give The Melt credit for giving us grilled cheese aces something to aspire to.