Friday, October 14th, 2011
No, you’re not the only one craving grilled cheese and tomato soup as the rainy doldrums of winter approach. A national comfort food, it’s how generations of moms soothed away bad days and sore throats and coaxed us into taking early baths before the babysitter’s arrival.
And though we may be older now, preferring local sheeps milk cheese and caramelized onions to the lowly American cheese inside our artisan sourdough bread; heirloom tomato bisque instead of the humble can of Campbell’s, the mystique remains the same.
Wrap yourself in the warmth of a childhood favorite, no explanations needed. Dip and dunk shamelessly. Just don’t forget to check for cheese strings on your chin.
Here are a handful of local spots to indulge in this warm and fuzzy favorite.
Hopmonk Tavern: When it comes to tasty, soul-satisfying pub grub, Hopmonk has honed it’s kitchen skills to a fine art. Though there are plenty of other beer-friendly dishes on the menu, their version of a toasty grilled cheddar and Gruyere on sourdough (with or without ham) gets a healthy dusting of parmesan before crisping on the griddle. A cup of thick tomato soup comes on the side for dipping, $11.50. Plus there’s some darn good beer to go with it. 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol, 829-7300.
Zazu Restaurant: A menu standard at this Santa Rosa roadhouse, there’s always a cup of spicy tomato soup with Bellwether Farm’s zingy Carmody grilled between two toasty slices, $10. 3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa, 523-4814.
Kin: Artisan Grilled cheese includes Swiss, smoked Gouda and Fontina cheese melted with applewood smoked bacon, fresh tomato slices and Dijon dressed on a toasted ciabatta, $7.50. There’s not tomato soup this time of year, but ask for a side of the Windsor restaurant’s homemade ketchup. With a spicy kick of horseradish and sweet tomatoes, it blows the doors of Heinz 57. 740 McClelland Dr., Windsor, 837-7546.
Jimtown Store: This month’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich of the month is Provolone and Pecorino cheese with roasted eggplant caponata, fresh basil and smoked pork on sourdough, $10.95. Since there’s no tomato soup right now, why not grab a peanut butter, bacon and spicy pepper jam sammie instead. 6706 Hwy 128, Healdsburg, 433-1252.
Checkers Bistro: Okay, so there’s no grilled cheese, but the tomato basil soup is a downtown lunchtime standard. It’s thick and a bit chunky with veggie tidbits and always bubbling away in the kitchen ($5.25). Pair with a twist on grilled cheese: The caramelized onion, roasted garlic and Cambazola foccaccia (which actually looks a lot more like a pizza) that will keep vampires and annoying co-workers away for days ($7). 523 4th St., Santa Rosa, 578-4000.
the girl and the fig: Tomato confit is the foil to this understated grilled cheese with a side of fries, $11. Step up your game to a Croques Monsieur with Niman Ranch ham and St. George Cheese, $13. 110 West Spain St., Sonoma, 938-3634. Just around the corner, the Depot Hotel (241 First St. West, Sonoma, 938-2980) has a homemade tomato soup that locals swear by ($5). In a hurry? Also in the neighborhood is El Dorado Kitchen’s Corner Cafe, a casual hotel cafe with several beers on tap and their tummy-warming grilled ham and melted Brie on sourdough bread ($11). 405 First St. West, Sonoma, 996-3030
Downscale: Craving a good old-fashioned white bread and processed cheese version? In-N-Out does a solid grilled cheese. Add grilled onions to class it up. Dip in ketchup.
Sadly lamenting: Two of the best grilled cheese and soup sandwich spots have gone to comfort food heaven. Chef John Ash’s “Hot Cheese” stand at the Windsor Market was an idea before it’s season — serving up crispy, fresh luxe grilled sandwiches and the world’s best tomato soup. Unfortunately, the biz is on permanent hiatus. Another fave were John Lyle’s grilled cheeses at XXV in downtown Santa Rosa. Lyle has moved onto his Chosen Spot dinners, leaving us craving one more Umami Grilled Cheese.
DIY: Safeway’s Tuscan Tomato Bisque is one of the best creamy tomato soups on the market. Add a dash of orange juice, and you’ve got a spicy, sweet dish of heaven on your hands. When it comes to grilled cheese, simple is best in our book — white bread, American cheese and lots of butter in a hot pan. Want to get a little creative? Check out Bay Area cheese expert Laura Werlin’s “Grilled Cheese Please: 50 Scrumptiously Cheesy Recipes ($16.99, Andrews McMeel Publishing).