Grilled cheese is the bridge between picky eaters and everyone else. It's on nearly every menu, and even if it isn't, it includes simple enough ingredients that essentially any restaurant could make it. (Although a few difficult restaurants that shall not be named have refused to make them for me before. One of them may or may not have been the IHOP on 6th Avenue after midnight.)
It isn't just my favorite food; it's also one of the only foods I thoroughly enjoy eating on a regular basis. As an extremely picky eater, I find a strong sense of comfort in grilled cheese because I know I can always rely on it to taste delicious, familiar, and safe. Not only can I order it anywhere, but it's also easy to make. I can't cook, and it's the only thing I know will be consistently enjoyable.
I've had grilled cheese sandwiches on dates, at work, family dinners, drunk late at night, and sometimes even for breakfast. I was making a grilled cheese sandwich when I found out my great-uncle died, and I was also making a grilled cheese when I found out I got into college. It's more than just a comfort food; after our 25-year relationship, it's a part of me.
Since this is my first year living in New York City, I wanted to get my lay of the land and scope out some of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I could find. I enlisted my best friend and fellow cheese-lover Molly, did some basic research (thanks Google, Yelp, Thrillist, and Gothamist), and created a master list for the most epic Grilled Cheese Crawl New York has ever seen.
Our goal: To find the most delicious and "classic" grilled cheese sandwich in New York City. For our purposes, we defined classic grilled cheese as the most common and traditional form of the sandwich: melted cheese on simple but delicious bread without any add-ins. (If I wanted something fancy, I'd be looking for the best sandwich in general, but I wanted something as close to a classic grilled cheese sandwich as I could get.)
We rated each spot on a scale of 1-10 based on the bread and cheese in the sandwich, the restaurant's atmosphere, and how much we liked our experience overall.
Milk Truck — Various NYC locations
12:00 p.m.: Our first stop was supposed to be the Melt Shop, but as we were walking out of my apartment building there was a grilled cheese truck sitting right across the street. "It's a sign from the gods," I said. "We must start our journey here, at the Milk Truck."
Since it was lunchtime outside of a pretty big office building, we had to wait a few minutes to get to the front of the line. We ordered one Milk Truck Classic for $5.95 and were pleasantly surprised at how delicious this grilled cheese sandwich was, considering we weren't even supposed to end up there in the first place. Ah, fate.
The sandwich was simple; the bread was good and crunchy on the outside but also softer toward the middle, it was buttery but not too buttery, and had very gooey cheese. It's pretty much what you'd want a grilled cheese to be, except it wasn't very filling and had distinct, unique cheese flavors; it didn't taste like something more expected like cheddar or American. The menu says their Milk Truck Classic is "made with Aged Wisconsin Gruyere, Cultured Butter on Balthazar Levian Pullman Bread."
Molly rated it a 6.5 and I gave it a 7.
Melt Shop — 111 Fulton St., New York, New York
12:30 p.m. It was colder outside than we expected, but our next stop was too close not to walk to it. We made our way down Water Street and passed very busy people on their very busy lunch hours, and started to question whether a Friday afternoon was the best time to go on a Grilled Cheese Crawl in New York City. WHOOPS.
In all fairness, this wasn't my first time at the Melt Shop; I frequent the one on 26th Street and love it every time, but this was my first time at the Fulton Street location.
The restaurant was a little overwhelming, and I completely blame the Melt Shop for being such a popular destination point. Molly and I thought it'd be best to divide and conquer: I ordered their Classic sandwich for $5.05 and she found seats at a shared table. The sandwich was very, very cheesy. It was American cheese on crunchy white bread, but as I took more bites I realized the sandwich also contained some kind of spicy cheese sauce that I wanted no part of. The restaurant itself is adorable, but the mystery cheese sauce ruined the sandwich for me.
Molly rated the grilled cheese a 5.5 and I gave it a 6.
I was starting to think Molly is either a tougher critic than me, or she has higher standards for her grilled cheese sandwiches.
Little Muenster — 225 Liberty St., New York, New York
1:15 p.m.: Our next stop was a place called Little Muenster inside Hudson Eats at Brookfield Place, a huge, indoor food court in Battery Park City that overlooks the water on one side of the building and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum on the other. If the weather is more cooperative, it seems like a great place to grab some food and eat at one of the tables or benches outside. Granted you'd be overlooking views of New Jersey, but the water and park made for a scenic atmosphere in lower Manhattan. But it was 43 degrees, so once we found Little Muenster's stand we stayed inside.
Molly and I ordered the Classic grilled cheese sandwich for $5.75. When the cashier asked if we wanted white American or cheddar cheese melted between local Pullman Bread we couldn't decide on one cheese, so he eased our anxiety by offering us both on the same sandwich. This made life easier, and more interesting.
As soon as we opened our to-go box, we knew this was going to be "the one," or at least one of the ones; a Grilled Cheese Crawl favorite. The bread was thick, but not too overwhelming, the sandwich was greasy but not slipping out of our hands, and the cheese…oh, the cheese. There was an equal ratio of bread to cheese, and everything conspired to make for a delicious and tasty grilled cheese sandwich and overall a very happy experience. Since Little Muenster is in walking distance of where I live, I can't wait to go back.
Molly gave it a 7.5, as did I.
Finally, we started to agree.
1:55 p.m.: Now we had to make our way to the East Village. We were feeling ambitious, so we hopped a subway train that brought us to 8th Street; the world was ours. Archie and Sons was supposed to be next on our itinerary, but when we arrived at 23 3rd Ave. we couldn't find a diner with that name. Instead, we saw the storefront for a restaurant called Korilla BBQ.
"Hi, did this used to be a diner called Archie and Sons?" Molly asked the cashier behind the register.
"Archie and what?"
"Before this place was here, did there used to be something else?" she tried again.
"Yeah, that's how New York works." The cashier didn't want to talk to us anymore.
I swear, I did my research before heading out for the day. But clearly I didn't figure out that Archie and Sons is no longer a place that exists where we could find a grilled cheese sandwich.
Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter — 94 Avenue C, New York, New York
2:30 p.m.: Moving on — we started walking down St. Marks Place and headed further east toward Alphabet City. Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter was cute inside and it was also quiet — there was only one other party sitting down to eat — which we figured was reflective of the fairly residential-seeming neighborhood. It was also the middle of the afternoon on a Friday and no office buildings in sight, so the lunch crowd probably isn't their most popular. But it was also the first sit-down place we really visited, and the atmosphere was cute.
2:50 p.m.: We sat at the bar and ordered the grilled pimento cheese sandwich — the only grilled cheese on the menu — for $7.00. I couldn't have been more horrified when it arrived, because what sat on the plate in front of me was not a grilled cheese sandwich. It was fancy-looking; there were sweet pickles in between the bread and instead of real cheese there was a cheese sauce spread onto the sandwich. It wasn't really a grilled cheese as much as it was a vegetable sandwich.
OK, so the thing is, I have a confession to make. I didn't actually eat this sandwich. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm a super picky eater and I mainly just enjoy cheese on my grilled cheese sandwiches (I definitely don't like anything green in the middle), so Molly held me down at Bobwhite and ate the whole thing.
Molly's kind rating was a 3.5 along with this generous review: "I would go back to eat something else off the menu, but I think I'm going to look back on today and regret that sandwich the most because it tasted like dookie."
Murray's Cheese — 254 Bleecker Street, New York, New York
3:30 p.m.: We were happy to leave Bobwhite and hail a cab over to the West Village, since there was no subway anywhere near walking distance. At this point in the day, I think the Cheese Gods were on our side and decided that we deserved some redemption after our previous experience. As soon as we walked up to Murray's, I realized I had passed by the shop probably a million and a half times and just never really noticed until now. When we walked inside, we knew we had found it: another favorite.
Murray's Cheese is exactly what I imagine heaven smells like, and probably what heaven looks like too. When you walk inside, your nasal passages are immediately filled with the exquisite scents of quality bread and cheese; Murray's is a speciality cheese shop where you can find any cheese you're looking for. It was hard to focus on the task at hand and even find the counter where they made grilled cheese sandwiches.
3:45 p.m.: Lo and behold, for only $4.99 we ordered The Murray's Melt: white bread with their "secret blend of cheeses." Whatever the secret is, they're doing it right. The sandwich was simple enough, but the cheese also oozed out of the crunchy bread and was overwhelmingly delicious with every single bite. It's exactly what a classic grilled cheese sandwich should be.
Molly gave it a 9, and I gave it a 9. I would've given it a 10, but I was still holding out hope that there might be a completely flawless grilled cheese out there waiting for me.
Beecher's Handmade Cheese — 900 Broadway, New York, New York
4:10 p.m.: It was hard to imagine eating another sandwich after Murray's, especially now that we'd inevitably compare everything else against how delicious their grilled cheese is, but we still had plenty more places to go. We made a quick stop and refueled with some coffee (because Krystie and Molly run on Dunkin) and grabbed another cab to the corner of 19th and Broadway. I had also been to Beecher's before to enjoy their happy hour specials and outstanding mac 'n cheese, so I had fairly high hopes for their grilled cheese.
4:30 p.m.: When you enter Beecher's, you have the choice of walking downstairs to their cellar or staying upstairs in their cafe with brown leather chairs and a more casual menu. If you had any doubts if the cheese at Beecher's is actually homemade, they're squelched by the sight of employees making the cheese right in front of your eyes through a glass window where the cheese-making machines (or whatever they're technically called) are located.
We ordered a grilled cheese off the menu for $7. The flagship cheese was absolutely delicious, although the flavor of the cheese was also very strong and distinct. While we really enjoyed it, I could also see someone not loving it if they were looking for something more simple. The rustic, artisan bread was fresh and different; it also happens to be my favorite kind of bread to eat with a grilled cheese. Overall it was solid, but not better than Murray's. The silver lining, however, was obvious: Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter was nothing but a distant, ugly memory. We couldn't help but acknowledge how far we'd come since then.
Molly gave the sandwich an 8, and I rated it an 8 as well.
Earl's Beer + Cheese — 1259 Park Avenue, New York, New York
5:00 p.m.: After Beecher's, Uptown we went.
This was the first significant trip we had to make in terms of travel, so we opted for a cab to save some time. Plus, Molly and I were starting to feel the weight of all the dairy in our systems. This is what we called the Phase Two of our Grilled Cheese Crawl.
Sure, hailing a cab on a Friday at 5:00 in Flatiron isn't the smartest thing to do, but we tried our damnedest. After getting turned down by five cabs once we told them the address of our destination (which, by the way, is mostly illegal) we found someone to drive us to 97th Street and Park Avenue.
5:25 p.m.: Even though we were dropped off right at the corner, Earl's was hard to spot because there wasn't really a clear sign in front of the building. After finding the number of the address on the glass door and poking our heads inside, however, we knew we were in the right place. Initially we ordered our sandwich to go because there wasn't anywhere to sit.
We had moved on from lunch crowds to the bustle of happy hour, and it even looked like it was someone's birthday, so the small restaurant was packed. But luckily at the last minute, Molly was able to grab two stool seats by the window facing the street. We also decided to make the best decision we made all day that would ultimately be a game-changer for the rest of the crawl, as well as our number one survival tool: we ordered alcohol.
Earl's plain grilled cheese cost us $7.62 and came with a side of wavy potato chips. Between the chips, the alcohol, and the classic tasting sandwich, we felt like we were seeing a whole new day. In addition to the fun atmosphere, the sandwich itself was great. The bread was very crunchy — some of it was even a little burnt — and the cheese was a good, standard cheddar. We had few complaints: It was a yummy, grilled cheese, but the sandwich was so big it was hard to eat without taking smaller bites.
Molly rated it a 7, I gave it a 7.5.
The Queens Kickshaw — 40-17 Broadway, Astoria, New York
5:55 p.m.: After Earl's is when things started to get exhausting. Thanks to Daylight Savings the sun was still out for a little while longer, but we were testing our limits. Our next cab driver wasn't too annoyed that he had to drive us all the way to Astoria, Queens, despite the fact that he just started his shift.
The Queens Kickshaw was definitely off the beaten path for us to get to, but it seems to be in the heart of Astoria and was a lot of fun once we arrived. Now it was past happy hour and we had entered the dinner crowd, which became apparent when we couldn't find anywhere to sit besides the bar. Luckily, the bartender befriended us (hi Tim!) and everyone there was really welcoming.
6:20 p.m.: We ordered more drinks along with the Cheddar & Mozzarella sandwich ($9) off of the grilled cheese section of the menu, which has five options to choose from. The price felt like a lot, but it also came with a side of tomato soup.
The sandwich turned out to be worth the wait. The bread was soft and doughy in the middle; it was also very buttery. Molly thought the bread could've been crispier and I liked how the crust fell apart when you bit into it. It tasted like a traditional grilled cheese and it was the first place that served the sandwich along with a side of tomato soup — something I've always considered to be a natural pairing.
Molly gave the grilled cheese a 6.5 and I rated it a 7.
We were having so much fun that we didn't really want to leave; in fact, if we weren't on a formal Grilled Cheese Crawl we probably would've happily stayed there all night. Alas, Brooklyn was waiting for us.
Noorman’s Kil — 609 Grand St, Brooklyn, New York
7:20 p.m.: By the time Molly and I hopped in a cab to Williamsburg, we were mentally, emotionally, and physically done with this day, but neither of us wanted to admit it to the other.
"We got this" — we encouraged each other all day by repeating this phrase. "We can do it, everything will be OK."
7:45 p.m.: But everything wasn't starting to feel OK, and we were at the end of our rope. We had a mini-meltdown while crossing into Brooklyn and were very close to turning around and packing it all in. This feeling of despair didn't change after the cab dropped us off on the corner of Grand and Leonard Streets and we walked inside Noorman's Kil to find a huge crowd of young Brooklynites. At this point, the dinner crowd was long gone and we were standing with people who were dressed for a Friday night on the town
Just as we were about to give up, Molly found two seats at the end of the bar. Since we already made it this far, we agreed that we'd quickly order their simplest grilled cheese sandwich, one drink, and get the hell out of there. We couldn't leave the borough without eating a grilled cheese.
We ordered something called the "Karen" sandwich (Fromage Blanc, Gruyere, NY Sharp Cheddar, and Havarti on sourdough bread) off their grilled cheese menu, which only contains variations of grilled cheeses named after different women. Do with that what you will.
Even though we weren't that excited to be there because we were exhausted from being everywhere else, Noorman's Kil was pretty cool; chill vibes and all that. It was a quintessential grilled cheese bar, if there ever was one. The sandwich itself, which cost $7, was surprisingly delicious; I say "surprisingly" both because I was so tired I barely cared anymore, and because we saw they kept pre-made sandwiches in refrigerators behind the bar and grilled them on the spot. The cheese was extremely gooey and the bread was very crunchy, but it wasn't *too* much.
Molly gave it an 8, I gave it an 8 as well.
This was when we thought we were done with our Grilled Cheese Crawl — we went home for the night and were proud of all we'd accomplished. But the next morning we woke up with this nagging feeling that we might be missing something.
"We should go to the final two places on our list," Molly admitted to me.
"I know," I said. "We *have* to go."
MeltKraft — 442 9th St, Brooklyn, New York
7:00 p.m.: Our curiosity got the better of us, so on Saturday night our Grilled Cheese Crawl turned into a marathon as we recruited a few other friends to join us at the Melt Kraft in Park Slope for dinner. We were happy to have more company, as long as they understood we were on a mission. The light rain and dark sky set the mood; we knew what we had to do.
We took the subway to 9th Street in Park Slope and walked over to the corner of 9th Street and 7th Avenue. MeltKraft was empty except for us, so we had the run of the place. The restaurant is decorated adorably and is filled with cute trinkets and delicious-looking cheese you could buy to bring home. The smell also reminded me of Murray's, making it another potential favorite.
Molly and I ordered the Shepherd Classic for $6.95 while our friends were more adventurous with their choices. We also ordered alcohol because, as we learned the day before, it was essential to our survival. The sandwich was incredible! The gooey cheese was delicious and had a very distinct taste; it was sharper cheese similar to Beecher's, but not an overwhelming amount. The bread was great quality, and it even came with a side of homemade potato chips.
Everyone at the restaurant was also very friendly and nice; it was an entirely stress-free experience. It took me twice as long as everyone else to finish my sandwich, partially because I'm a slow eater but also because I made sure I licked every last crumb off my plate.
Molly rated the grilled cheese an 8.5. So did I.
Post Office — 188 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn, New York
9:00 p.m.: It was hard to imagine putting another grilled cheese sandwich in my system after the perfection that was MeltKraft, and the cab ride over from Park Slope to Williamsburg didn't leave me feeling so great. Luckily it's so dark inside Post Office that no one could see how sick I was feeling. At least, I hope they couldn't.
The bar is definitely a destination point — it's not in the heart of Williamsburg, and if you don't live immediately near Post Office, you might not stumble upon it. It was also the trendiest of all the restaurants we visited. We sat down and ordered their grilled cheese sandwich for $8 off the menu.
It tasted a lot like something you can make at home — it was very greasy, crunchy, cheesy, and yummy. Post Office was the first place to serve our sandwich with a side of ketchup, which I took note of since I usually eat all of my grilled cheese sandwiches with ketchup. Despite the fact that it was the last grilled cheese we planned on eating, it was impossible to ignore the fact that it was a really delicious, classically made grilled cheese.
We both rated the sandwich a 7.5
10:30 p.m.: Now this time, we *really* thought we were done. We took the subway back to my apartment and were walking down Wall Street basking in our triumph, when we noticed a gaggle of teenagers running in our direction wearing high heels, dresses, and suits. My neighborhood, which is normally quiet on a Saturday after midnight, was loud and full of people because a bar mitzvah was ending at a nearby venue, and three food trucks sat outside the restaurant.
Gorilla Cheese NYC — Various NYC locations
11:00 p.m.: In a fitting twist of events, there was a grilled cheese truck sitting outside of my apartment building called Gorilla Grilled Cheese, because the universe probably wanted to have a good laugh. We obviously couldn't walk by without picking up their classic grilled cheese sandwich, which was only $3, and finish our Grilled Cheese Crawl the same way we started it — standing outside my apartment, munching on a greasy grilled cheese sandwich from an unexpected food truck.
To be honest, it wasn't great. This sandwich *definitely* tasted like something you could make for yourself at home; it was super greasy, not at all gooey, and the cheese seemed not to be that grilled in the middle. It was, however, pretty cheesy, and it tasted fine. It was also a better sandwich than what we paid more money for at a lot of other places, namely Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter.
We both gave it a 5 and called it a day.