Grilled Cheese

By Bill Lee

My wife and I did not travel extensively, but when we did it was mostly in the two Carolinas and especially in the western part of North Carolina.  We loved the mountains and visited often the Boone/Blue Ridge Parkway area.  During our travels we also enjoyed trying out new places for dining.  We were not sophisticated gourmands by any means. We usually were attracted to new places by several factors among them the setting and the atmosphere/ambiance of the places. Since that part of NC was a tourist area, the opportunities were abundant.  We were not daring diners meaning our palates called for the more traditional servings.  Both of us grew up in homes where the basic staples were generally found in the local garden and farm so our backgrounds were not experimental in our food selection.  Thus the title: Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
Often we would read about a place we wanted to visit and make it part of our destination for the day.  Perhaps we were impressed by a reviewer’s recommendation or by the experience of a friend.  So off we would go anticipating a new dining adventure.  But since this was a new, untried experience, sometimes there might be surprises.  But my wife had the answer for such an occasion.
Her tastes were more refined than mine, but generally she would go along with whatever I ordered.  And if because of my limited appetite for offerings on the menu, she would always remind me that the fail safe option was always available.  If there were not anything that caused my appetite to favor, she would suggest the nearly universally available Grilled Cheese Sandwich.  Her reasoning being that “There is nothing anyone can do a grilled cheese sandwich to make it a dining disaster.”  And I went by this mantra for years; it proved to be infallible until that sure-fire belief came crashing down when I visited a place (unnamed) that proved how  disastrously wrong the statement could be.
Now there is not a novice cook anywhere who cannot prepare a grilled cheese sandwich.  There is no elaborate preparation, no specialized ingredients and absolutely no skill necessary for making the sandwich near perfect every time.  I suspect a first grader would pass the grilled cheese chef test without any problem every time even one who is challenged by pouring his cereal in the bowl with any spillage.  It is a no brainer.
It was a little after 11 am, and a friend and I were passing through the small NC town when we spotted the store front small café with the clever name.  Even though it was a little early we decided to avoid the fast food emporiums and try something different, something local and quaint with what appeared from the outside to be an inviting atmosphere.
We had no difficulty being seated by the one employee on duty.  The service was somewhat erratic-we had to request a menu and dining utensils.  Looking at the offerings, we did not see anything we particularly wished to order except the one never-fail-to-please item, the grilled cheese at $3.50 of course a sprinkling of chips and pickle were included.
The waiter-chef-dishwasher-cashier began his preparation behind the counter and in the meantime, about 30 minutes later, one other patron entered.  I was beginning to think this might be a herald of the “busy” time. In an acceptable time, however, the meal arrived along with a coffee refill.  The order destroyed my long held belief that the grilled cheese was a sacrosanct item as far as preparation was concerned.  Wrong.
Where shall I begin?  The sandwich was not grilled as indicated on the menu.  The two pieces of white bread had been toasted earlier and apparently then the one slice of cheese was placed between the now dry bread which slightly melted the cheese.
When the over-toasted much browned sandwich arrived, it was barely edible, but it did help to answer one question: Would we return?
We did, however, despite our disappointment, leave the multi-tasker a tip.  Why?  Because we concluded that he would not be serving here as a chef too long and would need help in seeking further employment.  Hopefully not in food service/preparation.
So much for the long held belief regarding the fool-proof grilled cheese.
It melted away that day.
Bill Lee
PO Box 128
Hamer, SC 29547

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