Blog: The Big Cheesy
It’s seemingly never a dull moment at Mulberry Street’s Openhouse Gallery. After weeks of utilizing the comforts of their space as an indoor park during the winter months, the Gallery played host this past weekend to a leisure activity of a different sort- eating. The Big Cheesy setup shop on Saturday and Sunday for six sold out, one hour sessions each day, as local Manhattan eateries vied for the top spot in grilled cheese supremacy.
We were fortunate enough to stop by the festivities in the 1pm slot on day two, as the staffs seemed excited and invigorated to get started after a long day prior. Upon checking in, we grabbed a Sixpoint tallboy which was included in the ticket price ($25) and waited with a herd of hungry and anxious New Yorkers before getting started. Once the clock hit 1pm, down the stairs of the space we went as the crowd headed toward West Village staple Murray’s Cheese. Ducking around the line, we stopped first at Midtown West haunt, Casellula Cheese and Wine Café. Using three different Swiss cheeses (scharfer max, grueyer, emmenthaler), they concoted a “grilled fondue sandwich with pickled pepper relish.” The cheese mixtures were smooth and subtle inside of the slices of rye bread, but the tangy kick from the relish atop the sandwich was the standout feature of their dish. Next we moved down the line to Big Daddy’s for what was definitively the richest, heaviest sampling of the afternoon. With six different cheeses, bacon and tomato, and a parmesan crust to the outside, the diner created a “grilled (macaroni and) cheese with bacon surprise”- thick and rich, served on Orwasher’s Bread and doused with truffle oil, which brought out all of the flavorful tastes inside.
Two lesser known shops happened to stand out the most to us based solely on taste. First, the Lower East Side’s Little Muenster was pouring some of the most incredible tomato soup that our palettes have ever danced with. Made without butter and cream, the vegan friendly broth managed to be thick and flavorful and complimented the cheesy sandwich the shop was dishing out. The prosciutto filling, coupled with a ‘quince paste’ of pear and apple jam, mixed sweet and savory inside of organic peasant bread and a cheese collaboration of gruyere, tallego, fontina, membrillo. Subtle without being overly sweet, Little Muenster would have been our top choice- had it not been for Lucy’s Whey. The small Meatpacking shop paired sea salt and olive oil with a fig jam and a mild prairie breeze cheddar from Iowa for our favorite, and perhaps the most unheralded sandwich of the contest.
But alas, our votes only count in this space, and the actual victory would belong to the Melt Shop. It was our first taste of the restaurant’s specialty since covering their opening in midtown. And with a rumored second location on the way in the next three months, the team looks prepared to take over the city as it seemingly did in this contest. Three different and equally tasty grilled cheese sandwiches graced their table- a sharp cheddar cheese meshed with a 12 hour braised pulled pork and homemade bbq sauce on sourdough bread, a heartier blue and cheddar cheese with nueske’s bacon and a cranberry pepper jam, also on sourdough bread, and our favorite of the trio- a goat cheese and fontina sandwich with roasted wild mushrooms and a parsley pesto that brought us back to our days walking around Florence, Italy.
With only 7 restaurants cooking at the event, each deserves praise for delivering an outstanding take on traditional grilled cheese. Topped with a sunny side egg, Nolita neighbor Tartinery prepared a terrific croquet with ham and gruyere on a poilane bread. Meanwhile, the line around Murray’s eventually died down, enough so that we could get a bite of their ‘Atomic Bomb’ sandwich. In between slices of Pullman bread, the ’Bomb’ combined braised short ribs and taleggio cheese with caramelized onions, spicy relish and jalapeno peppers and arugula, and a dousing of mazi piri piri hot sauce, which provided a flavorful tang without being overly fiery.
Between sampling each and every eatery, we stopped into the VIP area, a wide open secondary room which was serving complimentary wines for pairing and with plush beanbag chairs and seats for lounging and savoring each bite of cheesy goodness. While so many food events of this caliber are poorly constructed, the folks at OpenHouse Gallery put on an exceptional event without incident. Although tickets were sold out, each session was capped perfectly so that lines were minimal and the space was left open enough to be comfortably explored. With just an hour to make it around the room to each purveyor, at no point were we rushed or cramped and the expertly run event went off without a hitch, from check-in to our farewell. The Big Cheesy may have crowned the Melt Shop champion of the grilled cheese, but the real winner of the weekend may have been the taste buds of all who attended.
- Jane Van Arsdale