Posted in Dinner, Events, Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Peninsula, San Francisco, Street Food

Toasty Melts Food Truck is Grilled Cheese Goodness

The mere mention of a grilled cheese food truck tends to evoke one of two responses:

1) How hard can it be to make a grilled cheese at home? Why do you have to find a truck to go get it?
2) Damn, that sounds good.

Sure, you can make it yourself at home. But can it be easier, not to mention tastier, if you get it from the folks at Toasty Melts.

Business partners, Tiffany Lam and Alex Rando, started the Toasty Melts food cart in 2009 after being inspired by other popular carts like The Magic Curry Cart and The Creme Brulee Man. They also figured they could donate a portion of their earnings to the San Francisco Food Bank, where they were frequent volunteers.

So why switch from part-time food cart hobby to full-fledged food truck? “Matt Cohen wanted us to come to Off the Grid, but we weren’t that ambitious because we both had day jobs,” says Lam. She was a project manager for Marin company, Republic of Tea, and has since quit to devote herself completely to Toasty Melts. Rando is still at his day job. “We heard rumblings last year that the permit process was going to change. So last September, we finally started looking for a food truck to transition to,” says Lam.

Just this past March, they finally debuted their shiny new bright red food truck, ready to take on the already crowded food truck space.

But here’s the kicker: neither of them have any professional culinary experience. None! And that’s exactly how they came upon the decision to focus solely on the simplistic grilled cheese sandwich. “There’s no way we could do something fancier. It was definitely something we could execute. If we could do it, anyone could do it! It was the most realistic food avenue for us to take. But it’s also very versatile. We could be creative with the grilled cheese sandwiches and blend quality ingredients to make different variations.”

This simple sandwich requires no special equipment. They make the sandwiches on the truck’s grill, cooking up evenly and to a perfect golden brown.

I tried their two signature sandwiches: The ABC, which has thin apple slices, bacon from Zoe’s Meats and cheddar cheese; and the 3 Cheese, made up of smoked gouda, jack and cheddar cheeses. Both were served on Panorama bread, made locally in San Francisco. Most of the cheeses they use are from Kerrygold.

Both had the perfect amount of toastiness with the right amount of crunch. But the interior of the bread was also soft and pillowy with just enough buttery goodness.

3 Cheese

The 3 Cheese stood out because it was amazing to me how distinctive all three cheeses were even when melted together. The jack cheese was smooth and creamy, the cheddar gave it the classic flavor, and the smoked gouda provided a wonderfully sharp punch that made it stand out. I absolutely loved it.

I have to admit, though, that I wanted more from the ABC. The best thing about it was the thinly sliced apples, which gave the sandwich additional texture and a subtly sweet contrast in flavor. The bacon, unfortunately, was a bit dry and rubbery. I would’ve loved if it were more crunchy. And I longed for a cheese with a tad more flavor. The jack cheese just couldn’t hold its own.

Regardless, their sandwiches are still worth going back for, especially if you’ve got a hankering for a good grilled cheese. It’s fresh, perfectly toasty and gooey, affordable at $4-$6 a pop, and easier than making it yourself. “Who would want to shred and blend three different cheeses for one grilled cheese at home? We also provide the novelty and the convenience,” says Lam.

For now, you can find them at Off the Grid on alternating Mondays at Civic Center Plaza and on alternating Tuesdays at UN Plaza, along with possible regular stops in San Mateo and Brisbane. Lam wants to have a firm presence in San Francisco, though, despite the food truck permit drama that seems to happen frequently these days.

“We’re going to continue to pursue all our permits for various locations in San Francisco. And Alex and I would love to expand our menu at some point. For now, it’s just the one truck. My Dad owned a restaurant and I don’t know if I really want to own a brick and mortar restaurant. This one truck takes every ounce of my energy!”

Toasty Melts
Off the Grid Mondays and Tuesdays & other various locations pending

*Cross-posted on Bay Area Bites.

Posted in Food, Lunch, San Francisco

The Sentinel Doesn’t Impress

I’ll start by saying this: it was a good sandwich, but by no means is it great.  I don’t agree with the countless “Best of” lists that say the corned beef is the best sandwich in San Francisco.

It’s a take out counter that moves fast but is still amazingly friendly.  I ordered their famous corned beef sandwich with cabbage, russian dressing and melted gruyere on housemade foccacia.  Perhaps it was the foccacia that lost me.  I’m not a fan since it was a bit of a greasy mess.  I would’ve preferred it on some other type of bread that didn’t compete so much with the other elements of the sandwich. I did like the crisp fresh texture of the cabbage, and the meat was tender, but it wasn’t buttery like corned beef should be.

Granted, I haven’t yet tried the roast beef sammie, which people say is also damn tasty.  But I would easily take a sandwich at Naked Lunch (YUM!) over another one here.  Plus, it’s overpriced at $8.75 a pop.

The Sentinel on Urbanspoon

Posted in Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, San Francisco

Comfort Food, Elevated

Can a grilled cheese be…subtle?  Can it become “artisan”?  After a visit to The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen in San Francisco, the answer is YES.  And it can be damn tasty too.

Let me clarify and say that this is not a Kraft American Singles on Wonder Bread kinda grilled cheese, although I’d love one of those right about now.  In other words, the grilled cheese has been elevated here to a higher status.  The place is basically a takeout counter, so there’s no pretension here.  Good thing because nothing goes worse with a grilled cheese than pretension.

My foodie pal Anne Marie and I ordered the Red, White and Blue Plate special, which gives you your choice of a nice sized sammie and small bowl of housemade roasted tomato soup with creme fraiche.  Everything here is homemade with primo ingredients, right down to the lemonade and freshly baked sweets and breakfast breads.

We ordered the Mousetrap w/tomatoes, which is their traditional grilled cheese with sharp cheddar, havarti, and monterey jack on artisan sourdough, and the Mushroom Gruyere with fontina, gruyere, roasted wild mushrooms, sauteed onions, leeks and thyme butter on fresh country-style wheat.

The Mushroom Gruyere was my favorite.  Despite having a lot of ingredients including leeks, mushrooms, potatoes, caramelized onions, and gruyere and fontina cheeses, the sandwich was the perfect texture and had amazing subtlety in its flavors.  Everything just worked and was incredibly flavorful.  And the country-style bread had the perfect crunch and texture.  It was hearty but didn’t compete with all the flavors going on.  I was amazed that it didn’t leave me feeling heavy or like I’d just eaten a pound of grease.

The Mousetrap was mighty tasty as well, though it was almost too much cheese.  So much so that they all started to blend together and I begged for a different element to break up the cheesy party.  The tomatoes, unfortunately, didn’t help and got a little lost, flavor-wise.  I would, however, recommend it if you are a traditionalist and love your grilled cheese on sourdough.  There’s definitely something to be said for that.

The soup was perfectly tangy and smoky, and ideal for dipping the sammies in.  Throw in the big giant crunchy house-made croutons, and it could’ve been a meal in itself.

I think this place does a great job of showing how you can elevate something so seemingly one-dimensional, to new heights. The staff are helpful, friendly and work quickly to get the line moving during peak times.

This is not your mother’s grilled cheese, for sure, but it’s also not Sunday brunch, either.  Regardless, you’ll definitely leave happy.

The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen on Urbanspoon