Specializing in a variety of comfort food more likely to be served in mom’s kitchen than a restaurant, Tom + Chee might seem a little too settled in its grilled cheese niche to surprise – that is, until you step inside.
A colorful chalkboard wall menu immediately dispels the myth that grilled cheese, at least here, is plain, simple or boring. With a selection of meats, cheeses, veggies and breads that surpasses that of most sandwich shops, Tom + Chee offers delicious-sounding grilled sandwich suggestions such as The Flying Pig – turkey, bacon and dill pickles on sourdough with gouda cheese – as well as endless create-your-own possibilities. Three varieties of gluten-free tomato soup, two to three daily soups and a few salad options round out
The restaurant chain, the brainchild of Richard Tinsley, began in Cincinnati as a covered grilled cheese tent stationed outside football games, quickly progressing to three physical restaurants in the area. Now, just a year after his first building opened, Tinsley has established two additional Tom + Chee locations here in Louisville – one in the Highlands and the other in the Univerity of Louisville’s heavily-trafficked Cardinal Towne complex. Colleague Chris Humphreys and I recently stopped at the Cardinal Towne location for lunch, to see what all the local buzz is about.
Opting for tried and true menu favorites, Chris selected The Flying Pig, $6, while I went with the top vegetarian pick, The Hippy Chee, $4.50. A mix of hummus, cucumber, mixed greens, tomato and cheddar on wheat bread, my sandwich was warm and buttery, savory but also refreshing. Chris enjoyed his choice as well, commenting that the flavor of the meat was just enough to satisfy, not overwhelm, balancing nicely with the sourdough bread. But while lunch proved excellent, we were both eager to move along to the next course – the restaurant’s signature Grilled Cheese Donuts.
Starting with a glazed doughnut cut in half lengthwise in place of bread, Tom + Chee’s dessert-style sandwiches are just as easily personalized as their lunchtime counterparts, but the creatively-named treats listed on the menu seemed adventurous enough, at least for a first visit. We tasted The King, $4.50, a creamy concoction of bananas, peanut butter, mascarpone and mozzarella cheeses, and marveled at its richness – definitely a decadent experience. The Blueberry Blue, $4.50, was sweeter but equally rich, with a surprising combination of blueberry compote, blue cheese and lemon mixed
We decided to pass – at least for that day – on the Baker’s Dozen Challenge, a competition in which one may attempt (for $50) to consume 12 traditional cheddar Grilled Cheese Donuts, followed by the staff’s choice of one of the more decadent options. The challenge must be completed in the span of ten minutes and with one beverage, and, “to put it politely, you can’t reverse,” smiled Tom + Chee Manager Dustin Greer. While no-one in Louisville has successfully completed the challenge yet, whoever manages to succeed will receive a refund of their $50, a free tee-shirt and the distinction of having his or her photo displayed in the restaurant. Maybe next time.
Overall, the dining experience at Tom + Chee was delightful – and with so many interesting sandwich options left to discover, I can honestly say that I’ll soon return. The staff at the restaurant seemed eager to meet any potential special requests, making it a rare find for anyone with specific dietary needs.
“We cater to all types,” Greer explained. “I think that what makes this place so special is that the perfect grilled cheese is whatever you want it to be. We have special accommodations for gluten-free (and) celiac disease. … We have gluten-free bread and vegan cheese. We want to serve whoever walks in the door.”
Photos By CHRIS HUMPHREYS | Chief Photographer