Although the practice of combining melted cheese and warm bread has existed since Roman days, according to howstuffworks.com the American incarnation of the grilled cheese came about in the 1920s -- after Canadian J.L. Kraft developed processed cheese and Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, invented a bread slicer -- thereby arguably making it the actual greatest thing since sliced bread.
It became a dietary mainstay among Navy men during World War II and got its common name in the 1960s. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board runs a website called the Grilled Cheese Academy, and this year in Los Angeles the 12th annual Grilled Cheese Invitational took place on April 12: National Grilled Cheese Day.
No other dish evokes such vivid mind's eye time-traveling for me, like some kind of a food flux-capacitor.
I eat a grilled cheese, and I am instantly a kid in my gram's tiny kitchen on Moore Avenue, where she lovingly butters the bread, stacks the thick slices of golden yellow Velveeta in between, and cuts one sandwich into four squares. Or, its high school football camp at Mt. Lebanon where the "Grilled Cheese Wednesday" lunch is a morale-boosting reminder that we were halfway through another week of brain-banging, heat-stroke-inducing August three-a-days. Or maybe I'm back at Penn State, where my sticky fingers made off with a copy of the dining hall's master menu schedule for an entire semester. I once spent a solid week following grilled cheese and tomato soup lunches between Pollock, McElwain, Redifer, Findlay and Waring Dining Commons. Freshman fifteen? Try Senior seventeen.
Enough with the maudlin memories, Munch. Cut to the chase.
Right. So, I nearly melted like a Kraft single on a skillet after discovering The Yard in Shadyside where there are not one, but two dozen (!!!) varieties of grilled cheese on the menu.
Opened in early June under the direction of chef Adam O' Hara, it has an inherently fun menu of grilled cheeses that are named for rappers (Young Cheezy) '80s pop songs (Wang Chung Tonight) Chappelle's Show skits (The Wac Arnold) and Irish potheads (Blarney Stoner).
There are grilled cheeses with pierogi, hamburger patties, jerk shrimp and crabmeat. They use gouda, beer cheese, buffalo mozzarella and provolone. The permutations are potentially limitless. They come on thick cuts of Texas toast made locally by the Allegro Hearth Bakery in Squirrel Hill, and they proved to be a perfect nosh after a rain-drenched outing Sunday to Heinz Field for the international soccer match with Blond Barkeep Bud of Munch (The BBBOM) and her futbol-frenzied niece.
The kid has a predilection for anything waffle-based, so her natural choice was the "Breakfast Club" grilled cheese ($13). Made with cheddar and Tussey Mountain (an Emmanthaler Swiss from Clover Creek Dairy in Williamsport) cheeses, spicy chorizo, maple bacon, scrambled eggs, and a Jack Daniels bacon syrup, although the menu says it's served between two Belgian waffles, these were definitely more like thick pancakes -- not that there were any complaints.
"This is like heaven," the aspiring Abby Wambach reported. I sneaked a bite and concur that it is indeed a tasty morsel.
The BBBOM tried "The Jerk," and while that could easily be another name for Munch, in this case it referred to her choice of grilled cheese, made with spicy pepper jack and Dragon's Breath cheeses, jerk-seasoned pulled pork, peach chutney, sweet honey plantains and slaw -- a massive burst of flavors between perfectly crispy, buttered toast ($13).
I could not pass on the concept of macaroni and cheese as a grilled cheese, and the "Mac Attack" was everything I could've wanted. With a house cheddar sauce, spiral pasta and soaked bacon lardons, this was like comfort food-cubed.
All grilled cheeses are properly served with -- what else -- a delicious cup of thick and tangy tomato soup.
The Yard also has barroom staples -- wings, nachos, burgers, salads -- as well as gourmet flatbreads ($9-$12) and entrees from pierogi and kielbasa ($14) to a filet ($30) to two words that should never, ever go together: chicken carbonara ($15). The bar has a respectable list of craft cocktails and 42 mostly craft beers on tap.
But to paraphrase Kelis, the grilled cheese brings all the boys (and girls) to The Yard. Or better yet, The Farmer and the Dell (and Omar Little), because at The Yard, the grilled cheese stands alone.
The Yard is at 736 Bellefonte St., Shadyside; 412-709-6351 or www.theyardpgh.com.
Dan Gigler: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @ PGMunch. Become a Facebook Friend of Munch at www.facebook.com/munchPG.