It’s been a year since The Grilled Cheese Bistro in Norfolk has opened it is still as popular as ever. There was a lot of buzz about the shop that specialized in grilled cheese sandwiches. I mean, come on, who doesn’t like grilled cheese sandwiches? I love them and I’ve tried several of their sandwiches and sides.
I want to say one thing right here at the beginning – you’ll probably spend close to $10 on a sandwich at The Grilled Cheese Bistro. It might sound like a lot, but you’re getting your money’s worth. Trust me.
Here’s our first experience with The Grilled Cheese Bistro last year. Shelby and I went on a Tuesday night hoping it would be a little slow so we could find a seat. When we arrived all the tables were taken but there were a few spots at the bar. We opted for the bar rather than wait for a table.
Inside the warm, renovated space nice lighting fixtures put out enough light making it easy to eat and interact with your group or partner without ruining the cozy atmosphere. The kitchen is open so you can see the action from the bar, our seats were perfect for this. We were given menus as soon as we sat down and our drink order was taken. Spying behind the bar I saw they have several taps with some good local and regional picks: Smartmouth, Bold Rock, Star Hill, Devil’s Backbone etc… The drink menu listed drafts, wine and their other drinks. Beer flights are available for those who want a variety in one sitting. Flights are perfect in figuring out what beer or cider paired with the grilled cheese someone would order.
I settled on Smartmouth‘s Rule G, always reliable and tasty. Shelby went with the Bold Rock Pear Cider. She had a good idea what she wanted to eat because she’s great about checking out menus online and the cider was a good match. I fly by the seat of my pants when we go out, I’m crazy like that. Flipping the menu over to check out the sandwiches you’ll see they name the sandwiches to give them a little personality and the customer an idea of what they’re in for: Sam I Am – green eggs (chimichurri) and ham with Gruyere, Gooey – fontina, cheddar and mozzarella are a couple of examples. Regardless of whether or not you want your food named the sandwiches looked delicious.
Shelby went with the Johnny Appleseed that had apple, cheddar and (local) applewood bacon. I was having a hard time deciding what I wanted until she pointed to the chalkboard that listed the special for the day. The Farmer’s Market Special – roast beef, chorizo, cheddar, garlic/cilantro aioli and roasted corn salsa. Sold! I ordered that one, it had a little bit of everything and that’s how I like to eat. The sandwich was named the Farmer’s Market Special because it was built with ingredients you might find at the local farmer’s market. Clever.
Once we were ready they took our sandwich orders and we ordered a second round of drinks. We both enjoyed what were having so we stuck with the Rule G and Pear Cider. We decided we’d try an appetizer too. Watching some of the food come out while we decided the fries looked good. The Fresh Cut Fries came seasoned three different ways: Parmesan & Chimichurri, Sea Salt or Cinnamon & Cayenne. We opted for the Parmesan & chimichurri. The fries came out with our drinks and in a solid portion. We dug into the fries and finished the whole serving, once I start eating fries I can’t stop. Especially these fries, the chimichurri was generously tossed in with the crispy fries and shaved Parmesan was sprinkled on top. We love chimichurri and we weren’t disappointed. I wanted to mention that from the other appetizers available, the fried pickles looked really good too. Might have to try those next time we visit.
While picking at the last of the fries our grilled cheese sandwiches were brought out. Both of them hot off the grill and with cheese oozing onto the plate. The skillet toasted bread was a perfect golden brown making them crispy delicious. The bread, we were told by the shift manager, is sourced from either Artisans Bakery & Cafe out of Portsmouth or The Bakehouse at Chelsea in Norfolk. Inside this great bread was a ton of soft warm cheese. The Johnny Appleseed’s thinly sliced green apples were topped with the applewood smoked bacon and cheese was pressed between the layers. A very good blend of flavor and texture, it was very fresh and the cheese choice excellent.
The Farmer’s Market Special though…this was our favorite. What made this so good was the thinly sliced chorizo. The spicy sausage was put on the grill to cook for a bit making it a slightly chewy and just giving the sandwich a nice little kick. The garlic and cilantro aioli was a perfect spread, bright and complimenting the savory toasted corn salsa. Tender roast beef stuck to the melted cheese and helped keep the whole thing together – for the most part. The Farmer’s Market Special was packed with so much good stuff that it felt like it would fall apart at any moment. Luckily it held together long enough for us to devour it. I actually ended up giving half my sandwich to Shelby because she kept eyeballing it saying she should have ordered that one instead. We usually share what we order anyway, but I knew what she meant.
There are a lot of places to get a grilled cheese sandwich in the area, but a restaurant that specializes in them is a welcome addition to Hampton Roads. Their menu changes with the season but there are plenty of soon-to-be staples they said they’ll keep on the menu. So no worries if you think you’re favorite won’t be there after a few months, chances are it will be. The Grilled Cheese Bistro is definitely worth a shot and if you do spend ten dollars on a grilled cheese sandwich there, it’s money well spent.
George W. Culver is Eater-in-Chief at I-Heart-Food.com and contributes to several online and print publications. He makes a pretty mean Thai Basil Fried Rice too.