Cheese is one of the top culinary contenders that would make it very difficult to go vegan. Meat would be a challenge as well, but removing cheese and meat from my diet would most likely result in my having a mental and emotional breakdown.
One of my absolute favorite applications of cheese, is in a great grilled sandwich. Grilled cheese and tomato soup has been one of my favorite culinary combinations for over half of my life, and is a perfect showcase of how even the simplest of food combinations can have extraordinary chemistry with each other.
Melt Sandwich Shoppe in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago understands the role cheese plays in both simple and more ornate grilled sandwiches, and the further dynamic of serving a good cup of soup to accompany it. The entire menu is built around various grilled sandwiches, all of which utilize cheese to varying degrees. Starting with the simplicity of a basic grilled cheese sandwich and working out from there, they have options available for every palate so long as you enjoy cheese on your sandwich.
I knew going in there, that I wanted to try three different types of sandwiches, and I had made up that wanted to try something simple, something exotic, and finally something that had bacon. It was easy to find options from each category, the real difficulty came from deciding which ones to choose. I talked it over with my family and we decided on the "All American," the "Istanbul," and the "Appleton" sandwiches. For soup we grabbed the only two they had left: Italian Wedding and Chicken Noodle. Unfortunately, there was no tomato bisque.
The All American is a straightforward grilled cheese sandwich. Yellow and white american cheeses on buttered white bread. My expectations with that description are fairly basic, and the sandwich was quite good, though the cheese wasn't quite as melted as I would have liked though for a grilled cheese sandwich. It was tasty though, and my two year old daughter liked it enough to eat more of that sandwich than any other she has eaten in quite some time, so they definitely did something right with its preparation.
My mother and I split the other two sandwiches, and they were both delicious. The Istanbul is wonderfully complex with a wide but balanced flavor profile. It is a turkey breast with pepper jack, smoked gouda and a cucumber fig compote sandwich served on ciabatta bread grilled with olive oil & sea-salt. The sweetness and freshness of the cucumber fig compote takes center stage, with a subtle savoriness from the turkey and smoked gouda in the background. Behind it all, and barely noticeable is the faint heat of the pepper jack cheese, holding it all together.
The Appleton was less complex, featuring a tighter palate that mostly focused on smoky savory goodness. It was a Cajun spiced cheddar, pepper jack, muenster, sliced red apple and applewood smoked bacon served on a semisweet baguette. Again, this sandwich was mostly savory, with a little bit of heat and a subtle sweetness from the red apple. Cooked perfectly, this sandwich granted me my bacon and cheese fix that I was so desperately longing for.
As for their soups, while I wouldn't say they were spectacular (nor quite as good as their sandwiches) they were both quite good. They both delivered on being rich in flavor without tasting overly salted, something I often notice about soups served in most sandwich shops.
The atmosphere was nice, and unlike many eateries in the Bucktown region of Chicago, it was clear that they wanted kids to feel as welcome as adults, even including small desks with coloring books and toys for them to play and pass their time as they wait for the food to arrive.
All in all I like the experience they provide. I think that the prices are a teensy bit higher than what I expect from a sandwich/soup establishment (especially for the All American, given it's ingredients.) However, their food, service and atmosphere are all excellent. I definitely foresee a return trip to try some of their other fare. If sandwiches and cheese are your thing, I would definitely encourage you to come visit this new family-friendly Bucktown gem.