Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup: Like a Food Blanket

My goodness, sorry for the long absence! Holidays, holidaze, call it what you will...yeah, I've been slacking off. My apologies; it is my sincerest hope that you all were able to gforge through the holidays without my guidance and expertise. I'll never leave you hanging like that again; pinky swear.*

So last week I found myself out in the Farmington Hills area...looooong way from home, I know, but I figured what the hay, I'm out here, I might as well check out a place I've been meaning to investigate for awhile but could never ever ever force myself to make the drive without being under other pretense. Well hello there, other pretense!

It was a blustery day when I pulled into a strip mall parking lot off Northwestern Highway, just south of 14 Mile Rd. (right by the Home Depot and Sam's Club; ah, suburbia)...perfect for some bonafide comfort food.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup offers exactly that: hearty, wholesome, nutritious (...that may be up for debate...) and delicious comfort food. I mean, the name says it all--grilled cheese and tomato soup are pretty much the comfort food elite, the very embodiment of belly-and-soul-warming consumables that bring back warm memories of cold winter days at Grandma's house snuggling under a blanket and watching Disney movies.

At Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, you might as well be in Grandma's industrial-sized kitchen with walk-up ordering, complete with loud paintings of big blotchy vineyards, antique-esque curio cabinets with ceramic ramikins displayed inside and Americana-classic blue and white porcelain vases on top, and comfort food classics made with more butter than you can shake a stick of butter at.

There are a number of options available to order--a wide variety of soups (ten daily), generous salads, baguette sandwiches (the Slow Roasted Pulled Pork with warm Brie, candied onions, and garlic aioli spoke to me), and a host of clever variations on the standard grilled cheese classic (spiral ham and Gruyere, tuna and American, etc.). There are also the hardcore "Grandma's World-Famous Homemade Recipes" for the real comfort food aficionados: chicken pot pie, meatloaf, pot roast, mac & cheese. Real rib-stickin' goodness, right there. Hearty. Definitely hearty.

Well, when in Rome, right? I decided to go with the namesake Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup combo: $6.95, and you can choose up to three different cheeses for the sandwich (choices include American, Cheddar, Provolone, etc.). I went with the HeartSmart Special; Gruyere, American Bleu, and Smoked Gouda.

But first I was served with what might be my favorite tomato soup ever. A rich bisque slightly pinkish from the heavy cream, and the oils from the abundance of butter separating ever-so-slightly, this tomato soup had a distinctive creamy sweetness to it, totally lacking the tartness and acidity of more average tomato soups. Now, maybe this is because they've cultivated only naturally high-sugar small tomatoes for their homemade soups, or maybe they just add in a butt-ton of sugar, but either way I likey. The end result is creamy, soothing, and soul-warming (chicken soup, pbffft). And also, it's served in a HUGE bowl, more than you could possibly eat in one sitting and certainly a generous portion for the price.

My HeartSmart grilled cheese was perfection. There is an art to grilling the sandwich just right, so that the cheese is warm and melty without being too hot and gooey, and the outside has a slight buttery crunch without being dry or burned. These golden triangles were grilled cheese mastery, and every cheesy-salty-buttery bite was bliss.

"GCATS" propietor Jeff McArthur earned his culinary creds at Schoolcraft College's well-respected culinary school, though with this charming walk-up/carry-out location he shirks the implied hoighty-toightiess that comes with words like "cuisine." All the food here is old-fashioned homestyle goodness, made from family recipes.

I wish my family cooked like that.

You can dine-in and enjoy the quaint atmosphere, but it seems like this place does a mean carry-out business and all the soups are available in to-go pints and quarts. The portions are huge, the prices are low, the options are plentiful, and the food is just simply snuggly-fuzzy-nummy.

While Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup may be a bit out of the way for, well, me, I encourage my Oakland County readers to see this place as a superior alternative to similar lunchtime hotspots like Zoup! and even Panera Bread. Sure, it may not have all the same glitz and glamour, but do those corporate competitors serve food that feels like stomach Snuggies? I rest my case.

PS, it's just now really effing cold outside. It's high time for comfort food to make a comeback. Because sushi won't keep you warm at night. No, sushi won't.
*I was totally crossing my fingers when I said that.