With a title like that, there’s no way you wouldn’t read the whole post. But just to be sure, I am putting the puppy picture at the very end.
R2, Daniel and I went to the Grilled Cheese Invitational in LA last weekend. Their motto is “Bread-Butter-Cheese-VICTORY!” which makes sense to me.
We all got judging tickets, which meant that we could go to the competition arena and judge the entries. It all sounded like a dream, a cheesy dream, and I couldn’t wait!
11:00 am, day of festival, at Tinx’s house:
Janet: [clutching a huge ham sandwich] OM NOM NOM NOM!
Tinx: Aren’t you going to be eating a shitload of grilled cheeses soon?
Janet: Eee! If Daniel asks this is YOUR sandwich OKAY?
Janet: Because he’ll be pissed that I’m ruining my appetite!
Tinx: He’s not gonna care.
Janet: Yes he is.
Daniel: [Walking in] Tillamooooook!
Janet: [Absentmindedly picks up sandwich and starts eating it again] Snarf snarf.
Daniel: WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN YOUR APPETITE!!
We made it to the festival, in a sort-of-shady part of downtown, by 1:30 pm. Despite my rebellious snacking, I was very low blood sugar, and the three of us were totally cranky.
Then the door checker gave us our judging bracelets, and I perked up. Then he gave us two tickets and said “That’s for your two judging tastings.” Whaaa? Just two? There were over 200 competitors! And…tickets? Does this mean it’s not a cheese-eating free for all?
It did indeed mean that. There were 17 professional stands where you had to purchase samples for anywhere from $2 to $7.50. This made us crankier. Then there was the competition arena, where the 200+ amateurs cooked their grilled cheeses in several heats throughout the day. They handed them out to people with judging tickets as they finished cooking them, often one at a time, so at any given time 1 out of around 50 people would get an actual tasting. Usually it was the person yelling the loudest or the girl with the most prominent boobs. Bogus. This made us the crankiest.
I realized were were in that dangerous headspace where you simultaneously have lost the will to live but are ready to shoot someone in the eyeball. I said, “Let’s just get one into our belly” and lined up for the shortest line, which was the Mendocino Farms stand.
Pictured in the background is the $3 Asian pork belly Cubano with chinese hot mustard, caramelized Kurobuta pork belly, prime honey ham, provolone, house made sweet chili sauce and Asian pickles on a panini grilled ciabatta.
Pictured in the foreground is the $2 French Onion Soup Melt with smoked gouda fondue and cave aged gruyere with caramelized onions on panini grilled dolce forno pretzel roll.
The former was one of those sammies that start out all weird but in the end all the flavors combine to be something more than the sum of its parts. The Asian mustard POW was the best part. The latter was my favorite of the entire day. The idea itself is so pleasing, and the execution, especially with the exotic bread, was outstanding!
Next, we met the World’s Fucking Cutest Fucking Puppy. But I’m not showing the picture until the end, remember?
Daniel and I had lost R2 at this point, and I worried that he was crouching in the corner in some low-b-sug-induced sulk-seizure, but instead I spied him being fed a grilled cheese sandwich by a huge, bearded dude in a very seductive way. I felt like I was interrupting a private moment so I looked away. Then I looked back and realized it was one of R2′s high school pals, and they’re always doing silly shenans like that.
I was all riled up from the one-two punch of puppy-beard so I forgot to take a picture of our next set of sandwiches, which were from the Mix N’ Munch Grilled Cheese (their apostrophe is in the wrong place, stupid) stand. We got a $2 Mix N’ Munch Breakfast Sammy with cheddar, bacon, fried egg, and tater tots on Shepherd’s bread. I dislike egg and I REALLY dislike tater tots, so this one wasn’t for me. I did appreciate, however, that instead of being a monstrosity that it could easily have been, it was all tidy and compact and looked, for all intents and purposes, like a regular Velveeta grilled cheese. We also got a $3 Char Suit [sic] N’ [we already know this was sic] Cheese, with Chinese barbecued pork, pickled onions and provolone on egg bread. In terms of Asian fusion points, Mendocino wins. Mostly I was distracted by the huge fat chunks in the pork, which on top of the provolone was a lot of white blandness. Oh, we also got the last cantaloupe water, which made many folks in line curse at us.
Everywhere we walked with the above item people ran up and asked where we got it and what it was. We got it from the Cynthia Washburn stand and it was an off-menu arancini. Basically a chunk of mozzarella surrounded by a clump of rice, breaded and deep fried. Heavenly. This one was particularly amazing because it had huge chunks of vegetables inside like spinach and carrots. I also really appreciated that it was so hot we could barely pick it up. Next time I’m super drunk, I hope this will magically appear in my hands, because I can’t imagine anything better and my hands will be numb and won’t hurt quite as much.
This one, also from Cynthia Washburn, wins my gourmet award. It is the$4 Ruby Canard, with duck confit, truffled chevre, and red onion port marmalade on rosemary bread.
There are probably those grilled cheese purists who would scoff at such a concoction. But creative and schmance grilled cheeses have their place too, which is why the Invitational has four categories:
The Honey Pot – Any kind of bread, any kind of butter, and any kind of cheese, and the interior ingredients of the sammich must be at least 60% cheese, PLUS additional ingredients, and with an overall flavor that is sweet and would best be served as dessert.
Click through for outrageously detailed paragraphs describing each category if you are bored.
I expected the Ruby Canard to be over-the-top decadent, but it really wasn’t. R2 and I came away with the same single conclusion, which was that we really like goat cheese.
Winning my decadent award instead was the above-pictured $7.50 Chicken N. [sic - what the hell everyone?] Waffle Melt, with sharp cheddar cheese and fried chicken on two golden waffles. By far the longest line we waited in, but I passed the time by first going to to the First Aid tent to steal some spray-on sunscreen. The paramedics looked super bored. One of them took one bite out of a grilled cheese sandwich and pushed it away. “I don’t really like grilled cheese sandwiches,” he mumbled sadly.
Then I passed the time by bopping to the music of March Fourth, which is this crazy kooky indie scary/creepy/cool awesome marching band, as it came through the main drag. Surprise surprise, they are originally from Portland.
The Chicken N. Waffle Melt was being sold by The Grilled Cheese Truck #2 (there were two and they both sold different things), and came with your choice of syrup or gravy on the side. We, of course, got one of each. I also got a Plain and Simple Melt, with sharp cheddar on French bread.
Yes, the gravy was THAT kind of gravy. The thick, chunky, pale kind that you might mistake for condensed cream of mushroom soup. This one had some cayenne pepper in it, and the fried chicken was very salty and crunchy, and the waffles were sweet and fluffy-soft and the whole shebang was pretty freaking awesome. The regular grilled cheese I got was tossed to the side after one bite, poor thing.
I was bursting at the seams, but we couldn’t leave without getting (a) a free 5-hour Energy that ladies in short shorts and visors were passing out and (b) a $3.25 Bacon Me Crazy from The Feast Truck, with mozzarella, strawberries and bacon coated with brown sugar and cayenne topped with a chocolate balsamic reduction drizzle.
It didn’t taste as weird as it looked (that’s what she said). I think cooked strawberries can sometimes get a gross slimy texture and this bordered on that, but otherwise it was fine. Who knows. Maybe my taste buds were on strike after being overworked.
We felt stupid buying judging passes and not judging a single sammy in the competition arena, so we waddled our way over and pressed ourselves up against the fence. The competitors were on the other side slowly making their sandwiches one by one. Then, festival workers would take a completed sandwich, turn to the crowd, and bask in undeserved attention as we all shrieked and begged for one of the samples. The ticketing system had gone out the window an hour earlier so it was an actual free-fer-all. One of the guys came close to Daniel, and he half-heartedly reached out a hand, but didn’t get one. I looked over at R2 and he was like “enh…” and equally half-assedly waved his hand at another worker.
Clearly we were full and our hearts just weren’t in it. To add insult to injury, there was a grilled cheese poetry contest being broadcast at ear-bleedingly loud decibels just to our left. Beyond the headache this generated, it made me double mad because R2 had composed a poem and not submitted it. I am SURE it would have won, so I am publishing it here:
Shall I compare thee to a grilled cheese sandwich?
Thou art fine and full, but not so satisfying.
Would that I were pampered and rich,
My heart still melts while cheddar’s frying.
Sometime too hot my passion burns,
By blackened char, gold flavors dim’d;
But bite for bite, opinion turns
And sandwich gone, I found I’ve sin’d.
I find fine dining my tongue eschews,
Nor are fair viands my heart’s true wish
‘Tis grilled cheese that I always choose,
Eternally the most delish.
And when I die, when laid to rest,
‘Tis cheese I will have loved the best.
Finally, we had had enough, and without judging a single sammy we wobbled/rolled our way back to the car. When I got back to SF, all those who had seen my Facebook status bragging about it were dying to know who won. First of all, we would have had to stay until SIX pm to find out the results, which would have been the death of us. Second of all, and just mentioned, we did not ourselves judge a single sando. Third of all, the winners and their sandwiches have nonsensical names so it wouldn’t make a difference to tell you. An example – the winning team of the Kama Sutra category was Super Duper Zung Chung and their entry was called the Fromage Connection. Meaningless.
So who cares! Especially when you have made it this far and can reap your just reward: The Fucking World’s Fucking Cutest Fucking Puppy. To get the proper sense of scale, you must realize that this puppy is being held by a child who is herself tiny. It was about the size of a bagel. You might even mistake it for a squirmy bagel and put it in your mouth. In fact, when I asked Daniel “how would you describe the teeniness of the puppy?” he said “Edible! Like literally fit in my mouth maybe.” So, without further ado, here it is, in all its tongue-y squee glory: