Few comfort-food combinations are better than the one-two punch of buttery grilled bread and gooey melted cheese. But even the traditional grilled-cheese sandwich apparently has room for improvement.
A couple of local eateries have tinkered with this classic in pursuit of hot-sandwich perfection, demonstrating — with some clever twists — how an old standby can be dialed into something special.
I checked out some of the grilled-cheese choices available at Medford restaurants, including a gem from a California chain's not-so-secret online menu.
One way to improve on the classic grilled cheese is to stack it with another cheesy, starchy comfort food — such as macaroni and cheese — then pile it high on slices of house-made bread and toast it.
At $9, the Bacon Mac & Cheese Grilled Cheese is Common Block Brewing Company's lowest-priced sandwich, but it's just as impressive as everything else I've tried at the stylish new pub and restaurant inside Medford's historic Monarch building, 315 E. Fifth St., at the Medford Commons.
There's a something about biting into a pasta sandwich that feels slightly rebellious, like eating dessert first or breakfast at night. And when the mac and cheese spills out onto the plate, it becomes a side dish. Toothpicks probably deserve most of the credit for keeping everything together, but slices of melted cheese do their part.
Common Block's fries are among my favorites, with flavor and texture reminiscent of carnival curly fries. It's also a lot of starch and oil on one plate, so those looking for some semblance of balance may prefer to side it with a salad or one of the restaurant's hearty house-made soups.
Taking inspiration from a favorite hors d'oeuvre is another way to improve upon a classic.
R&D's Sandwich Factory, 1132 N. Riverside Ave., has built a reputation for some of the best cold sandwiches in Southern Oregon. Lately they've expanded their menu and added several grilled-cheese options, including a classic grilled cheese with cheddar and provolone, one with pesto, mozzarella and tomato, and a ham-and-cheese version.
I recently ordered their Bacon Jalapeno Popper sandwich, which is made with mild jalapeno cream cheese mixed with crispy, warm bacon pieces, slices of cheddar, provolone and grilled sourdough. It's available in 4- or 6-inch sizes, and the smaller version is plenty unless you're planning to share the sandwich.
The wait was a little longer than 10 minutes, but it was time clearly spent ensuring everything was golden brown and melted all the way through. It was definitely worth the wait, but those in a hurry may want to call ahead.
On another front, the masses may not know there's a meatless option on In-N-Out Burger's so-called Not-So-Secret Menu at www.in-n-out.com/menu/not-so-secret-menu.
The restaurant's grilled cheese sandwich is really be a Double-Double sans the double meat. For $2.30 — the same price as the chain's hamburger — you get two slices of melted American cheese, lettuce, tomato, a Thousand Island-style spread and choice of onions on grilled sponge-dough buns. I recommend it with their whole-grilled onions, but sliced raw onions and diced grilled onions are also available.
Everything works together surprisingly well on this sandwich, just one of the things that In-N-Out Burger does right at its Medford location, 1970 Crater Lake Highway, on the north side of Rogue Valley Mall. The grilled buns are hot and crispy, the cheese is perfectly melted, and you can get it with fries or a shake.