To get the obvious out of the way: Yes, Cheese Grill owner and chef Scott Clark has been told that melts and grilled cheese sandwiches are ostensibly different things, and no, he doesn't care. "For me, I'm throwing it on the grill, I'm grilling everything — it's a grilled cheese," he says.
There's a simplicity to Clark's method that produces a plethora of madness at the new downtown restaurant, the latest in a space that's claimed Salud Tequila Bar, Whiskey Dick's, Conscious Table and others. Clark — a friendly, imposing man who describes himself as 39 years old going on 20 — randomly turns out specialties like barbecue chicken bahn mi spring rolls with a cucumber salsa; fried Snickers and marshmallow wontons with vanilla bean ice cream; and something he calls the Pepperoni Pizza Grilled Cheese: a layer of pepperoni with four mozzarella sticks, a slice of melted Muenster, and another layer of pepperoni on Italian bread, all dipped in homemade marinara.
"I don't want to get bored," he says with a laugh. "Basically, a lot of potheads eat here and they have great ideas."
He talks about just wanting to have fun, like with the Cheese Grill's Wednesday poker nights, and if he has to go out of business, he'll do it with style. He's getting meat from Callicrate Beef, including a custom hot dog for a nine-inch corn dog, and bread from Rudi's Organic Bakery in Boulder. He'll soon import cheese from Springside Cheese Corp., in Pueblo, and fresh deliciousness from wherever it can come, including the basil plants growing on the restaurant's window ledge and the AeroGarden full of herb pods on the counter.
For us, sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but there's a lot of potential either way.
First, service can be spotty (blamed one afternoon on a faulty POS system), and times can run long — some co-workers ended up boxing their food as soon as it arrived. The macaroni is boiled to al dente at least twice a day, then splashed with a béchamel, but a Carnitas Mac ($9.95), with Hatch chilies and scattered cuts of pork, came out pure mush. The noodles worked better in a delicious Garden Mac ($8.95) of super-gooey Edam, American and mozzarella cheeses over cauliflower, asparagus and the like.
Clark says the skin-on fries are eight minutes between potato and plate, which is great, but something was up with the process, to where ours came out soggy, heavy and vaguely sweet. Elsewhere, the beef in his Grilled French Dip is (awesomely) roasted on Ron Popeil's "Set it and forget it" roaster, and he brines his grilled chicken in a rosemary-thyme-pink-peppercorn mixture.
That chicken shows up with house-cured, -smoked, -roasted and -sliced ham in the Cordon Bleu ($8.95) on buttery sourdough with Swiss, and a deliciously rich jus reduction of Chardonnay, butter, garlic and cream. You could also do the totally fine Italian ($7.95), with its salami, pepperoni and ham; or the Eggy in a Basket ($7.55, plus $1.55 for bacon), where a hole's cut into the top piece of toast and filled with a beautiful fried egg.
A Caprese Grilled Cheese ($7.95) offers snappy balsamic-marinated tomatoes with a thick slice of mozzarella that cools fast. It was barely ordered over the Grilled Cheese Cheeseburger — a hamburger patty between two sandwiches, that can be ordered with bacon and then doubled — mostly because I hoped to survive the fun.
"I like flavors, man, and I like food," Clark says. "I'm hoping to stick around a long time."