grilled cheese banner sizeApril 12 is National Grilled Cheese Day, and those of us here at the Dish could not be happier to have an excuse to celebrate the glorious, melty, cheesy goodness that is the Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

The Grilled Cheese sandwich is fascinating in its simplicity and the ease with which one can be whipped up, but it’s also a menu item that can be tweaked and polished to an almost endless extent.  In fact, innovative lovers of melted cheese and bread have experimented and honed their craft to the point that grilled cheese restaurants – eateries that boast varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches as their primary offering – have begun springing up around the country (I’m looking at you, Cheesie’s Pub and Grub of Chicago!)

Other restaurants, from high-end eateries to casual pubs, have added this beloved sandwich to their menus across the U.S., and we’re here to tell you why you should consider ordering a grilled cheese next time you’re seated in that booth.

Whether you’re a mom looking to feed a hungry little one, a college student low on funds or a gourmet cheese connoisseur, the impressively versatile grilled cheese sandwich can be perfected to suit your needs.  Below, some of our favorite versions of this deliciously simple and always delightful culinary creation:

The Traditional  – Perfect for kids, young adults on a budget, picky eaters and those who enjoy feeling like a kid again, you can rarely go wrong with this crowd-pleasing sandwich.

Take a trip back to childhood with some Kraft singles and Wonder Bread, or up the nutritional benefit by switching to whole wheat and adding a few slices of fresh tomato or avocado.  My personal favorite version is my grandmother’s: open-faced with sharp cheddar on rye bread.  YUM.

You can find truly delicious versions of this homemade favorite at many restaurants, often garnished with exciting extras like bacon or ham (also known as the French favorite Croque-monsieur) and served with a side of tomato soup – the perfect zesty complement to rich cheesiness.  Try dipping this simple sandwich in the soup or add ketchup or a pesto mayonnaise for an extra burst of flavor.

The Exotic – If your palate is more refined than those of us who are content with American cheese and bread, have no fear, there is absolutely still a grilled cheese for you.  And, chances are a restaurant is just the place to find it.  Chefs love to experiment, and the combinations you can concoct from bread and cheese are endless.

The number of cheeses out there is enormous, and all of them can be used to dress up those two pieces of bread and make a grilled cheese into a gourmet dish.  Try different varieties like gruyere, manchego, blue cheese, fontina, Swiss or goat cheese, or combine several different cheeses for a rich flavor combination in every bite.  You can also add spices like rosemary, pepper or basil for an extra splash.

Try kicking things up a notch by adding jalepenos, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, onions, apple slices or even mustard greens for an extra ingredient.  Hot sauces (I like the Cholula options), marinara and guacamole can also be delicious complements.

Different types of bread are also key to a gourmet grilled cheese.  Restaurants use everything from focacia and pumpernickel to toast dusted in olive oil to create the perfect base for their sandwiches.

The Extreme – The fact that grilled cheese is comprised of two of the most basic comfort foods lends itself to the creation of some indulgent concoctions born out of creative cravings.

Some restaurants offer grilled cheese with macaroni and cheese, french fries, mayo or cream cheese – and I don’t mean on the side, we’re talking IN the sandwich.  Imaginations can run wild with these caloric juggernauts, and I assure you, they are delicious – but not for the faint of heart!

Whatever your cheesy preference, we hope you enjoy the glory of the grilled cheese as much as we do.  Share some of your favorite grilled cheese recipes, or the best grilled cheese you’ve ordered in a restaurant, in the comments section below!
“Say Cheese!” The Dish Celebrates National Grilled Cheese Day originally appeared on The Dish in 2012.