April is National Grilled Cheese Month, a celebration of the soul-soothing sandwich we’ve loved since childhood. What union is better than gooey, hot cheese in between buttery, crunchy slices of bread? Below, find some of our top picks for killer grilled cheeses in Philly, from the straightforward to the sublime.
The Royal Tavern
Pull up a stool to the dimly lit bar, or grab a cozy table in the back of “the Royal,” one of the city’s original gastropubs, for a perfectly satisfying, golden brown 3-cheese grilled cheese, a mainstay on the menu for nearly the entire duration of the Tavern’s 10 year run. Gouda, sharp provolone, and goat cheese meld perfectly, and the sandwich is a score at $8 with a side of fries or a little salad. Add a cup of soup for just $3 (there is at least one vegetarian version every day), for some dipping action. Tomato, bacon, and tempeh bacon are all excellent add-ons.
Valley Shepherd Creamery, an artisanal cheese company in North Jersey, recently opened a stall on Avenue D in the Reading Terminal Market. In addition to on-site cheese making and a gourmet cheese counter, their cheery retail space (check out the vintage milk bottle light fixtures!) contains Meltkraft, a made-to-order grilled cheese bar. Their menu specializes in creative fillings and combinations, all made with Valley Shepherd cheese and locally sourced ingredients (even the bread and butter). Try the “Melter Skelter” (Valley Shepherd "Melter Skelter", pickled green tomatoes, jalapeño, BBQ potato chips and watercress), “Today’s Mozz” (super-fresh mozzarella on a baguette with roasted tomatoes and the option to add sopressata), or the “Valley Thunder” (Valley Shepherd "Valley Thunder" cheddar, brisket, and baked macaroni & cheese). All grilled cheeses are zapped on their special panini presses while you wait, for maximum meltiness.
Say Cheese Grilled Cheese Truck
This mobile vendor of goodness mostly serves lunch on Drexel’s campus (33rd and Arch) or the Porch at 30th Street, but also makes appearances at festivals, street fairs, and other events. The devil is in the details with the Say Cheese sandwiches, and special touches like house-cured and smoked meats and high quality cheeses set them miles apart from the myriad of mediocre sandwiches available from most University City food carts. Daily specials like corned beef Reuben (on marble rye with melted gruyere, house made Russian dressing and sauerkraut), and Chicken Cordon Bleu (fresh chicken breast, prosciutto de Parma, and fried Swiss cheese on a fresh baked long roll), make every order an adventure.
The Pop Shop
While not technically in Philadelphia, this charming old-school diner and soda fountain in Collingswood, NJ is just a quick drive out of the city, and totally worth the trip for their fun, crowd-pleasing menu. Grilled cheeses are serious business at the Pop Shop, with over 30 different combinations to choose from, a month-long celebration of Grilled Cheese Month with a special grilled cheese deal every day in April, a cheese poetry contest, and even a Grilled Cheese King and Queen pageant! Though the Pop’s Shop’s décor is classic Americana, the grilled cheeses are modern and updated: kimchi, seitan, balsamic portobello mushrooms, lobster, and pulled pork are just some of the unexpected ingredients that make an appearance on the menu. For bonus points, order the "5B'S," a special grilled cheese created by Food Network hunk Bobby Flay during the famed The Pop Shop grilled cheese throwdown: brie, goat cheese, applewood smoked bacon and tomato on country white.
Feeling French? For an elegant European twist, the Croque Madame at Stephen Starr’s park-side cafe is an upscale version of ham and cheese. Grilled ham, a fried egg, and a delicate mornay cheese sauce all mingle on a baguette – a combination that’s pure Paris. At $13.50 (or more, if you splurge on a glass of champagne, which is hard not do to at Parc), this tips the price scale a bit, but what you’re really paying for is that indescribable Right Bank atmosphere right on the edge of Rittenhouse Square. Grab an outside table on a warm afternoon for free sunshine and people watching.