Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cheesin' Out at The Big Cheesy Competition

Last weekend I embarked on a very fun cheesy adventure, together with Kimberly, as we attended The Big Cheesy 
competition at The Openhouse Gallery in Nolita.  I've been wanting to check out their food events for quite some time, so when this opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it.  And besides...who doesn't love a great grilled cheese?!

Why the Big Cheesy?
You may be wondering why an event all about grilled cheese? Even though I hardly questioned this delicious theme, it was initiated by the folks at The Openhouse Gallery to raise awareness for some really top-notch grilled cheese creations in the city.  Think we're pretty spoiled in Astoria by the awesomeness of The Queens Kickshaw, but the city is a vast place and the gems I'm about to tell you about can sometimes get lost in its enormity.  So queue up that spotlight please...

The Competition:
There were 7 fierce competitors that brought their cheesiest game to this competition, including Murray's, Casellula, Big Daddy's, Little Muenster, Lucy's Whey, Tartinery and Melt Shop.  In all honesty, they were all really tasty and I'd get a grilled cheese at any of them without hesitation.  But among the good, emerged the best in show and here they are, in my preferential order.

Lucy's Whey
- My favorite sandwich of the day, it was really simple and clean.  Containing just one cheese, pairie cheddar, and also fig jam and olive oil, the simplicity of the ingredients let each component shine and didn't confuse the palate.  I also loved the crispy ciabatta bread that held together its contents - the key was letting it stay the way it was and not greasing it too much, as I thought some of the other competitors did.

Melt Shop - With three types of grilled cheese sandwiches, it was one of the most innovative competitors, boasting 1). a sharp cheddar, 2). a fontina and goat cheese and 3). blue and cheddar cheese.  Each one of these had a unique spin, my favorite being the sharp cheddar, as it also incorporated chunky pieces of 12-hour braised pulled pork.  You can taste the smokiness upon first bite, and the homemade bbq sauce we dipped this baby in was the icing on this cheesecake.

Murray's - Being that it was the first grilled cheese sandwich we tried, it made a big impression.  Similar to the Melt Shop's cheddar grilled cheese that had meat in it, this one had a similar composition with braised short ribs, tangy taleggio cheese, caramelized onions, and fire roasted jalapeno peppers.  It had a clear personality and made a statement, so much so that they got Kimberly's vote for best grilled cheese of the competition.

Big Daddy's - The flashiest grilled cheese competitor, Big Daddy's featured lots of glitz and glam at their station, with colorful swag, free gift cards if you Tweeted them on the spot and get this...mac and cheese grilled cheese.  I applauded their unapologetic gluttony and truly enjoyed the creamy cheesy pasta, which was seamlessly embedded into the already rich grilled cheese.  Although it was amazing, I couldn't have more than one small piece.

Little Muenster - Although this was the last grilled cheese place we tried, it definitely stuck out, as it was the only option with a tomato soup dipping.  While the sandwich itself wasn't all that memorable, the soup was the show-stopper, especially because it was vegan and therefore non cream based.  I knocked it back even before I had a bite of the sandwich, and could've had a big bowl of that alone.

Casellula - Attracted more to the lovely set-up of their booth, when it came down to the food, Casellula's sandwich was tasty but not a total stunner.  I appreciated the uniqueness of it, as it incorporated the slightly spiced pickled pepper relish and an interesting combination of emmenthaler, gruyere, and scharfer max cheese (similar to an aged gruyere).

Tartinery - Kimberly and I were both mesmerized by the elegance of the two types of sandwiches they served, the classic Croque Monsier and the Croque Madame.  Although they looked gorgeous, they fell a bit short on taste, and both of us thought they went a little too heavy on the ham versus the cheese.  I liked that it was an open faced sandwich, hence "tartine," which made it more memorable.

The Winners:

Each person who attended the Big Cheesy was equipped with one ping pong ball that we were instructed to drop into a long tubular container, located at each grilled cheese station.  You can only vote once (hence the lonely ping pong ball) and the votes were tallied up by the end of the weekend.  So without further ado, the winner is...

The Melt Shop's grilled cheese trio.  

YUM! Although my vote went to Lucy's Whey, I'm totally OK with the outcome, as it was a close second.  If you haven't yet visited any of these amazing cheesy joints, I highly suggest you hit them up, and pronto...before word gets out.

Openhouse Gallery - 201 Mulberry Street, New York NY 10012
B/D/F/M to Broadway/Lafayette Stop

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