Detour: Tom + Chee

Hi there, everyone. I apologize for not posting in a while. I was sick for a week and was trying to get as much sleep as possible, not leaving time for blogging. And then I went on vacation. To where, you ask? Cincinnati, Ohio.

Yes, I understand that Cincinnati is a bit lacking in luster in terms of a prime vacationing spot, but a great friend of mine lives there, and I’ve been meaning to go there for some time. But, of course, you’re probably not too concerned about that.

I’m sitting in the airport now, typing this up for you all.

Since I’m in Cinci, I thought I’d do a bit of a detour blog. As I mentioned in my first post, my favorite part about traveling is eating what my destination has to offer. I have eaten a lot of great food this week, including amazing Belgian waffles with strawberries and whipped cream (the flour they use causes the waffle to caramelize from the inside out!), and unique gorgonzola pizza chased by very flavorful sorbetto, and some East African food that I don’t know too much about, though I certainly enjoyed it.

I can’t write a blog for each place I went to this past week, but I wanted share some of my experience with you by picking what was, for me, the most surprising edible adventure of my time in Ohio—the grilled cheese donut.

My friend, Jonathan, took me to a place called Newport on the Levee, which is actually located across the Ohio River in Kentucky. Newport on the Levee is a small shopping area near the Newport Aquarium. Jonathan likened it to Chicago’s Navy Pier, and I tend to agree with the comparison. Walking around, we peeked into Tom + Chee, which Jonathan said was well known and had even been featured on some sort of cooking or travel show on TV.

I had actually tried to get lunch at another Tom + Chee location upon my arrival in downtown Cincinnati, but it had already closed (I was going for a very late lunch).

So we walk into the Newport location.

Now, Tom + Chee is a chain. I do not generally like chains, preferring the uniqueness of a local, family-owned eatery, but I’ll do a chain if it’s a new experience. Tom + Chee has locations around the country, but it started from a food tent in Cincinnati. And they’re specialty, indeed almost the only thing you can buy in T+C, is the grilled cheese sandwich. Almost every menu item is some crazy variation of the children’s playdate classic.

I confess, grilled cheese sandwiches are not my favorite. I can appreciate the flavor addition that tomato soup can bring to the dish, but I cannot think of a time in which I have ever craved this staple of adolescent ingestion. I have even had a friend make me try a grilled cheese with grape jelly on top. It did not taste as strange as it sounds, but the jelly did not really add anything to the experience either.

But a donut? That is T+C’s famous menu item, for which they have been featured on TV. They even have a food challenge revolving around the sandwich…donut…thing. But this is a humble food blog, not “Man vs. Food.”

Though the grilled cheese donut was amazing, and one was certainly not enough, I think I prefer the two years of life that 13 of those things would most certainly take from me.
Though the grilled cheese donut was amazing, and one was certainly not enough, I think I prefer the two years of life that 13 of those things would most certainly take from me.

Amazingly, the basic grilled cheese donut is not the most absurd item on the menu. Take, for instance, the Mint Summer’s Night (I do love the pun): chocolate mint candy, chocolate mascarpone, fresh strawberries, and a donut. Doesn’t sound too weird? There’s also Mozzarella cheese on it!

But the money maker is the basic grilled cheese donut. Cheddar cheese grilled between two halves of a glazed donut. Strange, yet simple. My friend and I can’t resist. We take the plunge, not sure what is going to happen. We place the order, are given the number 26 on one of those plastic stands you place on the table, and find a seat. Maybe 10 minutes later (it was busy), in comes the donut. Because this is just an adventure, we only ordered one between the two of us. Cutting it in half is a bit difficult because the sugary glaze has caramelized partially and created a crunchy edge that has caused the grilled cheese donut to stick to the bottom. Finally done, we take our respective halves and bite in.

Brilliant. This is an amazing piece of culinary genius. It’s no wonder this edible novelty has become famous in it’s own right. The flavor of cheese and caramelized glaze blend seamlessly. I can’t tell where one flavor ends and the other begins. You don’t so much taste the cheddar, but rather feel that the bite is not as sweet as a donut and not as savory as melted cheese.

Jonathan thinks that there should be more cheese. Personally, I disagree. Any more cheese and it would taste like cheese with donut awkwardly added in. Any less cheese and you might as well be eating a normal donut. Tom + Chee has struck the happy-medium, the beautiful balance of sweet and savory, to create something new. This is not simply a variation of an old classic.  This is a revitalization of something that had become tired out and commonplace.

Okay, so maybe I went a bit over the top there, but that crap was delicious, for real.

In fact, it was so delicious that before I caught my bus to the airport this morning, I stopped into Tom + Chee to get my own grilled cheese donut. Worth it.


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