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Blessed are the Cheese Grillers: Tom + Chee (University District)

Today we have another guest post by my beloved spouse, as she gives the lowdown on the grilled cheese goodies offered by Cincinnati-based Tom+Chee

A segment on network TV show "Shark Tank" has boosted
Cincinnati-based Tom+Chee into national prominence
One of my long-standing personal rules about dining out is to avoid ordering something that I can make easily at home. On occasion, however, I will make an exception to that rule for a good grilled cheese sandwich. Grilled cheese is one of those ultimate comfort foods that can be as simple or complex as you would like, and so while mine at home are still simple and delicious affairs of butter, whole grain bread, and cheddar or other cheese I have on hand, the ones you can buy in a restaurant can be quite inventive in the toppings combinations.

I work at Ohio State and while I try to pack my lunch as often as possible, High Street is a convenient walk from my office for those days when I need to buy my lunch. Back on November, during the first real cold snap of the season, I happened to visit Tom + Chee not only for my very first time but (as I later learned) also on the first day it was open at its campus-area location.

The interior of the Tom + Chee next to The Ohio State University campus
The first thing I observed is that the basic layout left behind by Pera Fresh Istanbul Food is still the same, with a long central table, plus some additional tables and chairs along the side and in front of the window. I personally find the tall stools to be rather uncomfortable since my legs are a bit short for reaching the footrest on the table, and there are only a couple of standard height chairs and tables, which were full on this busy day. I opted to take my food to-go, and have continued to do the same on my subsequent visits.

Visit #1: Hot + Spicy grilled cheese with Beer Cheese soup - I am quite fond of all things spicy, so I selected this as my first sandwich from Tom + Chee.  The cheese didn’t quite hold in all the other ingredients so I had an escapee pepper or two, but the flavor was nice and not too pizza like despite the pepperoni. The beer cheese soup was creamy and rich, and very nice overall.

Visit #2: The classic Tom + Chee with Chunky Tomato Basil Soup - I probably should have had these the 1st day since they are the classic pairing. The sandwich was nice and garlicky, and the tomato is a nice touch. This time of year, tomatoes are pretty bland so I bet this would be really nice when ripe local tomatoes are available. I was a little worried about the tomato basil soup, since most tomato soups that use basil end up tasting like spaghetti sauce. In this case, the flavor really spotlighted the tomatoes with the basil a nice accent without being heavy-handed.

Visit #3: The Philly II and Blue Cheese Chili - The Philly II was a daily special sandwich that came with mozzarella, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, roast beef, mayo and banana peppers. I opted against the mayonnaise and banana peppers as I’m not a particular fan of either. I thought it tasted very good, though the bread on the underside of the sandwich got a bit soggy. This actually happened with one of the other sandwiches too (I can’t remember which) and I think it is just that some of the add-ons (the beef and mushrooms in this case) are a bit juicy.  If you eat in the restaurant, this likely is not an issue, but you will want to be aware of this with take-out.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the blue cheese chili but it turned out to be a regular chili with blue cheese crumbles dotting the top. The chili had a little surprise of bacon in with the beef and tomatoes, and there were no beans. Not sure if there are none in the recipe at all or if I just didn't happen to get any in my cup. The chili was mildly spiced (about the same level as Wendy’s chili) where I would have preferred more heat, and I would also have liked a little more blue cheese so that flavor was more forward as well.  In the end, this was my least favorite of the soups.

Top to Bottom: The Philly II with Blue Cheese Chili
Hot + Spicy grilled cheese with Beer Cheese Soup
Classic Tom + Chee with Chunky Tomato Basil Soup
All in all, I was satisfied with my food on all 3 visits. My overall favorites ended up being the classic Tom + Chee with Chunky Tomato soup, which has the benefit of being one of the most economical options on the menu.  Prices are per sandwich ($4.95 for the Tom + Chee, the fancier ones can be as high as $7.95) and for $3, you can add a soft drink and cup of soup (a cup of soup on its own is $3).  For the lunch places I frequent on High Street, the price is right about the mid-range for lunch if you get the lower priced sandwiches and/or skip the soup.

For the adventurous, the restaurant offers both a basic and fancy grilled cheese donuts, in which a glazed donut takes the place of the usual bread. The fancy ones have mascarpone and a variety of sweet toppings. Adam Richman from Man vs. Food even gave the Blueberry Blue a try at the Cincinnati location.

I will be curious to see if Tom + Chee has staying power in this location, despite their relative success downtown and in Hilliard. I have been working at OSU for nearly 12 years, and this particular restaurant location has had probably half a dozen different restaurants in it during that time. It is in the middle of a stretch of about 9 different restaurants between 17th and 18th Avenue on High Street, and thus faces quite a bit of competition. Restaurants here live and die by the student population at OSU, and this spot has had more turnover than some of the others on the block. Summertime in particular can hit restaurants hard, and I’m not sure I’m in the mood for grilled cheese all that much at that time of year myself.

Tom+Chee
1980-A North High St (University District)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 947-1232
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