Putting cheese on bread is no novel concept — people have been uniting the two ingredients as far back as ancient Rome. The method of combining them, however, is another story. One of our favorite ways is the grilled cheese sandwich.
One of the first iterations of a grilled cheese came from, you guessed it, France. The French Croque Monsieur, a griddled ham and cheese sandwich, came about in the early 1900s. It wasn’t until a few decades later that the grilled cheese sandwich made a proper appearance in the United States.
Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the first automatic bread-slicing machine in Iowa in 1928, making the distribution of bread easier and more affordable. During the depression and World War II, Americans in search of cheap, filling meals looked to sliced bread and processed cheese from J.L. Kraft & Bros. Company (later known as Kraft Foods), which had opened its first U.S. plant in 1914. The cheese dream, an open-faced version of the grilled cheese sandwich, became popular during this time.
By 1949, Kraft Foods introduced its individually wrapped Kraft Singles, which American supermarkets began stocking in 1965. It was around this time that people began making closed, toasted cheese sandwiches and the term “grilled cheese” finally made an appearance in print.
A simple yet tasty grilled cheese sandwich is the ultimate kid-friendly meal, but adults shouldn’t have to miss out on all the gooey, cheesy deliciousness. Sonoma County restaurateurs are serving elevated versions of the tried and true classic. Here are a few to try on National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day (April 12) or any day of the year. Click through the above gallery for a peek at our favorite picks.
Grata Italian Eatery, Fonduta Grilled Cheese: Five cheeses, tomato conserva and pancetta on garlic toast. Think of it as a rich, Italian-style fondue but in sandwich form. 186 Windsor River Road, Windsor, 707-620-0508, gratawindsor.com
KC’s American Kitchen, Ultimate Grilled Cheese: Cheddar, jack, provolone and mozzarella cheeses spilling over between parmesan sourdough bread. Add tomatoes for $1, avocado for $2 and bacon or ham for $2.50. For when you’re feeling hungry and nostalgic. 9501 Duvander Lane, Windsor, 707-838-7800, kcsamericankitchen.com
Palooza Brewery and Gastropub, Adult Grilled Cheese: Carneros Caves Manchego cheese, smoked gouda, bacon, arugula and quince paste on multigrain bread, served with housemade chips. The perfect adult sandwich to go with your adult IPA or cocktail. 8910 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood, 707-833-4000, paloozafresh.com
Nimble & Finn’s, Pear and Cambozola Grilled Cheese: Cambozola, havarti, kalamata olive tapenade and caramelized onion and pear jam on Goguette bread, served with housemade seasonal pickled vegetables. Add Zoe’s Meats applewood smoked ham or bacon for $3. Who knew an ice cream shop could offer such gourmet grilled cheeses? (At the Santa Rosa location only.) 123 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-666-9590, nimbleandfinns.com
Brew, Bacon Jalapeño Grilled Cheese: Zoe’s Meats bacon, jack cheese, cheddar cheese and pickled jalapeños on sourdough bread. Do yourself a favor and pair this savory, spicy grilled cheese with an order of crispy tater tots. 555 Healdsburg Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-303-7372, brewcoffeeandbeer.com
Betty’s Fish & Chips, Grilled Crab & Jack Cheese: Dungeness crab and jack cheese on sourdough bread. Order with a side of New England Clam Chowder for a truly comforting East Coast lunch. 4046 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, 707-539-0899, bettysfishandchips.com
Cozy Plum Bistro, Pesto Grilled Cheese: Vegan provolone, tomato and pesto (made with pistachios and macadamia nuts) on herb focaccia. Add half an avocado for $3; get gluten-free bread for $3. The premier grilled cheese for vegans. 1899 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-526-3333, cozyplum.com
Steele & Hops, Tomato-Pesto Grilled Cheese: Cheddar, jack, tomato and pesto on white bread. With an in-house brewery and close proximity to Santa Rosa Junior College, this sandwich is great for college students. 1901 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-523-2201, steeleandhops.com
Heirloom Cafe at Sally Tomatoes, Insane Grilled Cheese: Provolone, Marin French Brie, Daphne’s Snowy Cheddar and tomato on parmesan crusted wholewheat. This dreamy, creamy grilled cheese is best enjoyed in the outside eating area under the trees. 1100 Valley House Drive, Rohnert Park, 707-665-9472, sallytomatoes.com/heirloom-cafe
Wild Goat Bistro, Adult Grilled Cheese: Comté and gruyere cheeses, bacon, caramelized shallots and Victor’s secret spread on rustic country bread. Substitute with vegan cheese for $2. What’s more adult than fancy cheeses mixed with caramelized onions enjoyed on the riverfront? 6 Petaluma Blvd. North, Suite A5, Petaluma, 707-658-1156, wildgoatbistro.com
Sax’s Joint, The Joint Grill: Generous amounts of cheddar, cream cheese and bacon (served triple-decker style). Of the handful of grilled cheeses on the menu, this one receives the most praise, as the cream cheese adds a special tangy creaminess to the sandwich. 317 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma, 707-559-3021, saxsjoint.com
The Girl & The Fig, Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Sharp cheddar with tomato confit on sourdough. Simple but oh so satisfying. 110 West Spain St., Sonoma, 707-938-3634, thegirlandthefig.com
Sunflower Caffe, Sunflower Grilled Cheese: Fontina, aged cheddar and Vella dry jack butter on sourdough. Add half an avocado for $2.50, thick-cut Duroc ham for $4, garlic thyme roasted chicken for $4 and wagyu steak for $9. Enjoy alongside the cream of tomato soup. 421 1st St. West, Sonoma, 707-996-6645, sonomasunflower.com
Sonoma’s Best, Grilled Cheese: Havarti, gruyere, pepper jam, bacon and arugula on choice of bread. Best enjoyed with a local wine out back in the garden. 1190 E. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-996-7600, sonomas-best.com
HopMonk Tavern, Grilled Cheese and Ham: Honey-cured ham, dijonnaise and three types of cheese oozing between parmesan crusted bread. Order it with the savory tomato soup for a soothing, classic combo. HopMonk Sonoma, 691 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-935-9100; HopMonk Sebastopol, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol, 707-829-7300, hopmonk.com
The Farmer’s Wife, Belly & Jelly: Aged cheddar, Point Reyes blue cheese, apricot conserve, honey lavender bacon and a wildflower honey drizzle. Or go for the Fromage à Trois: Three types of cheese with a wildflower honey drizzle. Talk about gourmet, farm-to-table grilled cheese sandwiches. 6760 McKinley St., Suite 120, Sebastopol, 707-827-3306, thefarmerswifesonoma.com
Society Bakery And Cafe, Grilled Cheese: Three types of cheese (chef’s choice) with herbs on house-baked bread. Make it a soup and grilled cheese combo with the soup of the day. 2661 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol, 707-861-9665, societybakerycafe.com
Big Bottom Market, Not Your Mama’s Grilled Cheese: Mixed cheeses, garlic aioli and pesto pressed between ciabatta. Add ham or bacon for $3. Enjoy with one of Oprah’s favorite biscuits. 16228 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-7295, bigbottommarket.com
Valley Ford Cheese and Creamery, V.F. Grilled Cheese: Housemade “Hwy 1” cheese, pastrami and kimchi on multigrain sourdough. A creative sandwich with award-winning cheese in a charming, countryside atmosphere. 14390 Valley Ford Road, Valley Ford, 707-293-5636, valleyfordcheese.com
Estero Cafe, Grilled Cheese: Organic cheddar and Estero Gold cheese on Red Bird Bakery sourdough makes for a delicious, locally-sourced grilled cheese sando. Add bacon for $3, because you’re worth it. 14450 CA-1, Valley Ford, esterocafe.com
Fishetarian Fish Market, Adult Grilled Cheese: Valley Ford Estero Gold and Hwy 1 cheeses with grilled onions and fig jam on sourdough. The seafood here is top notch, but the grilled cheese shouldn’t be missed. 599 Highway 1 South, Bodega Bay, 707-504-0164, fishetarianfishmarket.com
For the best no-frills grilled cheese sandwiches (just melty cheese and toasty bread), check out Downtown Bakery & Creamery, Boudin, Cafe Mimosa, The Twins Restaurant and Hole in the Wall.
Downtown Bakery & Creamery, Grilled Cheese: Mixed cheeses on housemade wheat or rye. Add ham or bacon for $1. Undoubtedly the most affordable and satisfying sandwich lunch in town. 308 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-2719
Boudin, The Great Grilled Cheese: Havarti and sharp cheddar on parmesan-crusted sourdough. 2345 Midway Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-303-4100, boudinbakery.com
Cafe Mimosa, Grilled Cheese: Cheddar and jack cheese on sourdough. Locations in Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa; cafemimosaaa.com
The Twins Restaurant, Grilled Cheese: Swiss, cheddar, provolone and parmigiano-reggiano on sourdough. 572 E Cotati Ave., Cotati, 707-242-3075, thetwinsrestaurant.com
Hole in the Wall, Grilled Cheese: Cheddar, swiss and pepper jack on sourdough. 972 Gravenstein Highway South, Suite 100, Sebastopol, 707-827-6040, holeinthewallrestaurantsebastopol.com