The Distinguished Gourmand: Grilled Cheese And Beer Night
My first Grilled Cheese and Beer Night at Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica was a little over a year ago, in October of 2013. It was a little overwhelming at the time because I’d never been to one before, it was hyped up a lot, and I experienced a kind of sensation overload that prevented me from taking good-enough notes to blog about it. On Friday night I returned to Santa Monica for my second GCBN (that’s my abbreviation I just came up with) and this time I took enough notes and photos to accurately review the event.
So, if you’re unfamiliar, Andrew’s Cheese Shop is a little place on a bustling stretch of Montana Ave. that — I believe — is a family-run business. Usually three times per month on Friday night’s the place will close down and hold a private tasting event for 20-25 ticketed guests who get to try some of Andrew’s grilled cheese recipes, which he pairs with beers from around the globe that are also available for purchase in the shop. By the way, Andrew’s has a quietly brilliant craft beer selection. I picked up a bottle of Mikkeller 2012 Santa’s Little Helper aged in tequila barrels the other night, and in the past I’ve found some moderately rare beers at affordable prices. The list is really well curated, and Andrew definitely knows his stuff. Anyway, onto the event.
When you are first seated, there is a small salad awaiting you. Already, the air in the little shop is thick with a heady aroma of mushrooms, cheese, and onions. You don’t know what the combination of ingredients is going to be on each iteration, but right from the get-go it smells incredible. The salad is made with little cheese crips, dark leafy greens and a light dressing, it’s a pleasant way to start the meal. It also serves as a distraction from the insane amount of carbs and dairy you are about to consume. By the way, I was so nervous about taking pictures at the start of the meal that I took the worst possible picture of the salad. Sorry about that.
All of the grilled cheeses are served open face, which is a good thing because I don’t think most diners would be able to finish four sandwiches if they were legit full-sized offerings. I’m a beast so I had seconds on most of the four courses, and although I was fine at the time I’m sure my arteries were hating me afterwards. The first grilled cheese came on a homemade olive bread that was buttered with basil-truffle butter, and was topped with prosciutto, burrata, tomato, and sprinkled with truffle salt. The beer pairing was Damm S.A.’s Estrella Damm Inedit. This was the same starter I had last time, but I absolutely love it and took seconds without hesitation. I wish I knew what kind of truffle salt Andrew used because it was the least overpowering I’ve ever tasted, and would happily buy some for home. The beer pairing is so perfect it’s giddying. Inedit is a beer that I always keep on hand at home for exactly this purpose. It’s the best compliment to heavy, rich food beer that I know. I bring it to pizza parties all the time and people go crazy for it. Crafted by Ferran Andria of ElBulli fame, it’s a blend of lager and wheat beer styles (classified as a Witbier) that is floral, fresh and sweet. An awesome way to start the night.
The second grilled cheese of the night was my favorite of the bunch. On a multigrain (walnut raisin? I think?) bread, this one was topped with mushrooms, pepperoncini and a mixture of two cheeses I can’t remember. I think one was a cow’s milk and one was a sheep’s milk cheese. There was a really solid spiciness to it that I could have sworn was jalapeno, but I was wrong. The beer paired with this sandwich was Reissdorf Kolsch by Privat-Brauerei Heinrich Reissdorf. For another hearty, intense sandwich this was a solid pairing because the lightness and the sweetness of the style really cut through the heaviness of the ingredients in the grilled cheese. If I ever go back to Andrew’s for another one of these nights (part of me kind of wants to book an event for my birthday…I wonder if they’ll let someone buy out a night and host 20-25 friends…) I really hope this one is on the menu.
The transition from the 2nd course to the 3rd course was probably the biggest 180 of the evening. This sandwich was probably the most unique of the night, and included a lot of ingredients I’m probably forgetting. I’m pretty sure it came on a homemade multi-grain bread with carrots and maybe raisins and nuts as well. It was topped with a combination of gruyere and one other cheese, and beneath it was chopped cornichon pickles, red onion, and something else. There was a mustard spread on the bread beneath the other toppings as well. Usually I hate mustard, but I couldn’t taste it until Andrew gave his description of what we were eating. And you know what? Once he mentioned the mustard, I tasted it in the next bite and I found that it imparted a nice tangy zing that contrasted the fattiness and density of the sandwich. The beer pairing for this sandwich was Brouwerij Huyghe’s Delirium Noel. Although best known for Delirium Tremens, the sweet maltiness of Noel and its spicy finish (kinda like the spicy finish of the mustard/cornichons) paired really well with this dish.
The last — and best — iteration of grilled cheese we had was one of the most simple, but probably the most exciting for me. A simple baguette topped with beer cheese (I forget what beer the cheese is soaked in) that’s also imbued with habanero chile. It was deliciously spicy, cheesy and bready in all the right ways. This was the only course where each diner was given two “sandwiches” because the baguette is a bit on the small side. I could have easily had ten of these. At that point I’d already had two of every one I was offered. I was feeling so gluttonous I declined a second serving even though I badly wanted one. Our final grilled cheese was paired with Oksar Blues’ G’Knight, a dry-hopped imperial red / double-IPA that I’ve enjoyed on many occasions. Nothing counteracts the mounting heat of chiles like a citrusy, hoppy ale. I really savored this combination, probably more so than any other pairing of the night.
Dessert is always the same on Grilled Cheese & Beer night, a beer float made with french vanilla ice cream and some kind of dark, chocolatey beer. The first time I went to GCBN the float was made with Clown Shoes’ Vampire Slayer. This time it was Port Brewing’s Board Meeting. A brown ale brewed with coffee and cocoa nibs, it fits the flavor profile of a stout more than your typical brown ale, but it’s a little drier and lighter bodied (as in medium bodied) than an imperial stout usually is. As I don’t really remember the nuances of the Clown Shoes float, I’m hard-pressed to compare the two. I’m sure if Andrew switched to Board Meeting there’s a reason though. It was quite good. I still think the best beer float in town is Golden State’s combination of Old Rasputin with Scoops’ brown bread ice cream, but Andrew’s done a commendable job experimenting with his own float.
And with that, my night of grilled cheese and beer concluded. I quickly grabbed that Mikkeller bottle and departed the shop, hoping to return soon. Either to grab a few more bottles of Inedit, or for another GCBN. February is pretty much sold out at this point, although a couple tickets remain for the — nope, I just checked again and the last night of the month is already sold out. Maybe in late April I’ll be closing the shop down for my own private event. We’ll see if I can get some friends to pony up the dough to have our own birthday beer and grilled cheese celebration.
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