Praise Cheeses! The Grilled Cheeserie's Brand-New Cafe Is Already an Essential Spot
New Hillsboro Village restaurant is a hot destination for specialty melts and more
by Dana Kopp Franklin
Since it started rolling in 2016, The Grilled Cheeserie has served as something of a positive symbol of the New Nashville dining scene, popping up in various stages over the years in media coverage of the restaurant scene’s evolution.
The Grilled Cheeserie was one of the very earliest trucks to earn notice, and as the operation grew, it always seemed to deliver what people wanted — a cheesy, melty, satisfying sandwich, with a side of house-made soup and a dessert.
What’s remarkable about the business is how its owners — the husband-and-wife team of Crystal De Luna-Bogan and Joseph Bogan — slowly and steadily enhanced The Grilled Cheeserie, adding to its offerings and extending the upward arc of food quality and creativity.
“The idea was to take something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich, and blow people away,” explains Joseph Bogan. A couple years ago, the couple added a second food truck, and in early January, they opened an ambitious cafe in Hillsboro Village. (The trucks will also continue to operate.)
Why take the relatively risky step to bricks-and-mortar, given that the trucks have been doing so well for so many years? “We like to keep moving forward — at our own pace,” Joseph says.
The milkshake bar at The Grilled CheeseriePHOTO: DANIEL MEIGSThe couple say the brand-new cafe, inside the former Sunset Grill space, is the culmination of all their efforts, and their priorities: finding good, responsibly produced ingredients; developing and executing excellent recipes; and creating a fun, well-designed restaurant interior and ambience.
Even after only a month in business, it’s clear they’ve succeeded — The Grilled Cheeserie is a really good restaurant. On five visits, I’ve sampled almost everything on the menu, sandwiches, soups, salads, milkshakes and more. I’d say, easily, that as far as the fast-casual concept goes (that’s the model where patrons order at a counter but the food is prepared to order and brought to their table), The Grilled Cheeserie is about as perfect as a restaurant gets.
Before sharing details, it must be recognized that it’s hard to talk about The Grilled Cheeserie without addressing the question posed by skeptics: Why go to a grilled-cheese restaurant when anyone can make a delicious and serviceable version at home?
I’d say the answer is two-fold, given that the menu delivers both traditional grilled-cheese sandwiches and “specialty melts,” recipes where Crystal’s culinary imagination runs free.
As far as the simplest sandwich goes, I’d note a major advantage over your home kitchen is the variety of high-quality cheeses and breads The Grilled Cheeserie offers in the “make your own melt” section of the menu. Say you want to approximate the traditional prepackaged-slice-of-American-cheese on white bread. The Cheeserie’s version will cost you $5.50, but their American cheese is not the pasteurized-process-cheese-food of your childhood — rather it’s a specially commissioned cheese from Kenny’s Farmhouse in Kentucky. Their “Real American” cheese starts with a recipe for a Colby, but the cream content is doubled to make it extra gooey. And the white bread is special too; it’s a country white sourdough from the excellent Silke’s Old World Breads in Clarksville. For me, that’s well worth a fiver and some change.
But you may find it hard to stop with a simple combo, given the lineup of toppings you can add. Proteins include organic pulled chicken, roasted free-range turkey, Benton’s country ham or a fried egg, ranging in price from $1 to $1.50. Other extras (costing $1 or less) include avocado, caramelized onions deglazed in Yazoo Sue beer, bleu cheese aioli, and more. For people with special diets, you can get vegan rice-milk cheese and/or gluten-free bread (the latter costs an extra dollar).
It’s the specialty melts, however, that really elevate the experience. The Harvest Melt ($8) is a colorful, flavorful, well-rounded melange of double-cream brie, roasted turkey, maple-roasted butternut squash and pumpkin-seed pesto on Silke’s multigrain.
If you’re a fan of spinach-artichoke dip, you’ll likely love the melt inspired by that classic. A Swiss-gruyere cheese blend melds with house-made Parmesan-spinach dip, along with sautéed leeks and garlic, served on rosemary garlic bread. I often add the pulled chicken to make it a heartier meal. (It’s $8, plus $1.25 for the chicken.)
The French Onion is like a sandwich encapsulation of everything that is great about every francophile’s favorite soup: Onions and shallots are braised in sherry and organic beef broth, topping a generous melt of the aforementioned Swiss and gruyere cheeses.
French onion soup makes me think of French bistros — the classic kind of casual-but-epicurean restaurant that every good food city needs. Surprisingly, The Grilled Cheeserie functions somewhat within the same useful niche as a French bistro. Even though ordering is at the counter, the seating consists of benches and high-tops, and the pace is bustling, The Grilled Cheeserie’s food quality and ease of service remind me of a good bistro.
As Crystal notes, The Grilled Cheeserie team makes nearly everything from scratch, including soups, salad dressings and sauces. (Joseph says rare exceptions include the frozen tater tots.)
“We’re running it like a sit-down restaurant,” Crystal says. “Our line cooks take a lot of pride.” As for getting the food out to the tables — “We’re expediting like Rolf & Daughters,” she adds, laughing.
The sides that complement the sandwiches help extend the menu far beyond quick-cheese basics. The traditional creamy tomato soup ($3) is made in house with country ham stock to add depth (there’s also a vegan version). I love the Hyper Fresh Greens ($4), featuring local lettuces with cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced jumbo radishes, topped with house-made ranch dressing and croutons cooked up in Benton’s bacon fat. It’s a salad that’s really satisfying — no mere concession to healthy asceticism. House-made sweet potato chips come with a zippy local goat cheese for dipping ($4).
It’s all very comforting without any sort of dumbing-down of the quality of the cuisine, and the most soothingly wonderful items on the menu are the milkshakes. The ice cream is local (from East Nashville’s Pied Piper Creamery), and each shake is hand-scooped and blended to order.
It’s a labor-intensive process, and Joseph says (with a laugh) that other restaurant folks predict the couple will soon end up switching to soft-serve machines. But the reality, he says, is quite the opposite: The shakes have been so popular that they plan to double the size of the milkshake-making line. To my mind, the very best shake is The Hopscotch — vanilla ice cream blended with brown-butter caramelized banana chunks and heavenly house-made butterscotch sauce.
To be honest, I like The Grilled Cheeserie so much that my only concern is hoping that it never changes. I’ve been sadly disappointed over the years by restaurants with high aspirations and spectacular openings that eventually have to take quality down a notch due to financial pressures.
One hopeful sign is the team’s partnership with the restaurant group Fresh Hospitality. The company helped the couple land a prime location (Fresh owns the building and has a Juice Bar location there, with plans to open a Biscuit Love outpost on the site soon), and it provides sophisticated tools for monitoring financial operations. “It gives us a snapshot of the restaurant and exactly how it’s running,” Joseph says. That kind of detailed information is something small independent restaurants typically lack.
So my fingers are firmly crossed — while my hands are full of hot cheese sandwiches and cool butterscotch shakes.