by Chelsea Larsson

In San Francisco, we have an appetite for technology. We geo-tag, check in, upgrade, download, sync up, video record, and tweet with a hunger that does not quit. We gobble up Apple products, Google inventions, social-media sites, and digital life-hacks, and as soon as we’ve swallowed, we look up, wondering what our next serving of technology will be.

At this breakneck pace of change, change, change, there is a comfort in something that just stays the same. In 2008, two ex-techies decided to bank on that desire and invest in a centuries-old product that hasn’t changed since its creation—the grilled cheese sandwich.

America’s original convenience food is the cornerstone of The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Opened in 2010 in South Park, the restaurant has been packed with techies, tourists, and the “stroller derby” crowd ever since.

Grilled cheese is as simple as recipes go. Cheese? Check. Bread? Check. Fire? Check. So, why create a restaurant devoted to one dish?

“We consider the grilled cheese sandwich to be a great template,” co-owner Nate Pollak said when describing why he and Heidi Gibson, chef and co-owner, chose the simple sandwich. “It’s food that you can relate to.” Plus, most importantly, Gibson is the winningest contestant of The Grilled Cheese Invitational in all of history.

It is with her winning technique and two degrees from MIT’s engineering school that Gibson has perfected the grilled cheese sandwich for San Francisco.

The menu offers a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches varying from the classic Mousetrap to the trendy Jalapeño Popper to the downright dangerous Mac ’n’ Cheese Grilled Cheese. Everything is fresh and house-made with key ingredients sourced from California farmers and food producers. One of the house favorites, Fog Horn Leghorn, is made with creamy Havarti, Point Reyes blue cheese, fresh arugula, house-made dill Dijon, and Zoe’s roasted chicken from Petaluma.

The Jalapeño Popper also features Zoe’s meat in the form of applewood-smoked bacon, paired with local chèvre and a house-made apricot-jalapeño relish made with apricots from Northern California. To make the relish each week, someone has to deseed 60 pounds of chilies by hand.

“A lot of love goes into our food,” Pollak says about the small, satisfying menu.

The signature Tomato soup—a dairy-free broth reminiscent of the Campbell’s staple, was created as a labor of love with Ray Tang, chef at Presidio Social Club, who collaborated heavily with Gibson and Pollak on the recipe. Their intention was to make a soup that was like their sandwiches: simple and classic. Completely bucking the current trend of serving cream of tomato or tomato bisque, which would only layer more cream onto the decadent, dairy-filled sandwiches, it works. Their tangy, thin, acidic soup complements the rich, cheesy sandwiches. The combination is refreshingly old, something grandparents would recognize as real, good food.

The same can be said about the fresh piece of seasonal fruit that comes with each sandwich. Gibson and Pollak decided a side of greasy chips would not do for their customers and opted instead for “something your mom would pack.” Depending on the season, customers are treated to grapes, satsuma mandarins, apples, pluots (plum-apricot hybrids), or strawberries. Not in the mood for fruit? Simply put it in a designated basket, and The Kitchen will donate the healthful stuff to a local homeless shelter.

Now the American team has expanded its domain to a second location—the Mission’s up-and-coming 20th Street foodie corridor. What can Mission customers expect? The same dedication to age-old comfort food, of course, but soon with a dinner menu.

2400 Harrison St., San Francisco


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This article was published in:
Idea Issue - Released March 2013
Issue 2 / Version 3 | Buy print copy here
Issue 11
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