You can perch on a yellow stool near the floor-to-ceiling windows that flank lucettegrace's downtown Raleigh entrance and watch the world go by. Or, better yet, you can turn around and peer through the two oversize windows behind the pastry case and watch chef Daniel Benjamin and his crew make a world all their own.
They caper about the compact kitchen, baking chocolate-chunk cookies and garnishing extravagant cakes with fresh cream. It's easy to get wrapped up in those confections, but it's still lunchtime. Behind those windows, a more appropriate being awaits—the pickled apple grilled cheese.
A cook cuts two slabs of sourdough from a tidy rectangle of bread, baked in house each morning for the occasion. The crust is hearty enough to produce a satisfying crunch, moist enough to prevent a trail of crumbly flakes. When fried, the sourdough gets stiff and tow-colored, with a hint of brittle caramelization.
With grilled cheese, as with most things, it's what's on the inside that counts. Most of the innards are Buttercup cheese, a soft and salty variety produced by a family dairy in Marion, three hours to the west. But Buttercup doesn't get gooey when grilled, so a bit of Parrano—a pliant cheese with a flavor like aged Parmesan—is added to the mix. Then come the apples, reduced to a reddish-brown butter and joined by diced and pickled bits for a sweet-and-sour crunch. Thanks to the caramelization of the sourdough, the whole thing starts to taste more like brown sugar than grilled cheese.
Cut into two triangles, the grilled cheese arrives gooey-end down on a ceramic blue plate, a golden mountain range towering above a diminutive pool of guilt-reducing greens. The position is not for mere presentation.
"Nothing is worse than when you get a panini-type sandwich, and the top side is really crispy, but the bottom is cold and mushy. It's a problem that plagues America," says Benjamin, who also owns the place. His deadpan delivery makes it difficult to gauge the statement's severity, though Benjamin does have a strict set of kitchen rules.
"I have specific beliefs on the proper making of a grilled cheese," he continues. "Low and slow on the griddle—when it's done right, it's crunchy and toasty, not at all soggy."
Though the cheese in the sandwich is viscous, no ooze escapes from any of the bread's creases. Structurally, this thing is indeed sound.
The sandwich is a variation on a popular number that was available when lucettegrace opened last November, but it hasn't been seen for many months. The rare creature is available from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. ("Later, if we like you.") through October.
"This was a sandwich that people liked," says Benjamin. "Sometimes, I'm OK with giving people what they like."
Eat This is a recurring column about great new dishes and drinks in the Triangle. Had something you loved? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Hold the sweets (for now)"