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10 Next-Level Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

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Not all grilled cheese sandwiches are created equal. And there’s no better day to celebrate that fact than on April 12th, National Grilled Cheese Day, which falls in the middle of National Grilled Cheese Month. But if you thought a slice of tomato and a few bits of bacon were the only way to up your sandwich game, feast your eyes on these unique grilled cheese concoctions.

1. GRILLED CHEESE DONUT // TOM & CHEE

A grilled cheese donut haiku: Watch the cheese melting, Across the crispy donut, Grilled Cheese Donuts rule. #EatsWhatsFun #HaikuFriday

Posted by Tom + Chee on Friday, March 18, 2016

Tom & Chee (a play on grilled cheese and tomato soup) is taking its love of comfort food across America, with more than 30 locations throughout the country, each one of them serving up a menu of truly unique grilled cheese goodies, including a full menu of Grilled Cheese Donuts—which are exactly what they sound like. Though most of them come topped with sweet ingredients, The Classic is simply a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich—on a donut!

2. THE POPPER // CHEESIE'S PUB AND GRUB

Jalapeno Popper

Posted by Cheesie's Pub & Grub on Monday, May 9, 2011

The fact that Cheesie’s Pub and Grub’s logo is a grilled cheese sandwich should tell you something about the direction in which the Chicago mini-chain’s menu leans. The restaurant offers nearly a dozen varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches, each of them overflowing with unexpected ingredients. Case in point: The Popper, which is a sourdough sandwich filled with cheddar and cream cheeses, cheddar cheese sauce, jalapeño, and bacon, served with a chipotle mayonnaise dipping sauce.

3. MELTER SKELTER // MELTKRAFT

Through its partnership with Valley Shepherd Farm, the focus at MeltKraft—which has locations in Philadelphia and New York City—is on creating a farm-to-table grilled cheese experience. Among their stellar sandwiches is the Melter Skelter, which starts with a raclette-style cheese that’s then topped with pickled green tomatoes, jalapeños, barbecue potato chips, and watercress.

4. SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN & WAFFLE MELT // MS. CHEEZIOUS

Regularly referred to as one of Miami’s best food trucks (because it is), Ms. Cheezious has been roaming the streets of Magic City since 2010, serving up nearly 20 different specialty sandwiches, including a Southern Fried Chicken and Waffle Melt with cheddar cheese, which comes with gravy and maple syrup.

5. PIMENTO MAC & CHEE // THE GRILLED CHEESERIE

Pimento Mac N Chee

Posted by The Grilled Cheeserie on Sunday, January 20, 2013

In Nashville, The Grilled Cheeserie offers up what they’ve dubbed "cheesy goodness." The term seems particularly appropriate for the food truck’s Pimento Mac & Chee, which combines two of your favorite cheesy foods—grilled cheese and mac and cheese—into one. The sandwich is made with a housemade pimento cheese, local cheddar, macaroni, bacon bits, and tomato.

6. THE MELT CHALLENGE // MELT BAR AND GRILLED

Closing in on its 10th year in business, the grilled cheese masters behind the Cleveland area’s collection of Melt Bar and Grilled restaurants are still just as passionate about the sandwiches they produce. But if you fancy yourself a genuine grilled cheese aficionado, they want you to prove it! The Melt Challenge (which was featured on Man vs. Food back in 2009) is your chance to show your favorite sandwich who’s boss as you attempt to eat more than five pounds of food, with the main event being a 13-cheese grilled sandwich that’s held together with three slices of bread and topped with French fries and coleslaw. Good luck!

7. GRILLED CHEESE BAR // RIPPLE

Though D.C.’s Ripple is a lovely restaurant, if you’re in the mood for grilled cheese, you’ll want to make a beeline for the bar area. That’s where you’ll find Ripple’s Grilled Cheese Bar, where patrons can build their own monster sandwiches from an impressive lineup of breads, cheeses, housemade spreads like hot pepper jelly, and extra toppings such as a duck egg or duck prosciutto. But that doesn’t mean that they want you to stage a grilled cheese free-for-all ("don't make it gross, please stop at two cheeses," the menu advises). If you're not completely comfortable in your own sandwich-making skills, you can also choose from one of the restaurant’s own creations, like the Jolly Green Giant, with taleggio, sopresatta, and hazelnut ramp pesto.

8. ROXY’S GRILLED CHEESE

Snow in the forecast for Sunday?? #tbt warmer days and Green Muensters! Get yours in Southie 11-5, Allston 11-10, and the truck is back at Harvard Science Center today 11-7! 󾓯 @hangry_diaries

Posted by Roxy's Grilled Cheese on Thursday, March 17, 2016

With two brick-and-mortar locations, two more on the way, and a food truck, Bostonians have plenty of different ways to get their Roxy’s fix. With a mix of grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers, plus a small lineup of vegan sandwiches, the place truly offers something for everyone. Including a taste of its hometown with the Green Muenster, a grilled Muenster sandwich with bacon and housemade guacamole.

9. THE GRILLED CHEESE TRUCK

MENU SPOTLIGHT: THE PEPPERBELLY MELT!

Posted by The Grilled Cheese Truck on Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Grilled Cheese Truck’s name says it all: The sole focus here is on making customers the best, and cheesiest, sandwiches possible. And they’re delivering on that promise, so much so that you can find them around the country, from New York to Los Angeles (with stops in Austin, Phoenix, and a couple other places), where they’re serving up a unique menu of hearty sandwiches, like the Pepperbelly Melt, which is loaded with homemade chili, habanero Jack cheese, cilantro lime sour cream, fire-roasted tomato salsa, and some Fritos for crunch.

10. GRILLED CHEESE AND WINE DINNER // {THREE} SHEETS

Atlanta’s {Three} Sheets takes its grilled cheese seriously. So much so that the restaurant hosts a monthly Grilled Cheese and Wine Dinner, where diners indulge in a five-course meal of grilled cheese and vino pairings, including a dessert course, which might feature a cheddar, apple, and brown sugar pecan sandwich on cinnamon bread. But the restaurant’s regular menu features a Signature Grilled Cheese of Applewood smoked cheddar and Tillamook with a side of bisque.

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Food
The History Behind Why We Eat 10 Dishes at Thanksgiving
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Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. TURKEY

A roasted turkey on a platter.
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Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as…served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. STUFFING

Pan of breaded stuffing.
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Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. CRANBERRIES

Dish of cranberry sauce.
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Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. MASHED POTATOES

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
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Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting President to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. GRAVY

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
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Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, historian Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to created a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. CORN

Plate of corn.
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Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. SWEET POTATOES

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
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In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Plate of green bean casserole.
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Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you love was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. PUMPKIN PIE

Slice of pumpkin pie.
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Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. WINE

Two glasses of wine.
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Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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