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Celebrate Grilled Cheese Month: Classic sandwich a staple on area menus

The cheese Frenchie is a staple at Mom's Kitchen in Fargo. John Lamb / The Forum

April has nearly slipped by with little fanfare or notice that it is Grilled Cheese Month.

Yes, that simplest of fried sandwiches has a whole month dedicated to the celebration of grilled, gooey goodness.

But don't be too quick to dismiss it. One news release (yes, I've seen multiple news releases) estimates more than 25 million households eat grilled cheese sandwiches at least once in a two-week period.

The grilled cheese is a staple of American comfort food, partially because it's only slightly more involved than boiling pasta or rice, making it one of the first things people learn how to make at home.

Despite the ease of making it, some area eateries find their takes on grilled cheese hard to take off the menu.

The most iconic grilled cheese sandwich in Fargo-Moorhead seems to be the Cheese Frenchie at Mom's Kitchen on Main Avenue in Fargo. In fact, the Frenchie, a deep-fried grilled cheese, was a standard at the space's preceding restaurant, Royal Table, before Mom's took over in 1983, says co-owner Susie Nymark.

She says 200 Frenchies are still served a month. It's not the most popular item on the menu, but it's been consistently in demand for 30 years.

"That's pretty darn good for a grilled cheese," says her husband, Rick Nymark.

He says there's nothing too special that goes into the sandwich - white bread, cheese slices and some cheese powder in the breading.

But what makes the specialty item so popular isn't the thing your doctor wants to hear.

"It's got a lot of calories," Rick says. "It's not good for us, and usually the things that aren't good for us taste good."

More cheese, please

With its basic ingredients being butter, bread and plenty of cheese, grilled cheese will never be "just what the doctor ordered."

Still, Andrea Baumgardner, chef at the Green Market in downtown Fargo, figured out a way to cut out one of the main ingredients without cutting out the taste or texture.

The grilled cheese sandwiches on her menu are made with the focaccia bread she makes daily. The bread is made with olive oil, which helps sandwiches fry up in a cast-iron pan without added fat.

Another trick she uses is to lay another pan on top of the grilling sandwich, pressing it down to get even heat.

Baumgardner uses provolone and brick, pairing the soft Wisconsin cheeses against the sturdy focaccia.

And a cup of soup

The classic complement for the grilled cheese is a cup of tomato soup. Gordy Richardson at the VIP Room in downtown Fargo and Tim Hagensen, who owns TnT's Diner in West Fargo with his wife, Tammy, honor the combo.

TnT's Grilled Cheese Deluxe is particularly popular on Tuesdays with creamy tomato soup.

With a thick cut of bacon and a tomato slice, TnT's Grilled Cheese Deluxe lets the customers have their say, choosing both the type of cheese and bread. Hagensen says pepper jack and sourdough are the most popular combos, though rye bread is another option.

The VIP Room's own signature tomato-basil soup complements the restaurant's Ultimate Grilled Cheese, which rotates onto the menu once a month.

Besides a couple of strips of bacon, the cottage bread is held together with a mix of muenster, havarti and cheddar cheeses. Despite three different flavorful cheeses, it's the bacon that stands out, Richardson says.

"Of course, bacon makes everything taste better," he says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533