More information about Murray’s long-rumored (and now confirmed) Cheese-focused restaurant, and it’s very promising. Eater.com reports that Tia Keenan (on Twitter as @KaseKaiserina), formerly head cheese at Casellula, will be Director of Food Service and bringing her acclaimed turophilic skills to the job:
Rob Kaufelt, owner of Village staple Murray’s Cheese, is bringing in the big guns for his now confirmed wine and cheese bar in the former Bar’rique space at 264 Bleecker St. Reps reveal that Tia Keenan, the cheese obsessive who made a name for herself at Caselulla over in Hell’s Kitchen, has been brought on as the Director of Food Service for the Murray’s group and calls herself the “mother hen” of the upcoming cheese-centic restaurant.
This weekend saw the arrival of The Big Cheesy two-day grilled cheese grill-off at Openhouse Gallery in Soho. Featuring fromage concoctions from Murrays, Casellula, Big Daddy, Melt Shop, Little Muenster, Lucy’s Whey and Tartinery and beer from Sixpoint, it was a nonstop festival of oozing cheese and unusual toppings. $25 got you very generous portions (2nd’s and 3rd’s were encouraged), free beer and other foods and wines at the stalls, plus a portion of the proceeds went to City Harvest.
Picking a favorite was a real challenge. Not a one of the sandwiches was a disappointment. My top 3 would be Murray’s Atomic Bomb with Taleggio and Braised Short Ribs, the Lucy’s Whey Prairie Breeze, Fig Jam and Olive Oil, and the Little Muenster Gruyere/Taleggio/Fontina with membrillo paste and prosciutto.
Close behind were Casellula with their Fondue Sandwich with Pickled Pepper Radish, Melt Shop’s Fontina and Goat with Wild Mushrooms and Pesto (they also had two other sandwiches on offer, a Sharp Cheddar with Pulled Pork and and a Blue and Cheddar with Cranberry Pepper Jam), Tartinery’s bistro-perfect Croque Monsieur, and the Big Daddy Mac ‘n’ Cheese Sandwich (which, in fairness, was more Mac than sandwich).
In the end, my personal top choice (and it was only by the narrowest of margins), was the Little Muenster. For me, it was the one that exemplified the essence of the classic grilled cheese most perfectly. The mixed cheeses were velvety-smooth and bubbly, the sweet of the membrillo balanced perfectly with the meaty saltiness of the prosciutto, and the bread was perfectly browned, crackling on the outside while still soft beneath. It wasn’t the most unusual or inventive sandwich at the Cheesy, but it was close to grilled cheese perfection. The Murray’s sandwich was amazing, but the cheese was a little bit lost under the meltingly delicious braised short ribs, which was the real star of the sandwich. The Lucy’s Whey sandwich captured best the cheddary grilled cheese niche, which I loved as I enjoy the addition of some sharpness and tang, but the fig jam and olive oil got a bit lost in the thick bread (in my samples at least).
And the official winner: Melt Shop! Their sandwiches (plural) were excellent, and any one of them was a strong contender for top cheese, but I found it a little odd that they were allowed to submit THREE different sandwiches, not just one. In a true head-to-head it should be one competitor, one sandwich, period. If all of the competitors had submitted a mixed-plate of sandwiches, and been able to simultaneously court voters across markedly different flavor preferences, it might have altered the results. On the other hand, if the rules allowed it, then lesson learned for next year to the other competitors, I guess.
All in all a great event for grilled cheese lovers, although I seriously needed a nap after so much cheese, butter and meat. The jello shots at the Big Daddy stand probably didn’t help either…
Kudos as well to Openhouse and the competitors for running a tight ship. The event was busy, but never obnoxiously crowded and waits were minimal for samples.
the New York Times also had a story on the event.
Today was my birthday. I tend to be a birthday curmudgeon, but a dinner of cheese can cheer up even me, so it was off to Casellula, the cheese and wine cafe in Hell’s Kitchen that I’d been wanting to check out for a while (featured in Episode 72 of Cutting The Curd). The cheese menu was impressive, the service friendly, the ambience pleasant. In an effort to polish off my 365-cheese challenge I picked only cheeses that I had not had previously. On the plates (clockwise from bottom left, in my horribly underlit photo):
- Meridian, Rainbeau Ridge, with lemon curd
- Camellia, Redwood Hill Farm, with poached pear
- Quadrello di Bufala, with coconut macaroons
- Pata di Cabra, with a minty pesto
- Chevrotin, Seal Cove Farm, with a pickled pepper
- Beemster XO Gouda, with a pecan brittle
- Bayrischer Blauschimmelkäse, with dried figs
Dessert was a a delicious Pumpkin Ice Cream Sandwich, and with our check we also received these awesome Hazelnut Goat Cheese Truffles.
And in case you’re wondering: I did crack the 365 line, nudging up to 368 by the end of the meal! More on that later….