Sometimes the best meals are just a spin on a childhood favorite, like this grilled cheese sandwich recipe I recently discovered. We were traveling down south and popped into The Tobacco Company for lunch. Once inside, I was delighted to learn, #1-This place is GOOD, and #2- This place has an interesting history: Set in an 1800's tobacco warehouse that was converted into a restaurant thirty years ago, The Tobacco Company is a landmark in downtown Richmond, Virginia and is considered a cornerstone of the famous Shockhoe District, according to their website.
Eager to get a taste of some real southern flavor, our family ordered up a few dishes to share, along with some sweet iced tea, which we soon learned was a staple of southern dining. Everything we tried on the menu was fabulous-but I was particularly impressed by my daughter’s choice, a seemingly simple grilled cheese sandwich. Upon tasting it, I almost literally fell off my chair.
The use of three cheeses between two thick slabs of buttered Texas Toast was just the beginning; between the layers of melted cheese lay a fine layer of baby spinach, and then the chef cleverly sandwiched a thin layer of: Fried Yellow Tomatoes. Now, I imagine we've all either seen or heard of the Kathy Bates movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes,” but I’ve never actually eaten, or even thought to, fry a tomato. And finally, rather than slather the sandwich in store-bought condiments, there was instead a delicious dipping sauce. The waiter described it as a garlic, roasted red pepper and horseradish aioli. It was the perfect accompaniment to this delectable dish. I had two bites, just to be sure.
Of course, I began thinking about how to make this sandwich myself once we got home-sweet-home to good ‘ole Danvers, Mass. Although I tried like a champ to wiggle the recipe out of our kind waiter, it was to no avail, so I was on my own. Yellow tomatoes are a variety not readily available to our region, so I decided to go with red Ugly tomatoes which are less acidic, and worked out a recipe for the breading so I could fry them up right on my electric griddle.
I picked up a couple of sourdough loaves; and fontina, parmasan, and gruyere cheese wedges. I used my blender and a little trial and error to whip up a simple Roasted Red Pepper, Garlic and Horseradish Aioli that tasted almost exactly like the real deal, and served it alongside the sandwiches in little dishes.
Once the tomatoes were cooked through and set aside to cool a bit, the assembling went very quickly. I would say total prep time is 20 minutes, which includes the time it took to grate the cheese, as I grated away while the tomatoes were cooking up. I used one tomato for each sandwich, cut in half and placed across to fit the width of the bread.
These Southern Fried Grilled Cheese Sandwiches tasted absolutely scrumptious, with the fried tomatoes adding that little bit of something special that made this dish a big win at our dinner table. Enjoy!
Southern Fried Grilled Cheese Sandwich
4 large tomatoes (under ripe works best)
2 T. grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. Italian Style bread crumbs
1 T. garlic powder
pinch of salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. grated gruyere cheese
1 c. grated parmasan cheese
1 c. grated fontina cheese
1/2 c. baby spinach leaves
Roasted Red Pepper, Garlic and Horseradish Aioli
1/4c.-1/2 c. grapeseed oil (or olive oil)
2 cloves of garlic, rough chopped
1/3 c. (approx 5 oz.) roasted red peppers
1 T. horseradish
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
* Combine flour, bread crumbs, garlic powder salt and pepper in a pie plate or dish with low sides. Heat oil on griddle or in pan. Dredge sliced tomatoes in beaten eggs, then into the flour/bread crumb mixture and place directly onto hot griddle, 350 degrees, or into non-stick saute pan set to medium/high. Once browned on one side, carefully flip, (about 5 minutes per side). Set aside to cool on a plate lined with paper towel to drain excess grease.
*To assemble sandwiches, butter the outsides of the bread, and then layer the cheese, using approx. 1/3 c. at a time: Gruyere cheese, followed by 6-8 spinach leaves; parmasan cheese, followed by one fried tomato (cut in half if needed to fit), followed by fontina cheese. Set sandwich onto 350 degree griddle (or in pan set to med/high). If possible use a tin foil covered brick, or other weight to press flat. About 5 minutes per side. Serve with aioli.
*Aioli: Put all ingredients into blender or food processor and pulse for 3 minutes, serve with sandwiches for dipping.