When thinking about grilled cheese in San Francisco, one restaurant comes to mind – The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Now with two locations and dinner service just launched in the Mission, co-owner Nate Pollak reflects on the wonderful ride.
Pollak and Heidi Gibson started the business with lots of trepidation. “We just kind of went for it. We have no investors and used our own money to start the location at South Park,” said Pollak. “But we thought we could make the best grilled cheese sandwiches at a good price point and we think we’ve done just that.”
This is not your mother’s grilled cheese as Gibson, the main menu architect, has come up with several gourmet sandwiches. She is a grilled cheese savant of sorts, having become the winningest Grilled Cheese Invitational contestant in history. Pollak said there is a lot of development that goes into the menu.
“We run through a test matrix with each sandwich and have three criteria – taste, texture and structure. In some cases, the pairing of cheeses and ingredients is neutral. Or we go with something more savory,” said Pollak. “An example is the Mushroom Gruyere. In terms of texture and structure, it is neutral but taste-wise, it is really savory. We dice the mushrooms so it is not too messy. And we use thin slices of roasted potatoes so that the sandwich maintains its structure, so it doesn’t fall apart.”
Pollak said that most of the sandwiches are inspired by actual gourmet dishes. For example, the mushroom sandwich reminds him of a French Onion Soup or Mushroom Ravioli. Or the Jalapeno Popper was inspired by exactly that – a jalapeno popper. They also gained a lot of inspiration from what Tartine Bakery was doing in terms of its Hot Pressed Sandwiches.
Not only are Pollak and Gibson expanding the menu at American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, but they want to expand the overall brand. That’s part of what led to the newest location on Harrison Street, the expansion to dinner service and also doing delivery. Despite being a regular mom-and-pop business, Pollak said that hasn’t change their philosophy – they still use all-natural cheeses with no hormones, they still focus on comfort foods and keep their sandwiches at $9 and under.
The recent trend of grilled cheese trucks and other restaurants hasn’t fazed the pair – in fact, they are busier than ever. It could in fact even lead to 1 or 2 more spots in the Bay Area. American Grilled Cheese Kitchen has two locations in San Francisco; at 2400 Harrison Street and 1 South Park Avenue.
Photo Credit: The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, via Facebook