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American Grilled Cheese Kitchen

Q&A With Heidi Gibson

South Park has been abuzz lately with the recent opening of the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. Featuring gourmet recipes from seven-time Grilled Cheese Invitational competition winner Heidi Gibson, the restaurant caught the attention of SF foodies and neighborhood workers alike, some of which waited more than an hour for a taste after the restaurant opened in early June. The restaurant expands to Saturday service starting June 26th (it will be closed Fourth of July weekend), and look out for breakfast options in coming weeks.

During a recent menu showcase ó our favorite was Piglet, with Tillamook sharp cheddar, artisan cured ham, apple mustard, and rosemary butter ó Gibson gave us the cheese on her culinary endeavor with partner Nate Pollak.

SF Station (SFS): What kinds of the ingredients you are working with?

Heidi Gibson (HG): I try to approach each sandwich differently. These sandwiches are a little different than what I tried to do for the competition. With those, I was sort of doing stunt sandwiches, where you would be overwhelmed by one bite. With these sandwiches you are eating a whole sandwich for lunch so I approach it a little differently. Otherwise, the flavors would be overwhelming, and you would have to pay $20 because the ingredients are so expensive. Iím just trying to do an interesting sandwich that you would have every day for lunch, and offer an alternative to the other options in the neighborhood. We make almost all of the components of the sandwich ourselves.

SFS: What about the cheese, one of the most important components?

HG: We use a lot of different cheeses. I try to pair the cheese to the other ingredients of the sandwich. With our sandwiches, I try to pick three flavors ó two complementary, and one contrasting.

We use Tillamook cheese in several of our sandwiches. Iím particularly fond of the vintage white cheddar, which is actually hard to get around here. We use a lot of different distributors. Italfoods provides the provolone, mozzarella, and fontina.

At this point, we are not working directly with small, local cheese makers. We donít really have the capacity right now to develop those one-on-one relationships, and it also comes down to expense. Weíre trying to keep our price point under $10. I still get feedback that we are too expensive, but it kind of depends on location. Frankly, in this neighborhood, we are not too expensive ó the other sandwich options around here are $12 or $13. Itís a fairly expensive lunch environment.

SFS: How long have you been living and breathing grilled cheese now?

HG: We started the process a year and four months ago.

SFS: What has been your greatest challenge?

HG: Keeping up with demand. What we are doing in four hours is what we thought we would do in twelve hours. We were not expecting the volume that showed up.

SFS: Thatís a lot better than the opposite.

HG: Itís a high-quality problem. The first couple of weeks, I was pretty mystified by it. People would show up and wait for an hour or more for a grilled cheese sandwich. The first couple of weeks, some things also went awry ó itís a restaurant! ó but we are doing a lot better with order times now.

SFS: Whatís next for you after things settle down?

HG: We are going to add Saturday service and evening hours. We will also have breakfast with house-made granola, parfait, and a few grilled cheese sandwiches ó a lot of grab-and-go stuff for the neighborhood; thereís not much around here. If all goes well, hopefully next year weíll open a second location.