By Christopher Nank, Gulf Coast Correspondent
I want to be up front about a few things: One: When it comes to meatless sandwiches, I am skeptical from the get-go. Two: Specifically, I’m not all that wild about grilled cheese. Three: I do not like pears. In fact, I’m not really a big fan of fruit in general.
Considering these disclosures, one could not be blamed for wondering how I wound up writing a review of a fruit-stuffed, vegetarian-friendly grilled cheese sandwich. The Indie, at the Tampa bar and café The Independent, however, seemed inventive enough to pique my interest. I was intrigued by the potential sweet-salty contrast of fruits and cheeses offered by the sandwich’s herb-rubbed, honey-marinated pears and creamy gouda and blue cheese. Given that The Independent also happens to serve what I consider the hands-down best veggie burger in creation (in addition to several excellent “meated” sandwiches), I’m pretty open-minded about sampling other like offerings from their kitchen.
It didn’t hurt that on the day of my visit The Independent happened to be hosting a tap takeover by Dunedin’s 7venth Sun Brewery, whose Special Brownies Belgian-style brown ale was a fine accompaniment to what turned out to be a pretty tasty sandwich. The pressed rye really made it for me, and the notes of rosemary and fennel that shone through in every bite was just about enough to make me forget that I could’ve ordered The Indie with bacon or prosciutto added. Cheese and fruit being a marriage of ideal contrasts, perhaps the texture and additional saltiness of the meat would have been overindulgent. Nonetheless, I’ll confess to wondering more than once how good either of these additions might have tasted.
I have long viewed the grilled cheese through the prism of childhood memory, where it lives alongside peanut butter and jelly as a lazy man’s (or parent’s) bland lunch fixing. Specifically, I associate it with cans of condensed tomato soup—something else I’ve generally always kept out of my diet. It might not have helped that the grilled cheese sandwiches of my youth were composed of ingredients from the chemistry-lab aisles at the grocery store: off-brand white Wonder bread, individually-wrapped American cheese slices and margarine. Fortunately, there was nothing about The Indie that suggested common origin with the far less stimulating standard described here. For that alone, it was worth eating a few pears. And a side of brown ale beats tomato soup and milk.
Christopher Nank, Ph.D., is adjunct instructor of literature at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. His contributions to the Carrollwood, Florida, Patch blog can be read here. He resides in Tampa.