Within the distinguishing features of even the most established, recognizable sandwich types, a certain amount of innovation is permitted. I have been fairly criticized for being too concerned about sandwich taxonomy, but even purists like me concede that some pushing of these boundaries is a good and healthy thing. Still, regardless of the relative success of such modifications, at some point a sandwich ceases to be one thing and becomes something else, possibly something completely new.
Among these classic sandwich types, there is perhaps none more evolved than the grilled cheese. Comfort food at its purest, the sandwich has matured from a simple childhood snack to the frequent subject of chefs’ obsession with “elevating” previously low-brow dishes. Provided it comprises two pieces of bread, is grilled to a crisp, and the primary component is warm, melty cheese, the sandwich could feature anywhere from two to twelve ingredients or more. None is any more or less a grilled cheese than another.
Though it checks all the right boxes, the Linda, at Adams Morgan coffeehouse Tryst, which combines mozzarella, goat cheese, basil pesto, spinach leaves and avocado on grilled multigrain, is so damn good that after one bite you won’t care whether the folks at Tryst call it a grilled cheese (they don’t) or call it the name of the creepy, sing-songy lady who lived two doors down when I was a kid (they do). The Linda’s heft comes courtesy a generous layer of warm, pliable-but-not-too-runny mozzarella and goat cheese bisected by two spears of creamy avocado that run the length of the sandwich. Offsetting these relatively mild flavors is a zippy basil pesto that is striking but not overwhelming. The real show-stopper, though, might be the multigrain bread. Studded with sunflower seeds, grilled to an impeccable crunch and complementing perfectly the Linda’s other components, it’s a perfect illustration of how bread can be more than just a vehicle for a sandwich’s fillings.
As I’ve written many times before, the grilled cheese remains one of a pathetically small number of widely-available meatless sandwiches. Unfortunately for such an astonishingly versatile sandwich, the process of “dressing up” the basic grilled cheese all too often includes the addition bacon, ham, lobster or other animal proteins. To me, this is a cop out. The unheralded sandwich menu at Tryst — lengthy by coffeehouse standards — is full of refreshingly progressive interpretations of many traditional standards. What the Linda proves is that it’s possible to serve a creative, upscale grilled cheese — whether it’s presented as such or not — that is both compliant with a vegetarian diet and attractive to all.