POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 21, 2011:
All the Rage
Not your mama's grilled cheese sandwich
As a kid, few things were more familiar and more comforting to me than a grilled cheese sandwich -- crusts off, cut into triangles -- golden brown and gooey, arranged lovingly around a steaming bowl of tomato soup.
I instinctively knew that nothing bad was going to happen, sitting on a phone book at the table to raise my chin above the edge, a kitchen towel tied around my neck as a makeshift bib, and my mother humming in the background to the am radio that sat on the kitchen counter and kept her company all day. I never felt more loved and protected than at that moment -- my biggest concern being to return to the back yard to fight off the bad guys in the afternoon chapter of the war of good against evil,...well, after that great lunch combo of course!
The phone book is gone, replaced by a digital search engine, the kitchen table in my house is a breakfast bar with high stools, I haven't worn a bib in a long, long, time, the bad guys now are a whole lot harder to slay than they were with a wooden sword, my mother never makes me a grilled cheese sandwich anymore, although I must say she would gladly do so if I asked her to -- and I seldom get that cocoon'd feeling that was always there after mom lifted me onto to my yellow pages seat, and I took the first bite of that classic lunch combination.
Fast forward 55 years from the 5 year old innocent to a grandfather aged guy, maybe a bit more cynical, maybe a bit wiser, (maybe not) but no less susceptible to the desire to feel loved and protected, and yes, even mothered!
As a chef and someone who has experienced cuisines from all over the country and the world, the actual combination of Wonder bread and American cheese doesn't quite hit the mark for me any more, even though conceptually the whole idea is still spot on.
I am happy to say, that Catherine de Camp, owner of Sage Culinary Studios, has managed to combine the simple comfort concept with the upscale tweak that takes me back to "the day" but also addresses a matured palate at the same time.
When Catherine and her pal, Chef Richard Schlossberg, first came up with the idea, they received a lot of pushback from other chefs and instructors they ran it by at the school, who felt that the concept was too simple -- that they would need an expanded menu to make it successful.
She stuck to her guns though, and if you really look at the options available she has succeeded in providing a small and simple, but at the same time a huge menu. Do the math: five breads, five meats, five cheeses, five pesto options and a couple of good home made soups. It would take months to go through every possible combination.
You walk past several outdoor tables and into a bright, glass-fronted area with chalkboard covered walls listing everything you need to personalize your meal. On an opposing wall are a group of specialty sandwiches, for those of us who aren't ready to create our own signature item. And on yet a third space, (close to the floor of course), is a huge board with lots of colored chalks for the kiddos to draw on while you wait. There's even a Munchkin Melt for 12 and unders, with one cheese and one bread choice. Great idea Catherine! I'll be back with the grandkids!
Catherine and her melt bar chef Amanda Simcoe, also known as the "Cheese Wench", a personality and chef of local note and instructor at Sage, have teamed up to offer delectable melted lunches and great customer service in a relaxed, fun atmosphere.
Walk in, figure out your creation, order at a high counter, and find yourself a seat. If the several bistro tables at the front are occupied, you can also sit at one of the tables used for cooking classes in the back. In my opinion those are the prime spots anyway since you are surrounded by a modern kitchen which just adds to the ambiance.
On one visit I tried a sandwich called The Sage Rage: a delightful combination of Gouda cheese, (the Swiss pronounce it how-da) a fresh sage/walnut pesto, thin sliced turkey and ham grilled on sourdough made by Farrell Family Breads, a local artisan bakery that produces top notch breads.
Much to my delight the combination of meats, pesto and cheese was the perfect measure to allow the bread to be a major player in the sandwich as well. It was presented perfectly golden brown, hot throughout, and thankfully devoid of the remnant of that age-old line cook bad habit of squashing the very life out of your meal with a metal spatula before they put it on a plate. Instead it was thick and almost fluffy with a perfect layer of ingredients between two delicious slices of sourdough.
Each bite had the perfect crunch, the melted goodness, and the fabulous walnut and sage flavor that made me want another when I was finished.
In addition to house specialties deCamp and Simcoe have devised a series of well thought out ingredients from which you can make a multitude of personally engineered sandwiches.
Kid at Heart.
Choose from a list of breads, all made by Farrell's, including a granola bread, classic sourdough, a pain de compagne which uses a starter much like a sourdough, a rye, and a Tuscan loaf which is specifically made without salt. It's not my favorite bread since I am a "salt guy", but it was created in Tuscany where folks eat it with a lot of strong and salty meats and dynamic toppings, so it would go particularly well with say a bleu cheese and smoky bacon melt with a salty pesto of some sort.
There's a list of cheeses, some of which Amanda makes in house, meats, pestos and caramelizations and the chunkiest, tastiest tomato soup you ever ate. In fact, to call it tomato soup is to call Kristal a sparkling grape beverage, or Gorgonzola just another bleu cheese. This soup has so much body, and so many layers of flavor that it is a serious meal in itself. As thick as tomato puree, with a fine texture and great tomato profile, it is the perfect accompaniment to any of the sandwiches at Sage Rage, regardless of whether you create your own or enjoy one of the pre-conceived offerings.
Another visit found Katie predictably ordering the Caprese sandwich. A fabulous combination of fresh made mozzarella, tomato, red onion, and basil pesto on sourdough, deliciously and creatively drizzled on the outside with a sweet/tart balsamic glaze. Spot on!
I debated between the Melting Potter, which contains Amanda's hand made chevre, roasted red bell peppers, and fresh basil on Italian - and the Bleu Swine, a combination of bacon, bleu cheese and rosemary on granola bread with a balsamic drizzle. I've since had them both, and would hate to have to pick a winner. They are both delicious!
The Melting Potter is the creation of KRMG's Dan Potter, the OKFoodie, who's show is taped at the Sage South store. Dan and Sage team up each week for Oklahoma's only radio broadcasted food and wine show. (Okfoodie.com) If your creation is worthy, you could end up with a sandwich named after you as well, it's part of the concept.
Still not filled up after one of these great sandwiches? Sage Rage Melt Bar offers several awesome desserts. Choose the "Better-Than-Your-Mama's-Apple-Pie" melt with cheddar, apples & spices on a croissant, the "Fruity French Goat" with Amanda's house-made chevre, blueberries, blackberries, & raspberries on croissant with balsamic glaze, or a classic, or key lime, or strawberry cheesecake from Ludger's Cakes. If you have never had one of Chef Ludger's cheesecakes you owe it to yourself to try one. They're a whole lot more than just cheesecake!
The Sage Rage Melt Bar is open from 11am to 3pm Tuesday through Saturday, and considering Saturday breakfast at this writing so keep your eye open for that. You can easily get in and out for well under $10, and I promise you won't be disappointed. They nailed it!
Classes take place at the south store, including Amanda's cheese-making classes, and it's a great way to spend an evening or give someone a unique gift.
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