Occasionally, the union of two delicious foods leads to a triumph greater than the sum of the parts—think bacon doughnuts or Fluffernutter sandwiches. The grilled cheese martini? Not so much.
But that’s not stopping mixologists at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a massive new culinary complex in the Flatiron district. They prepare this cocktail by infusing vodka with grilled cheese sandwiches for 24 hours, then slosh it into a martini glass with a tomato-juice ice cube, rimming the chalice with reduced balsamic vinegar and crumbled crispy prosciutto. At $15, though, it’s little more than a pricey gimmick reminiscent of a weak Bloody Mary. Even sillier, you won’t find this “signature” tipple listed on any menu—it’s limited to those “in the know.”
Yet curd nerds will still discover plenty of tasty items at this Seattle-based cheesemaker and restaurant. The ground level houses a casual café peddling simple sandwiches and baked goods, which you can nosh on while overlooking a glassed-in area filled with enormous vats and machinery used to fashion the fromage. You can also explore display cases chock-full of artisanal domestic cheeses, charcuterie, and crackers. (Grab a bag of the exceptional honey-hazelnut ones.) This emporium provides top-quality, one-stop shopping for cocktail party bites—except for maybe hash brownies, but those are already in your freezer, right?
For something beyond finger food, venture down to the subterranean cellar, which serves nibbles and dinner beginning at five o’clock. Votive candles flicker as the post-work crowd gathers at the communal table and the black leather banquettes, creating a cozy-yet-casual vibe. One wall does double-duty as the company’s cave, or maturing room, which should spur you to order the Beecher’s sampler ($25 for five cheeses, or $15 for three). It features the brand’s mild-but-nutty Flagship cheddar, plus four variations, including an aged version, one made with peppercorns, another with Jamaican spices, and a final using sheep’s milk, illustrating how minor alterations can significantly affect flavor and texture. I found it conceptually more interesting than the cheesemonger’s plate ($16 for three choices, $26 for five), which samples from outside producers. Add in several glasses of wine from the all-American list, or perhaps the bubbly gin-based Evelyn Nesbit cocktail ($13), and you’ve got the makings for a fun first-date night.
Beecher’s also prides itself on its mac ‘n’ cheese, offering five renditions, all prepared with the Flagship. If you’re a purist like me, stick to the original ($13) instead of the more experimental options, like the one studded with lardons and pickled fennel stems ($17) or another lambasted with curry and cauliflower ($15). These are fine for a few bites but then overwhelm the palate. And besides, the menu calls the plain version “the world’s best.” Hyperbole? Yes, but the entrée is the culinary equivalent of cashmere underwear: comforting, warming, and decadent enough for you to feel a twinge of guilt.
For those who can’t down so much dairy, the iceberg salad ($10)—garnished with chopped hazelnuts, tomato, and crumbled bleu—enlivens the old-time wedge. Or fork up the verdant mound of chopped rapini ($10), packed with caramelized onions and kicked with chile peppers. Proper entrées are available, too, like a decent salmon with lemon-kissed risotto and blueberry sauce ($24) and a rather odd scallop, shrimp, and corn concoction ($19). Generally, though, these plates fall short, much like fish dishes at steak houses. At Beecher’s, you’ll be best rewarded if you go for what gets marquee billing while keeping it simple. So instead of that grilled cheese martini, think a grilled cheese sandwich and a martini.
For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.