When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Location: 4221 North Seventh Avenue
Open: Less than a month
Eats: Grilled cheese, soup
Price: $15 and under/person
The grilled cheese sandwich is about as well-loved an American dish as they come, which, when you really think about, makes opening a restaurant dedicated to the dish somewhat ingenious. And based on the crowded dining room we found at Toasted, a newly opened "grilled cheese gastropub" in central Phoenix, we're not the only ones who think so. The restaurant takes over the former home of Harley's Italian Bistro in the Melrose neighborhood. There are about 10 tables in the roomy, updated dining room, all of which were filled when we stopped in last week.
But if the brisk business is a good sign for Toasted's owners, it's less of a good thing for the restaurant's patrons. During the peak of the rush, a single server struggled to keep up, resulting in slow service and the delay of our appetizers, both of which arrived after the entrees.
And we'll admit, it's a bit counter-intuitive to whet your appetite for a sandwich of bread and cheese with breaded cheese. But the fried cheese curds ($6) at Toasted make a good start to a meal. These nuggets of deep-fried cheese offer bites of hot, melted, stretchy cheese surrounded by a light, crisp coating that won't leave your fingers too greasy. They may not constitute a leap forward in culinary creativity, but we dare you not to finish the entire basket.
It's easier to skip the restaurant's warm pretzel bread ($6), which includes two fluffy pretzel sticks and three sauces of your choosing. Based on the pillowy, crustless nature of the pretzel bread, we're assuming the bread is mostly serves an excuse to sop up excess amounts of sauce, but the three we chose didn't live up to expectations. A chipotle ketchup was decent, but the nacho cheese seemed like melted Velveeta with no additional spice or flavor to speak of. And a cucumber wasabi sauce offered both cucumber and wasabi notes, but was too runny to really enjoy.
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But you came for the grilled cheese, and here is where Toasted shines. We couldn't help but order the Trailer Park ($9), a gut-busting creation involving a Frito crust, chili, mild cheddar cheese, and a deep fryer. It was delicious. The Frito crust made a thick, crunchy shell around fluffy pieces of Texas toast, which also encased a gooey mixture of chili and cheese. The combination of salty chips and sweet bread made for a meal so good you can almost forget you're probably consuming enough calories to fuel you for an entire day. The restaurant even provides an extra side of chili for dipping in case you'd like to amp up your sandwich with a little more meat.
The Jalapeno Popper grilled cheese was also worthy, if less exciting. Here you'll get pepperjack cheese, house ranch cream cheese, bacon, and whole roasted jalapenos. We didn't really notice the ranch cream cheese, but the combination of bacon, cheese, and smokey jalapenos is hard to mess up.
There's a total of 11 grilled cheese variations to try at Toasted and if all are as well-executed as these two, then we'll have no problem returning to enjoy them all. If nothing else, we're planning a visit to explore the restaurant's sweet offerings, which include the tempting Big Banana Theory made with made with banana bread, peanut butter cream cheese, and peanut-pistachio sprinkle.