Nestled into the podium of a Bathurst Street condominium, Kevin Durkee’s family-owned restaurant CHEESEWERKS is taking the all-time favourite grilled cheese sandwich to the next level. If you know me, you’ll know that I’ve been on this mission to find the ultimate grilled cheese – it’s my favourite childhood meal, and really the only thing I think I make well (cut me some slack – I’m a student!). CHEESEWERKS definitely hits that mark for me.
Everyone knows how to make a grilled cheese. I mean, it’s simply bread, butter, and a lot of cheese. Grilled cheese was one of the biggest trends amongst restaurants a couple years back – many becoming popular for putting the most outrageous combinations together. Mac & Cheese Grilled Cheese, Pulled Pork Grilled Cheese, Grilled Cheese with Steak?? I’ve had all of these, but I always ask myself, “At what point do these grilled cheese sandwiches just become really insane sandwiches with a slice of cheese inside?”
At CHEESEWERKS, I was struck by how much the place looked like a franchise: cohesive colour scheme, consistent theme, catchy name. It really was quite the branding project, so nothing about this restaurant screamed out “family-owned” to me. Honestly, my expectations were very similar to all the other grilled cheese places – not too high. But that changed when Durkee started telling me the inspiration behind all of his creations:
“Integrity of ingredients, memories of travels, and family.”
The menu consists of various combinations of ingredients inspired by countries that Durkee and his family has travelled to; focusing on maintaining the integrity of the ingredients, Durkee complimented regional flavours with cheese, just as wine and cheese might be paired. Even the artisanal bread is selected perfectly for each sandwich. Partnering with local favourite St. John’s Bakery, the amazing fresh loaves are made specifically for the sandwiches at CHEESEWERKS.
Here are a couple of my picks from the menu:
The CHARLESTON sandwich is inspired by his mother and father’s annual vacations to Myrtle Beach and Charleston, South Carolina. The sandwich celebrates their life and their travels: Double-cream Brie, Oven-Caramelized Onions and Apricot Chutney. Durkee explained that this was the sandwich that his mother would have loved to order if she were here today.
Now, I know for a fact that cheese does NOT come into Chinese cuisine in any way. So when I tried the BEIJING (photo below) – which was inspired by Durkee’s honeymoon at the Beijing Olympic Games – I was not expecting anything amazing. But WOW – Asiago (jokingly, Asia-go!) with (authentic) Chinese barbeque pork, hoisin sauce and green onions on a exclusively-created green onion potato bread (which reminded me of Chinese green onion pancakes! YUM!) really really works as a grilled cheese sandwich. The Chinese flavours aren’t overpowering, and the Asiago cheese is really made the hero and an amazing compliment to the ingredients.
Overall, my meal at CHEESEWERKS was fantastic! Great atmosphere, great food. Despite the relatively high price (for this student) for a grilled cheese (about $10-11 for a sandwich, chips, and pickle), CHEESEWERKS really offers an experience in cheese like no other that is driven by Durkee’s travels, family, and memories. This is a place to come to enjoy good company and eat some good comfort food – and you really get what you pay for out of the high-quality ingredients. Be sure to try to pair your sandwich with one of their signature homemade sodas – my favourite was the orange vanilla – and check out their trivia nights and other special events!
56 Bathurst St, Toronto, ON, M5V 2P2
Phone: (416) 243-3327
Photos: Daniel Kwan, www.danielhkwan.com
On a side note: I also got to have fun making my own “Jamie Kwan Special” behind the counter! I paired Jalapeno Jack Cheese with Citrus Roast Pork, Caramelized Onions, Chipotle Aioli and stuffed with potato chips for a crunch – all in 2 slices of a marble loaf. Not as good as some of Durkee’s interpretations, but I thought I did a pretty good job!
What’s your favourite combination for a grilled cheese? Fan of the classic old cheddar and white bread? Or are you an adventurous type?