A couple of years ago, I had the best lunch ever. No seriously, the best. lunch. ever. I was in Kansas City visiting Bestie Bev, and we made a lunch date with an equally fabulous movie star friend of hers at Blue Bird Bistro downtown. The three of us were there for the better part of two hours, talking, nibbling, laughing, drinking, kvetching and hearing about how George Clooney kisses… You think I’m joking.
While the company and the setting were chic and wonderful, the food only added to the fabulosity of the occasion. Blue Bird Bistro makes an effort to serve only local, sustainable and organic dishes, and the painstaking effort and love they put into their meals really comes through in the flavor. Given this fact, one would think that I would choose something from the menu that just screams sophistication, worldliness and hipstertude… Oh please, of course not!
I made my decision the split second I saw it: Fancy grilled cheese with arugula salad. SOLD! I immediately thought to counteract my rather juvenile menu selection by ordering a glass of organic champagne, so I would seem as cool as a cucumber in front of Bev’s fancy friend, and like I didn’t totally belong at the kiddie table… George Clooney, y’all! My palms are still sweating.
When my meal arrived, I knew I had made the right choice: two slabs of grilled, toasty bread, sandwiching an oozy center of melted local cheese (the likes of which I don’t remember with specificity, but I can safely say it was damn tasty), served alongside a salad of local baby arugula with a simple lemon and olive oil dressing. The sandwich was of flawless divine origin, and after three glasses of champagne, I felt like I had met Gandhi in a field of daisies, holding a fluffy puppy and a Marc Jacobs handbag. Like I said: best. lunch. ever.
Fast forward a couple years: it’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m home alone. Hubs is off at a bachelor party in North Central Arkansas. (Don’t worry. It was innocent in nature, consisting merely of a lake house, a grill, way too much beer, way too much steak, and lots of drunken laughs over bodily functions and their various noises.) I’m done with my grocery shopping, done with my chores, and I have a bottle of Moët & Chandon staring me in the face. With the memory of my best lunch ever lingering in my mind to this day, there was only one thing to do.
I had a bag of ciabatta rolls in the freezer, which I keep on hand for sandwiches during the week. I quickly defrosted one in the nuke-a-tron, and shredded a couple handfuls of cheese. I had sharp white cheddar and goat cheese in the fridge, among a few others, but those two are my favorites. I’d bought some arugula at the Farmer’s Market that morning, so I quickly washed a big handful and doused it with lemon and olive oil. The bread was buttered. The griddle was heating up. The stars were aligning. Magic was about to happen.
The sandwich didn’t take long to grill, and I watched it carefully from beginning to end, monitoring its browning process with an eagle eye, flipping as needed. The cheese melted into oozy swirls, sandwiched together within the crispy-chewy roll. The arugula was dressed and waiting, and the champagne was bubbling. While I didn’t have my girl crew to make me giggle, gossip and rant my way through my meal, I can say that it was just as lovely, in a different way. I sat at the table on that Saturday afternoon by myself, staring out the window as the rain came down. I toasted to a wonderful day, a fortunate life, and a damn tasty sandwich.
Whether you’re having an intimate lunch with a few friends or holed away in your house on a rainy afternoon, this simple meal will bring a spark to your eyes and a smile to your face. George Clooney not included. Enjoy!
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Fancy Grilled Cheese with Arugula Salad and Champagne
2 slices of good bread, buttered on the outside
1 cup shredded cheese (your favorite kind)
lemon, olive oil, salt & pepper
Champagne of your choice
Heat a griddle over medium-low heat. Place one slice of the buttered bread, buttered side down, on the griddle and top with the shredded cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top, buttered side up. Check the bottom slice occasionally, until you see a nice browning. Using tongs, flip the sandwich and grill on the other side until it’s equally browned and the cheese is melted. (Now’s the time to give the sandwich a big smoosh, if you like that kind of thing.)
Serve the arugula alongside the sandwich, with a good squeeze of lemon, a dousing of olive oil and salt and pepper to your taste. Cheers!
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her Flyer Foodie author page. For more cooking, recipes, and other food-related inspiration, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.