The Big Dipper

  • The Big Dipper

In the spirit of reinvented and restructured comfort foods, The Main Cheese, Little Rock’s first (and for the time being, only) “gourmet” grilled cheese restaurant opens today. We were invited to a “soft opening” yesterday evening, an opportunity we jumped on in order to see exactly what this hotly anticipated establishment had going for it.

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The old Saigon space is nearly unrecognizable from its former self. New walls have been put in place, fresh paint in orange and blue is strewn all about, dark woods, and a beautifully done brick wall lines one entire side of the restaurant. The place is bright and clean, comfortable and well-designed. Diners take their seats at any one of the small tables, and are quickly greeted by one of the members of the young but friendly staff ready to take their order.

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The menu is simple and not overcrowded with options. Of course, “grilled cheese sandwiches” are the focus here, but a quick perusal of the rest of the menu reveals a handful of appetizers (artichoke and cheese dip, hummus, and a cheese plate), a few salad options (like the “Thai Peanut Fusion” with Napa cabbage, carrots, cucumber, edamame, cilantro, fried wonton strips, peanuts, and Thai dressing) or soups (such as the creamy potato cheese or tomato dill).

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Diners can choose from around a dozen sandwich options which range from the basic grilled cheese—which they’ve entitled “The Main Cheese”—to slightly-more-exotic options like the “Two Rivers” with slow-roasted pork with mojo, salami, shaved ham, swiss, and pickles. A cup of slaw comes standard with every sandwich but diners can substitute fries for an extra buck-fifty or housemade seasoned chips for a buck. And lest you worry excessively about caloric intake, there’s several healthier options to be had—a side of fresh fruit, those aforementioned salads, and sandwiches such as the “Farmers Market” with avocado, muenster, grape tomatoes, arugula, and parmesan on multigrain bread.

Bread is sourced from the locally owned Arkansas Fresh Bakery (a very wise move, indeed). They roast and slice up all meats in house, and vegetarians and gluten-free diners will also find something they can eat here.

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We started with the classic “Main Cheese,” which as I mentioned earlier was their take on a basic grilled cheese. However this one is filled with muenster, fontina, and cheddar and stuffed into grilled sourdough ($5.25). The sandwich was surprisingly light, not excessively buttery, but was nicely grilled, crunchy with the cheeses appropriately melted—a solid beginning and a decent rendition of this classic sandwich. To accompany this, we decided to order a cup of their tomato dill soup ($3.95). It was hearty but simply done—it made for a nice vessel to dip one’s sandwich into. The dill was a little understated, though, and we felt it could have benefited from a bit more richness and perhaps a touch more seasoning.

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The Main Cheese

  • The Main Cheese

We also sampled the “Big Dipper,” which was composed of carved roast beef, melted provolone, and horseradish sauce on a toasted baguette with a side of au jus for dipping ($8.45). The bread used here was delightful—perfectly crunchy exterior with soft and light interior. The inner components were adequate, though we would have liked to see the roast beef a bit more on the rare side and the cheese could have played a slightly stronger role overall—the horseradish, on the other hand, felt very prominent here. It does cause one to wonder just where the dividing line between “grilled cheese sandwich” and “grilled sandwich that just happens to have cheese” actually lies—but that’s a philosophical point we won’t delve into here.

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For dessert, we could not pass up the intriguing grilled cheese donut ($3.25). Here, they take a glazed donut, slice it in half, slide a slice of cheese (fontina, cheddar, or muenster) in between, and toast it on the flat-top. It’s an interesting sweet and savory combination that definitely leans more towards dessert than anything else. It was not unpleasant; it was tasty, in fact, but still a little difficult for me to wrap my brain around. Perhaps it’s the donut purist in me.

The Main Cheese is poised to do very well in West Little Rock. It’s comfortable and casual enough to draw in families from the area, but also classy enough to make it a nice business lunch option for adults (beer and wine are also offered). We’re excited to explore more options on the menu in the near future and applaud these folks for bringing new and interesting ideas to central Arkansas.

The Main Cheese is located at 14524 Cantrell Road, Little Rock. (501) 367-8082. More info at their website here.

Donut grilled cheese

  • Donut grilled cheese

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