For those who didn’t know, August is both National Sandwich Month and National Panini Month. But don’t get it twisted: there is a distinct difference between the two, and as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of bread-based-delicacies, I will be your guide for differentiating the two.
A sandwich, generally speaking, is a term that can be used to describe any meal in which two pieces of sliced bread are used to contain two or more food items such typically meat, cheese and/or vegetables.
Legend has it that the sandwich got its name from eighteenth-century aristocrat, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, after he asked his servants to create him an utensil free meal that would allow him to play cards and eat at the same time. Shortly thereafter, people began to order the same thing and called it the “sandwich.”
A panini, albeit a form of a sandwich, is slightly different and has a very different history than a traditional sandwich. The panini has its origin in 1960s Italy, where they became a popular on-the-go meal for businessmen in downtown Milanese areas. Paninis became a part of the American gastronomy when many Italian-Americans began selling them in shops throughout New York City.
The primary difference is that a panini is grilled on a panini-press and it is also made from bread other than sliced white bread, such as ciabatta or focaccia. There are also only three or four ingredients on a panini, as opposed to the limitless amount of ingredients one can add on to a sandwich.
My personal favorite form of the sandwich walks a very thin line between being a panini and a sandwich, and that is the universally beloved grilled cheese. The sandwich is considered an ancient food, and its ancestor can be found all over the world in civilizations that had developed the technology to produce cheese and bread, with ancient Roman cookbooks containing grilled cheese recipes.
The modern grilled cheese that we know and love has somewhat murky origins, but became an American staple during the Great Depression due to its affordability and the mass production of Kraft brand processed cheese. It also was a mainstay in meals provided to US Soldiers during World War II.
Locally, there is a sandwich chain that originates out of Winston-Salem and focuses on pushing the limits of what can constitute a grilled cheese. The restaurant is called Fresh Melt Grilled Cheese and Soup Company.
The restaurant is the brilliant idea of entrepreneurial business owners Andy Baer and Rob Seltzer. They opened their first location in Winston-Salem in March, and their second location opened in April in High Point.
The concept is straightforward: “use locally-sourced ingredients wherever possible, in order to provide the freshest, most appealing casual dining option for the community, at an affordable price.”
They achieve that goal with ease. Your average sandwich and side combo clocks in at about $7, and if you add a cup of soup, it’s around $10. The menu additionally has a variety of options for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike and as a result has quickly become a favorite spot for both my girlfriend and I.
The menu offers both simple and complex sandwich options for all grilled cheese lovers. For those that want a grilled cheese that gets the job done, “The Big Cheese,” which features mozzarella, provolone and cheddar cheese in between two slices of Reuben sourdough bread, will definitely get the job done.
If you have a refined palette, you may take to the “Grilled Portobello” which consists of Swiss cheese, feta cheese, grilled portabella mushroom, spinach, sliced tomatoes and roasted red peppers stuffed between two slices of high crown white bread.
The menu also allows for a “Build Your Own” option, where you can create your own grilled cheese from the crust up. A personal go-to is Swiss, Gouda and Pepper Jack cheese with Fresh Jalapenos and Sliced Tomato on top of Reuben Sourdough bread.
For those who commute, this place is highly recommended for a pit stop when travelling through the Twin City or checking out a new blockbuster at the Regal Theater over in High Point.
Baer and Seltzer are planning on the concept for a third location in the Triad, and will hopefully they bring their venture into the diverse city of Greensboro.