With a heavy heart and solemn stomach, I bade farewell to Pera, a Mediterranean eatery nestled at 1980 N. High St. It was just a stone’s throw from campus, and because of that, students like myself buried midterm woes beneath generous troughs of tzatziki, rice and feta cheese.
But with the closure of Pera (and subsequent end to gyro-fueled stress-eating) came a gaping hole in the hearts, souls and stomachs of OSU students — a hole that Tom+Chee, an up-and-coming Cincinnati franchiser, could perhaps fill.
Based on a simple premise — the tomato soup and grilled cheese love affair — the aptly-titled Tom+Chee opened its doors on Nov. 14 where Pera used to be.
As I walked into the restaurant, my frost-frozen nose was quickly and easily defrosted by the warm, aromatic cloud of garlic and basil that saturated the air. The interior, I noted, was simple in a childlike way, with vast walls of red and yellow, dark charcoal floors and sprawling phrases like “Melt-aphysical” and “Awesomely Yum” scribed boldly across the walls.
Cheesy, yes, but tolerably so, the place felt lively and upbeat, fueled by ubiquitous stimuli: the clatter of an open kitchen, the flashing of mounted TVs, Elton John belting in the background.
That said, patrons waited in a fast-moving line as they perused and picked their poison from the expansive yet specialized menu. Despite the decent selection of tomato soups and salads, the menu is overwhelmingly, albeit expectedly, dominated by grilled cheese. Myriad “Fancy Grilled Cheese” sandwiches — including the “Swiss+Shroom” ($4.95) and the bacon-and-pickle-packed “Flying Pig” ($6.95) — are poised alongside various eccentricities, namely an array of “Fancy Grilled Cheese Donuts.” A “Build Your Own” section allows for more creativity, and with 11 different cheeses, six breads and seven meat options — not to mention various veggies and extras like blueberry compote and fried onions — you can mix-and-match your little heart out.
And vegans/gluten-free eaters, never fear: The menu has options for your tastebuds.
I ordered the “The Tom + Chee” ($4.95), a relatively simple sandwich made with tomatoes, garlic seasoning, melted cheddar and mozzarella, all smashed between two slices of sourdough bread. My taste-buds were titillated, that’s for sure, enraptured by the lava-like cheese and crisp, buttery bread. However, an intrusive thought — I could’ve totally made this at home — festered away.
I later tried the “Pep+Chee” ($5.95): two slices of sourdough loaded with pepperoni, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Greasy but good, the sammies were ripe with a nuance here and a note there of nostalgia — like those not-so-special specialties that your gourmand mom/chef dad invented, mastered and single-handedly monopolized within the confines of your kitchen.
Equipped with both stretchy pants and a masochistic sort of curiosity, I then ordered a grilled-cheese donut: the “SMore” ($5.45). The sandwich (marshmallow mascarpone, chocolate and graham cracker between a grilled glazed donut) was sweet and satisfying. However, it didn’t quite live up to the hype of its sister-sandwich, the “Man v. Food Nation”-featured “Blueberry Blue,” which featured blueberry compote and blue cheese ($5.45).
The verdict? Everything was tasty, reasonably priced and oozing with familiarity. And yet an impalpable something — perhaps the overstated eccentricity of it all, perhaps the upscaling of these inherently simple, childhood foods — felt weird: You could probably prepare similar, equally tasty sandwiches at home, given ample stocks of butter, cheese and motivation. Nevertheless, I’d say go for it — give Tom+Chee a try.
Whether you’re strapped for time and cash, stove-averse or plagued by unwavering munchies, the prices and flavors at Tom+Chee — not to mention the speedy service and sheer convenience — will not disappoint.
The restaurant is open from 10:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 10:45 to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.