It was a sentiment held by Leor Barak, founder of Wilton Manors-based New York Grilled Cheese Co., until recently. Over the past few years, the restaurateur says, he'd been harassed by his very vocal clientele for not offering a vegan alternative of his popular grilled cheese sandwiches.
"My whole theory was that if the grilled cheese sandwich can't taste as good as the real thing, or it's too expensive to make with nondairy ingredients, I wouldn't do it," Barak says. "It took years, but I finally think I have a solution."
Recently, Barak was approached by a Hallandale-based company that produces a dairy-free cheese alternative, one that is both non-GMO and certified organic. For the self-taught chef, the high-end product offered a neutral base and that "real, cheese-like texture" he was looking for.
"It's a product I could finally put the New Your Grilled Cheese Co. name behind," says Barak, who launched his grilled cheese sandwiches in March 2013 as a way to promote his failing frozen yogurt shop.
The all-new New York Grilled Cheese Co. vegan melt — dubbed the Village Vegan — is available at both the Wilton Manors (2207 Wilton Dr.) and Boca Raton locations. To make the melt just as good as the original, the sandwich is prepared with an herb-infused oil, vegan-safe bread, and the locally made dairy-free cheese, flavored with garlic, caramelized onion, herbs, and spices.
The sandwich costs only $1 more than the traditional grilled cheese and comes with waffle fries instead of tomato bisque (which is nonvegan). Barak suggests adding the restaurant's sweet potato fries or scorched jalapeños to the Village Vegan.
"It's a little out-of-the-box, but it's a great addition to the sandwich," Barak says. "It adds a lot of flavor and texture."
Today the three-year-old Wilton Manors location of New York Grilled Cheese Co. offers seven signature melts and a rotating seasonal sandwich. A second location opened in April 2016 across from Boca Raton's Mizner Park at 439 N. Federal Hwy.; the 2,000-square-foot space is now considered the brand's flagship and a model for future franchise locations.
Patrons familiar with the concept go for the panini-like pressed sandwiches such as the signature Wall Street Grindr Melt ($9.95), with bacon, scrambled eggs, waffle fries, caramelized onions, and melted American cheese packed between two waffle-seared garlic bread slices, and the Broadway Classic ($7.95), a simple grilled cheese prepared with American and Swiss cheeses and grilled using homemade garlic butter.