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Food Porn Friday: The Dairy Diaries

This is not a ham and cheese sandwich.

"Wait a second. That's not cheese..."

Recently, I paid a of visit to a cafe on N. Rampart St. in the Quarter called Mr. Gregory's, which brands itself as "Fast French."  The menu was on the large side for such a small place, filled mostly with salads and pastries and the like. Then, hovering near the bottom, I spied the following words: "Hot Croque Sandwiches." I knew immediately that I was in the right place.

"Croque sandwich," as you may or may not know, is just fancy-talk for grilled cheese. And though a grilled cheese sandwich may seem a trifling thing -- especially to a food writer who is often made acquainted with fancier menu items like "a living terrarium of foie gras" -- it's also on my short list of 'Things That Make Life Worth Living'.  Oysters are up there, too, as is rock and roll, sex, and getting to watch really great movies on the big screen, like Lawrence of Arabia and Ghostbusters. If the food world were Hollywood, and melted cheese on buttery, toasted bread were an actor, it would be Meryl Streep.  A living legend.

My lifelong adoration of grilled cheese sandwiches began, unsurprisingly, in childhood, as a special weekend treat. On Sunday afternoons, as a reward for having survived another round of religious school without causing any incidents, my brothers and I would go crazy with anticipation as my mother would patiently press the bread flat in a sizzling cast iron skillet with plenty of butter until the American cheese -- and it had to be Kraft American Singles, the sine qua non of grilled cheese cheeses -- attained that perfectly gooey texture which is, in my experience, unique in all of nature.

It was, and still is, a majestic thing of timeless beauty and perfect satisfaction.

I went vegetarian once, for a week.  Not for any heath or ethical issues, but because I'd lost a bet to one of my vegetarian friends, and cutting meat out of my diet was her price.  When the week was out, after I'd lived on meat analogues like seitan and textured vegetable protein processed to resemble chicken nuggets, I had this to say: Not bad. I missed turkey sandwiches the most, I think -- and bacon, of course -- but I wasn't experiencing any delerium tremons or space madness for not having animal flesh in my diet. Had my friend Nicole stipulated in our wager that I would have to go full-on vegan for seven days, however, I'm fairly certain the week would have ended with me in Jack Torrence mode, grinning like maniac eager to slaughter my entire family with an axe.

I need dairy in my life. It is a necessity. I've literally awoken from nightmares in which a doctor notifies me that I'm lactose intolerant, a fate that would make me seriously consider the pros and cons of physician-assisted suicide. Give me dairy, or give me death.

Which brings me back to Mr. Gregory's.  I had a little love affair with my hot croque sandwich filled with thick, Irish-style rashers of bacon, Havarti and thyme, grilled and topped with blowtorch-melted Gruyere. I enjoyed it so much I went back a few days later, but it wasn't the melted cheese that caught my eye this time.  Oh, no. It was the $4 combination of a freshly baked baguette -- a real, crusty French loaf, mind you, not pillowy New Orleans "French bread" -- filled with smokey jambon and what the menu stated as "good French butter."

I expected a simple ham sandwich slathered with a little butter.  What I got, however, was a football sized loaf stuffed with meat and, the best part, three hefty wedges of that cold, creamy butter. In any other situation, I might have gagged a bit at seeing what basically amounted to a stick of butter on my sandwich (I thought immediately of Homer Simpson's "patented, space-age, out of this world 'Moon Waffles'"). But here, it just worked.  With butter of this quality, you really can eat that much of it and feel perfectly fine (if not a little guilty).

I mean, the French do it on a daily basis, and they're not keeling over by the truckload like we are here in the States. A friend of mine, a chef, recently moved to Paris with his wife, and, in the process, managed to lose twenty-five pounds.  His weight-loss diet?  Butter, cheese, bread, charcuterie, and wine.  When he told me this, I nearly keeled over myself.

So I think it's safe to say I'll be headed back to Mister Gregory's for another baguette with jambon and buerre, probably sooner rather than later. And you? Do you "have a friend in cheeses?"


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.