Cape Fear Foodie: CheeseSmith is Back
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - I’ve had over three decades of experience eating food, but deciding on a restaurant to write about can be difficult at times.
Do you go with seafood? Already done that... ditto burgers, pizza, Italian and Asian cuisine. Sure there are endless possibilities across Southeastern North Carolina, but sometimes you just want something simple. Something comfortable.
Luckily my want for some classic comfort food coincided with one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in 2021.
CheeseSmith is back and better than ever!
After spending nearly three years as a food truck, the grilled cheese extraordinaires sold their truck and moved into a hip space on the corner of Queen and 17th Street in Wilmington’s hoppin’ Cargo District.
The building used to house Nippy’s Soul Food (which relocated to Carolina Beach Road), but you wouldn’t tell once you step inside. The space has been transformed, with polished original brick flooring, subway tiled walls and plenty of plants. It’s a pleasing, clean vibe that you typically can’t get from a food truck...but this isn’t a food truck anymore.
The prep and kitchen are two different spaces now, with room to whip up sauces and homemade tomato jam (more on that in a bit) without the need to clear the decks to load up sandwiches piled high with cheese and taste bud-tingling toppings.
It doesn’t take long for owners Brendan and Molly Curnyn to gush over their new brick-and-mortar home. Unlike some food trucks that moved into a permanent space, the wheels didn’t fall off here.. .nothing has changed in the quality of the food. It’s the same great sandwiches and sides that people willingly waited in lengthy lines for at various breweries around the area... now there is just more space (and the wait times have massively decreased).
In just a few short years, CheeseSmith went from a new player on the scene, to possibly Wilmington’s most sought-after food truck. It even made national television on the Cooking Channel’s Best Thing I Ever Ate. But all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the restaurant left me wondering one thing? Why grilled cheese?
It’s not often that you find people with a great passion for food that want to make an item where the recipe is the name but Brendan says that was always kind of the plan. Of course, they’ve put some twists on your typical grilled cheese. This isn’t the buttered bread with Kraft singles your mom made for you as a kid. It’s bold, unique flavors, that beg you to leave your comfort zone to truly enjoy comfort food.
Alex Efting showed me the prep process and a quick look behind the scenes, nothing out of the ordinary, mounds of cheese, various jams and loads of mayonnaise (it’s used both on the grill top and lathered on the bread to help give an even char to the bread, and allow enough heat to melt the cheese).
Speaking of cheese, it’s clearly the star of the show. Each sandwich comes with at least five slices, leaving every order oozing with delectable dairy perfection.
On this stop, we snagged “The OG,” which is made up of cheddar and American cheese with house made tomato jam (the tomato jam should be sold in jars, it’s that good.) The sandwich is so simple, yet so delicious.
Next was the sandwich that brought the national fame to CheeseSmith, the “Buffalo Baby.” Hand pulled chicken, homemade carrot and celery slaw and their own ranch dressing creates a perfect bed for mounds of melted Havarti to rest on. One bite and you’ll have a smile on your face like someone said, well, cheese (alright, I’ll leave now). There’s even a vegan variation that I’m told is every bit as good as the original.
If I had my way, I would have tried every sandwich on the menu... from Maple Bacon with pimento cheese, maple syrup and heaps of bacon (they go through at least 20 pounds a day) to the Southern Charm (piled high with pulled pork, Cheddar, pickled red onions and cole slaw).. .even the spicy Kimcheese (Korean kimchi and American cheese) sounds amazing, and the sandwich that Brendan says he’s currently addicted to.
Then again had I ordered every sandwich, I would need a new wardrobe, so we opted for some sides instead.
The cheese isn’t just meant for the bread here, with Parmesan Fries, Beer Cheese Fries, even fries loaded with beer cheese, pork belly, green onions and “Smith Sauce.”
The fries are great, but the watermelon with lime salt might be the best thing on the menu. No joke, it’s that good, and made me a believer of salt on watermelon.
There are some desserts on the menu as well, Key Lime Pie and house made Salted Caramel Banana Pudding. I’m still kicking myself for not ordering the latter (if someone tries it before I do, shoot me a message and give me all the sweet deets).
After passing on an invite to the soft-opening last Friday (sorry, the Dave Matthews Band called), there was no chance I would miss out on a visit this week. What used to be an adventure of sorts to track down the elusive and extremely popular food truck, is now an easy trip to a fun part of town. And while CheeseSmith has planted its roots, it’s a great example that you don’t always have to be moving, to keep going forward.
I’m excited to see where the road takes this superstar comfort food restaurant even if it isn’t on the road anymore.
1) This place is popular, they open at 11 a.m. and within minutes of the doors opening, there were around 20 people inside. So it’s safe to expect a small wait time. You can even walk a block down the street and checkout The Outpost and the various shops in the Cargo District then come back for your food.
2) Looking for a job? Like most restaurants, CheeseSmith is hiring. However the Curnyns are committed to offering livable wages and there’s a great, family-like vibe you get from the staff. They would like to stay open later but limited staff is a sticking point, so give them a call. I would offer to be their resident taste-tester but I doubt they need that position filled.
IF YOU GO:
CheeseSmith is located at:
624 S 17th St, Wilmington, NC 28401 (the corner of Queen and 17th Street).
Do you recommend a restaurant? Or know of a best kept secret that you want the rest of the Cape Fear to know about? Shoot me an email at email@example.com and I would love to feature your selection. Cheers!
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