It was like something out of a Judd Apatow comedy. After a night of really serious drinking and now wearing that goofy alcohol glow, one of the revelers turns to his pie-eyed companion and says, “You know what would be great right now? A really good grilled cheese.”
And that’s pretty much how the downtown Manchester, N.H., haunt Cheddar and Rye came to be. Since opening in October 2018, it may lay claim to be the most unusual food and drink spot in the Merrimack Valley.
There are a few appetizers and a batch of specialty grilled cheese sandwiches. There are also about 320 whiskeys.
[Please note that at the time of publication, the restaurant featured in this article is offering special services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please call or visit their websites for updates.]
Oh, there are mixed drinks, a nice wine list, a dozen draft beers, and a full bar, too. There’s even a soup of the day and a couple of salads available. But when a place bills itself as a grilled cheese and whiskey bar, well, you’d really be missing the point if you ordered anything else.
Cheddar and Rye has atmosphere to spare. It boasts a kind of funky Bohemian vibe — replete with low lighting, framed yellowed newspapers on the walls, and mismatched vintage furniture. You would almost expect to see Jack Kerouac hunched over in a corner, furiously pounding away on a typewriter and chain-smoking Lucky Strikes.
Don’t worry, there’s no smoking at Cheddar and Rye. But there are plenty of reasons to visit. For example, whether you are a serious whiskey drinker or a rank amateur, you can order a flight of four (1 ounce each) at various prices.
Staffers will be happy to explain the best way to enjoy your drinks and why an eyedropper is included in the order. Don’t mix your whiskeys, sample them one at a time, they’ll say.
The eyedropper allows you to add a few precious drops of H20, which affects the taste of each beverage. Ice will do the same thing.
Fancy a mixed drink? Try “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” ($10), which tastes, that’s right, exactly like a PB&J sandwich. Except it’s made with rye that’s been stored in barrels coated with house-made peanut butter, along with fig syrup and bitters. Or maybe sample the “Baehart” ($11) with gin, elderflower, grapefruit and prosecco.
The folks at Cheddar and Rye obviously believe drinking should be fun, and it’s easy to agree once you’re there. But don’t be afraid to sample some food, too, so you can have even more fun drinking. Plus, the food would make a nice reward for your designated driver.
The cheese platter features four cheeses of the day, along with fig jam, hot (as in spicy) honey and pickled onion. Our generous platter featured Muenster, cheddar (of course) dill havarti, and smoked Gouda. It was the most expensive food item on the menu … at $12.
The trio of pulled pork sliders on perfect mini brioches ($10) were tender, juicy and packed with flavor … an ideal starter before you get down to the main business of imbibing.
As for the grilled cheeses, they are available on a variety of breads and possibly even qualify as “gourmet” sandwiches, though I suspect the proprietors would shudder at the word.
But how else to describe the “Black Panther” ($7.50), made with Angus pastrami, blue cheese, caramelized onion and barbecue sauce? The “Ghostrider” ($8) features maple Sriracha, buffalo chicken with pepper jack cheese and ranch dressing. It delivers some serious heat factor. Or maybe you would favor the “Hawkeye” ($7.50) with more pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. They were all terrific … especially after doing the drinking stuff. And several other grilled cheeses are on the menu, including a veggie offering or two.
A couple of desserts are also available each day, and like everything else we sampled, they were a notch above the norm. Both the carrot cake ($6) and the Oreo-icing cake ($6) ended the evening on an agreeably sweet note.
Cheddar and Rye has different hours for the dining and bar sections, so check their website for details. It may not be for everybody, but the place should score high marks with people who favor originality but still think eating, and drinking, should be fun.
Cheddar and Rye