The cheese is great, but Johnson County cafe’s sandwich is paradise thanks to the bacon
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My sandwich tastes have grown (a little) more sophisticated than when I was a kid stuffing potato chips inside a bologna sandwich made with gummy white bread.
I love a good sandwich. I eat one every day for lunch. So I will rhapsodize here about the Paradise Bacon Grilled Cheese ($10.50), warm and hearty, studded with thick-sliced bacon at Best Regards Bakery & Cafe, 6759 W. 119th St., in Overland Park.
It ticks all the boxes on my checklist of what makes a great sandwich. The bread must have heft, and there has to be enough filling that you don’t feel cheated in any bite. This one is perfect on a cold winter’s day.
Sure, you can make a grilled cheese sandwich at home. But I never can get the cheese to melt this beautifully, oozing over the edges like those Salvador Dali melting clocks.
Step inside this small cafe, and the sugary aroma of Christmas baking fills the air, year-round.
Take a second and admire the sweet offerings in the display case. Delicate cream puffs. Eclairs drenched in chocolate. Colorful, decorated sugar cookies, a signature offering. The bakery has sold thousands of Chiefs-themed cookies this season and is making who knows how many more ahead of the Super Bowl.
People sometimes come for the cookies and are surprised to find a high-end cafe there, too. Owners Robert and Cherrie Duensing, who celebrate 30 years in business this year, added a lunch menu about 10 years ago. They serve 30 to 40 types of sandwiches, along with salads and soups.
Just about everything on the menu here has a story.
Robert Duensing, an engaging storyteller, recently launched a podcast and Saturday morning radio show on KMBZ called “Kansas City Food Memories.” He invites guests and callers to talk about restaurants from the ‘80s and ‘90s, which he calls Kansas City’s “golden age of the local restaurant.”
For his cafe, he collects recipes from everywhere, and some menu items took years to perfect before he offered them to the public. The Grandma’s Potato Salad is his mother-in-law’s recipe. The new crispy chocolate cookie on the menu was three years in the making.
When I told him on a recent visit how homey the cafe feels — 45 seats inside and the same number outside in good weather — he said, “that’s the sentiment we try to do. Everything we do is from scratch. We make our bread from scratch. Our salad dressings from scratch.
“What I’ve always told people, … I say I want you to be able to bring your mom and your grandma and your great-aunt here and they’re going to feel at home.”
Can you read French?
Once, the employees had a little fun with math to figure out how many combinations of grilled cheese sandwiches they could make from all the artisan breads, cheeses and add-ons they have on hand. Grand total: More than 52,000.
The Paradise Bacon Grilled Cheese is made with sourdough bread. It takes three days, start to finish, to make one loaf. It is purposefully sliced thicker than the cafe’s first generation of grilled cheeses. I can only eat half of one sandwich at a time.
The shop was previously a French bakery and had a state-of-the-art French commercial oven. The previous tenants sold baguettes. “Well, this town doesn’t eat baguettes. It took them a year to figure that out,” Duensing said.
The landlord threw the oven into the deal. Duensing figured: If you don’t know how to drive but someone gives you a Lamborghini, you learn how to drive.
It took six months to learn how to “drive” that oven, which he uses today to make his breads.
A marriage of cheeses
The bacon on this sandwich is meaty, not salty but a little sweet. It’s chopped up into small pieces, which I appreciate. I loathe biting into a BLT and pulling a whole slice of bacon out. (Speaking of BLTs, they’re amazing at Best Regards, too, but wait until summer when the tomatoes are homegrown perfection.)
Duensing buys the bacon from Paradise Locker Meats in Trimble, Missouri, north of Kansas City. Foodies say the family-run business processes some of the best pork in the country, field-raised Berkshire hogs, a rare heritage breed.
The bacon is the star, but the cheeses on this sandwich are worthy supporting actors. There are two kinds — sliced havarti and shredded Tillamook extra-sharp cheddar, aged. The havarti melts nicely, and the cheddar adds a little punch.
Before grilling, the outside of each slice of bread is brushed with softened European butter, which has higher butterfat than American butter and adds a slight tang. This sandwich is packed with flavor.
My preferred “side” comes from the bakery side, something sweet to take home for later. I recommend the cream puffs.
Cream puff filling should be pudding-like and velvety smooth. No whipped cream filling for me. Might as well eat air. The cream puffs at Best Regards are inexplicably both delicate and substantial.
And if you can catch Duensing in between customers, there’s a story behind those, too.