The new fast-casual Cheese Louise in Portland’s Old Port, which specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches, gets many things right.

It’s a clean, sunny plant-filled spot with exceptionally cheerful, fast service and agreeable sandwiches. The maple-mango-blueberry lemonade ($4), which comes in a branded Ball jar, is a pretty color and slips down easily on a summer’s evening. The salad, which you can order as a $4 add-on with your sandwich, is both a good deal and a good salad. The counter person, who said she moved from the company’s original North Conway location to work in Portland when the place opened on May 1, may be the nicest, most positive restaurant employee in town. Business, she said, has been “going swimmingly.”

On a Sunday evening at 7 p.m. in early summer, my partner and I were among a handful of customers, including a young couple seated inside and a pair of skateboarders outside. We ordered lemonade (you can also get cocktails made with the lemonade, or beer) and, among the roughly half dozen variations on grilled cheese, settled on The Vermonter, made with cheddar and muenster on Tuscan pane ($8), and the Southern Hipster ($12), made with bacon, muenster and guacamole, also on Tuscan pane. I cleared the latter with the nice woman at the counter, letting her know we were neither Southern nor hip. “We want people to have new experiences,” she told us.

The interior of Cheese Louise. Outside, you’ll find counter seating and picnic tables. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

The Vermonter was a plain and pleasant grilled cheese sandwich. I could have used pickles and mustard, but for the traditionalist, the fussy eater or the picky child, the sandwich would be just right. The Southern Hipster was a more grown-up take on grilled cheese, and while it had never occurred to me to add guacamole to the classic, the combination worked.

I’m afraid I went down a rabbit hole with the names. (What was I expecting, given that the name of the restaurant itself is Cheese Louise? The business started in 2019 as a food truck.) I asked my partner, a certified, born and bred Vermonter, for his thoughts on The Vermonter. “Yep, grilled cheese,” he said laconically. I pushed him for more feedback so he wisecracked that he’d typically only eat The Vermonter “on Bennington Battle Day,” Aug. 16 should you want to make your grilled cheese plans now. As for me, I got stuck on the reasoning behind Southern Hipster name. My version of Southern Hipster, I mused, would be made from pimento cheese, pickled okra and country ham. Feel free to steal that, Cheese Louise.

The side salads came with fresh blueberries, dried apricots, goat cheese and sunflower seeds – a very nice combination of flavors, textures, and sweet and savory. Extra points for the fact that the lettuce mix had no tiny rotted bits, something I run into much more than you’d think at the new breed of fast casual spots that aim to serve healthier food. The salad dressing, maple-lemon vinaigrette, comes on the side. I wish more places would take the trouble to toss salads for eat-in customers, so the dressing would coat the greens evenly, but I suspect I’m in the minority here.

The Cheese Louise website has a mission statement, which says in part, they want “to grow Cheese Louise so that we can positively influence the lives of the greatest number of people.”

I don’t know about that, but the place is friendly and the grilled cheese sandwiches – oozy, fresh and expertly toasted – are perfectly nice and hit the spot.


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