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The best grilled cheese in California may be in Sacramento. ‘They’re doing well’

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About the writer

Brianna Taylor covers affordability from The Bee’s service journalism team.

Icing sugar, mango-habanero sauce and blood orange-olive oil.

These are just some of the ingredients that make up Shift Coffee House’s award-winning (and unconventional) sandwiches.

The store on Del Paso Blvd. in Old North Sacramento is a top California destination for the sticky American staple. The sandwich has been reinvented to appeal to foodies like Owen Smith, who asked me to try it as part of my $25 reader-driven budget series.

“I don’t know what the trick is… but they’re doing it right,” Owen told me on the phone last week. In 2021, the longtime Sacramento resident discovered Shift Coffee House.

“Best grilled cheese sammies anywhere,” he said.

In January 2020, the coffee shop was named California’s best grilled cheese destination in an Eat This, Not That! article entitled “The Best Grilled Cheese in Every State.”

“Don’t be fooled by the name of this cafe!” Eat this, not that! freelance writer Rebecca Strong wrote. “While it certainly has an impressive java menu, many locals come here just for the grilled cheese.”

Enough talking. Let’s see what the hype is about.

Take a look at the Shift Coffee House in Sacramento

In this series, service journalism reporter Brianna Taylor discovers Sacramento each month through one of your favorite affordable activities — all on a $25 budget.In this series, service journalism reporter Brianna Taylor discovers Sacramento each month through one of your favorite affordable activities — all on a $25 budget.

In this series, service journalism reporter Brianna Taylor discovers Sacramento each month through one of your favorite affordable activities — all on a $25 budget.

Place: 1616 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento

Shift Coffee House is a car enthusiast’s paradise.

Automotive memorabilia adorns the walls, from vintage license plates to framed black-and-white photos of car parts.

‘Glue Song’ by the Filipino songwriter Beabadoobee set the relaxed tone in the coffee shop on a sunny Wednesday afternoon in May.

The man and brains behind the operation is Mike Hollis, a car enthusiast.

After building and restoring cars for most of his life, Mike said his body begged him to pursue a new profession. In 2018, he opened a coffee shop that focused on his love of caffeine, cars and grilled cheese.

“I ate grilled cheese for lunch every day,” he told me in a phone interview last week.

“I would use my leftovers and make a sandwich, and it was always something crazy.”

Mike Hollis, owner of Shift Coffee House, will present the Bay Area Brisket, the company's signature grilled cheese sandwiches, on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.  Hollis, a car enthusiast, decorated his coffee shop with car and racing memorabilia.Mike Hollis, owner of Shift Coffee House, will present the Bay Area Brisket, the company's signature grilled cheese sandwiches, on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.  Hollis, a car enthusiast, decorated his coffee shop with car and racing memorabilia.

Mike Hollis, owner of Shift Coffee House, will present the Bay Area Brisket, the company’s signature grilled cheese sandwiches, on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. Hollis, a car enthusiast, decorated his coffee shop with car and racing memorabilia.

Mike had put together sandwiches the night before with whatever he could find in the fridge, from pork chops and onions to macaroni and cheese, and chicken.

The process of making sandwiches at Shift Coffee House is a lot more refined.

Sandwiches are made to order at the front of the house using bread from Truckee Sourdough Company, a Truckee-based artisan bread company. Then, cheesy creations are grilled using a flat-top panini machine.

Quirky combinations include the $12 Cali Cruiser, made with grilled chicken and fries, and the $11 Kitchen Sink, with cinnamon sugar and berry jam.

The $11 The $11

Ready to serve on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, Shift Coffee House’s $11 “French Connection” grilled cheese sandwich with mozzarella eggs, bacon, maple syrup, cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar on baguette.

How I spent my $25 budget

Employee Allison Wilford greeted me from behind the sandwich bar before suggesting a few sandwiches for me to try.

I told Owen I would enjoy a sweet creation like the $11.44 “PBB&J,” made with medium cheddar and mozzarella, peanut butter, berry jam and bacon.

But the $11 Bay Area Brisket appealed to me.

The Bay Area grilled cheese sandwich is served with tomato soup at Shift Coffee House on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 in North Sacramento.  Owner Mike Hollis said his inspiration for the restaurant came from his love of making grilled cheese sandwiches with his dinner leftovers.The Bay Area grilled cheese sandwich is served with tomato soup at Shift Coffee House on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 in North Sacramento.  Owner Mike Hollis said his inspiration for the restaurant came from his love of making grilled cheese sandwiches with his dinner leftovers.

The Bay Area grilled cheese sandwich is served with tomato soup at Shift Coffee House on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 in North Sacramento. Owner Mike Hollis said his inspiration for the restaurant came from his love of making grilled cheese sandwiches with his dinner leftovers.

Two slices of sourdough bread are forced to withstand the combined weight of smoked brisket, smoky cheddar, and mozzarella.

I also ordered a $2 cup of tomato soup and a $3.25 unsweetened hibiscus tea to wash it all down. My total was $21.20 (after tip).

It took about 10 minutes for my order to be called. Meanwhile, I sat down at an open table and checked my emails.

Once my food was placed in front of me, I didn’t take the time to try the soup. Then I moved on to the tea, which was light and refreshing.

The sandwich surprised me. The cross section felt heavy in my hands and contained a perfect melody of melted cheeses and brisket.

Cheese. Savoury. Tasteful.

After about 30 minutes of eating lunch and surfing the internet, I packed up my leftovers and packed my bag.

“I Wanna Be Yours” by the 2000s rock band Arctic Monkeys played as I dumped my trash at the store entrance.

Above the trash can hangs a framed photo of Mike’s Australian shepherd Tagg, who died in 2022 at the age of 14. He was a customer favorite.

“The community here is great… we have been improving our environment daily,” Mike said.

After a quick wave to Allison and her colleague Nicole, I went out the door.

Allison Wilford, of Shift Coffee House in North Sacramento, makes an iced coffee on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.Allison Wilford, of Shift Coffee House in North Sacramento, makes an iced coffee on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

Allison Wilford, of Shift Coffee House in North Sacramento, makes an iced coffee on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.

Is Shift Coffee House affordable?

I got a sandwich, soup and a drink for $21.20

Shift Coffee House currently has 20 sandwiches, ranging from an $8 Classic to a pair of $13 sandwiches made with eggs and cheese.

The $13 Del Paso Del Sol contains two types of cheddar, carnitas, eggs, avocado and salsa.

On Wednesdays, Shift Coffee House prepares a grilled cheese sandwich called Del Paso del Sol.  The $13 sandwich features carnitas, eggs, avocado and smoky cheddar cheese.On Wednesdays, Shift Coffee House prepares a grilled cheese sandwich called Del Paso del Sol.  The $13 sandwich features carnitas, eggs, avocado and smoky cheddar cheese.

On Wednesdays, Shift Coffee House prepares a grilled cheese sandwich called Del Paso del Sol. The $13 sandwich features carnitas, eggs, avocado and smoky cheddar cheese.

The $10 options include Road Runner, You’re Cheesy Honey, Pigs in a Blanket and That’s My Jam. Two creations were made with blood orange olive oil.

The coffee comes from Sacramento-based Naked Coffee, a coffee roaster with three locations in the area.

Cold coffee and lemonade are ready at Shift Coffee on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. The restaurant gets its beans from Naked Coffee out of Sacramento.Cold coffee and lemonade are ready at Shift Coffee on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. The restaurant gets its beans from Naked Coffee out of Sacramento.

Cold coffee and lemonade are ready at Shift Coffee on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. The restaurant gets its beans from Naked Coffee out of Sacramento.

The drinks list includes a few lattes, cold brew, espresso, flat white and cappuccino. Hot chocolate, tea and lemonade, apple and orange juice and soft drinks are also available.

Thanks for the suggestion, Owen!

Opening hours: Shift Coffee House is open Monday through Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Wednesday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m