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Grilled cheese and hot coffee

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Even when he's sweating to keep pace with incoming orders at his American Meltdown food truck, Paul Inserra likes to peek out of the service window to see the reactions of people eating his gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.

"You'd never imagine a sandwich could make so many people so happy," says Inserra after the lunch rush at N.C. State's Centennial Campus, where he has fed dozens of students and employees. "It's classic comfort food."

Inserra's hearty sandwiches, which he calls melts, do more than merely comfort. There is practically ecstatic appreciation for the creativity that lifts a seemingly simple assemblage of bread, cheese and butter to such gastronomic heights.

Inserra and his wife, Alycia, are banking on the originality of their menu and the quality of Triangle-sourced ingredients for a big win on Saturday at the Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles. Last year, they snagged third-place honors in the Missionary category (limited to bread, cheese and butter) with the aptly named De-Lish. The savory combo, which remains in rotation on the truck, pairs Muenster cheese with pumpkin seed cheddar bread from Durham's Guglhupf bakery.

Held each April to mark Grilled Cheese Month, last year's gathering attracted 6,000 fans who sampled sandwiches from makers who bark "hot cheese!" to attract interest. With the 2014 event billed as "the last" competition in its 12-year history, even more are expected to attend.

The Inserras feel a strong pull to go big. They will put three of their melts up against sandwiches from about 150 national entrants.

In the Missionary category, they will make an as-yet unnamed sandwich that uses the same pumpkin seed cheddar bread with melty aged Gouda inside—and some on the outside, too, to form a golden crust. They'll be represented in the Kama Sutra, or "anything goes," group with the Hangover Melt, which harnesses the power of homemade pimento cheese, a runny egg and zippy salsa verde to rouse the weary.

In the Honey Pot dessert class, they'll tuck homemade ricotta and a peach-balsamic compote between slices of buttery brioche bread from La Farm in Cary. "We want to share the love a little bit and use more great ingredients from Triangle providers," Inserra says.

The couple will be back and serving sandwiches across the Triangle starting on Tuesday. For times and locations, visit —Jill Warren Lucas

Since the Blend coffeeshop closed at Golden Belt, the Near East Side of Durham has been a coffee desert. With the opening last month of Carrboro Coffee Roaster's pop-up coffee bar, the painters, tattoo artists and yoga instructors who inhabit the renovated factory have access to life's elixir.

Carrboro Coffee Roasters is owned by Scott Conary, who also heads up Open Eye Cafe, an Orange County institution. Conary's coffees have a global reputation, winning awards, while Conary often judges national and international coffee and barista competitions.

If you've drunk coffee in Durham at Cocoa Cinnamon, Respite, Rue Cler, Guglhupf or Straw Valley, you've probably imbibed Carrboro Coffee's roasts.

The Golden Belt location, 807 E. Main St., is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. —Lisa Sorg

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