In this season of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to the fine city of Cleveland and the gifts it has given me over the years – friends and food. I was a late arrival at fandom for Melt, but when it hit, it hit big. I had my first Melt encounter in 2011 and so far every trip back has been an award winner. The two locations I sampled were equal in eating experience. That is no easy task.
Melt Bar & Grilled, in the simplest sense, comes down the a simple concept. People like bread and people like cheese and they want it grilled. Add in a beer, or two, or a gourmet pop and contentment can be had for less than $20. However, few places really make a grilled cheese that is memorable or craveable. Melt does deliver the goods and gets people to come back for more.
What is the magic formula the makes this place so universally loved and appealing? Clearly not just something but many things must click with the concept to attract the likes of Man vs. Food, Diners, Drive- In’s and Dives and CMH Gourmand.
The first Melt opened in Lakewood in 2006. Matt Fish, the chef/owner concocted a formula that taps into our distant memories of childhood, what we liked best about our early twenties and the character of Cleveland’s communities that Melt melts into. What Fish created was the type of bar he would want to go to – that had gourmet comfort food that was good, creative and fun.
Let’s start with the gourmet. The key to any good sandwich is the bread. Melt’s bread is made fresh daily. Other items made in-house include the dressings and soups. Bratwurst are sourced locally. Many of the monthly specials source from local purveyors and all can be transformed into vegan or vegetarian versions with no loss of flavor or hipness. The sandwiches themselves are portioned large with combinations ranging from creative, to envelope pushing and downright crazy. But maybe crazy like a fox, or Fish, as the case may be. Take the Parmageddon: 2 potato and cheese pierogi, napa vodka kraut, grilled onions and lots of cheddar cheese on thick Texas Toast style bread served with hand cut fries and house made sweet slaw. The price? – $10.50 American. That is a meal. The rest of the menu reads like this including items such as lasagna, mixed berry preserves, hand breaded eggplant, house made crab cakes and fried tofu.
Okay, to track back a bit, I guess I covered some of the creative part already but let’s look at the elements of the space that show the creativity component. The menu’s are presented on old LP album covers. The walls and pretty much everything is covered and coated in Cleveland paraphernalia, each monthly special seems to try to top the previous offering with a bold assortment of flavors that maybe should not go together….but do. Want to save 25% on your meals for life? Get a Melt Tattoo on your body to become a human marketing machine. Seem to gimmicky to you? It has worked on 400 plus people. Old (one might call them vintage) movies play in the background while local rock and sports memorabilia line the walls and bathroom stalls. There is a lot to eat at Melt and even more to look at.
Now, moving on to the fun aspect of the place. Every observation I have made in my visits and every review I have read has noted that the staff at Melt are friendly and seem to genuinely enjoy what they are doing and where they are working at. The servers are all able to express their individuality and many say they hang out at Melt in their off hours. There seems to be something infectious to the place that puts people on all sides of the house at ease.
Maybe one of the things that adds to the relaxed feel is the bar part of Bar & Grilled. Melt has a lot of beer. And as the Dining Duder said on one scouting trip “not only do they have a lot of beer, but it is all good beer”. The Dining Duder is not one to experience irrational exuberance over a comfort food restaurant beer list – his refined tastes ask more than that and he was not giving the compliment away. Fish started out with over 100 beers on his opening day menu and has added more over time. The beer list is a bit overwhelming but the depth is impressive. Many a local or regional brew is present as well as other harder to find microbrews from everywhere else.
The place(s) has character and seem to hire many characters to work in the business. Even though there are four locations, it does not feel like a restaurant empire, each place feels like a neighborhood hangout.
Do I like the place – well, of course I do, but I like it maybe a little more than I should, and I am Okay with that. Melt is the girlfriend that serves you her homemade meatballs not the one that tries to stop you from trying the Melt Challenge. Melt is a keeper.
But let’s finally stop beating around the bush and talk about the title of this piece and the first photo. What is the New Bomb Turkey? It is a sandwich offered every November as a toast to Thanksgiving and a tribute to the New Bomb Turks. Most of the members of the band hailed from Cleveland but the band formed in Columbus and still calls the home. I know this because I know them all and watched them rock out at Little Brothers and Beachland Ballroom. Matt Fish was in several bands in the Cleveland punk scene of the same era so the sandwich name and the music in the background are Fish’s hat tip to his roots and one of his inspirations.
How about another Columbus connection? Melt is coming to Columbus…..soon. Will the spirit and spunk of Cleveland be able to replicate itself in the capital city? I am not sure, but the New Bomb Turks survived the transition, maybe we will too.
Many of my readers are Cleveland transplants. A few (CLEGourmand fans) live in Cleveland. I encourage you to try a New Bomb Turkey while there is still time this season or make a commitment to do so went Melt opens in Columbus in 2013. Let me know what you think of the sandwich. And let me know if you believe Melt will melt the hearts of the capital city or have a meltdown. I know what I am hoping for and where I want that location to be.
Melt Bar & Grilled
(Four Locations, details below)