Dec 15, 2016

Getting cheesy at Melt Bar and Grilled, Cleveland Heights, Ohio

For as long as I’ve known my wife, one of Punky’s dreams in retirement has been to run her own restaurant devoted to custom grilled cheese sandwiches and soups – one that not only delivers the basics but also features a large menu of specialty themed creations. 

It’s a great idea, but as we’ve learned it’s hardly a unique one.  Still, a successful idea is all about the execution.  And from what I experienced while travelling for work in Cleveland, you’d be challenged to find any place that does gourmet grilled cheese better than Melt Bar and Grilled.

The first Melt opened in 2006 in Lakewood, Ohio, a west-side suburb of Cleveland.  Its success has spawn six more locations in the Cleveland area, Akron and Columbus.  By 2010, word had spread to the Travel Channel and Food Network, and your usual food-themed hosts helped give Melt national recognition. 

After learning I’d be working in the Cleveland area for a while, I remembered Melt from these shows, and it didn’t take a lot of convincing for my co-workers and me to eventually plan an after-work “team building exercise” to our nearest Melt location in Cleveland Heights.  

Once you walk into a Melt Bar and Grilled (at least at this location), it doesn’t take long to realize the style and décor of the place is about as cheesy as their sandwiches.  I loved it.  Whether it’s the lighted figurines hanging on the shelves, the classic leg lamp, or beer and food signs from bygone eras, you’ll find plenty to distract you while your food and drinks are being prepared.

The centerpiece of the Cleveland Heights location was its huge rectangular wooden bar.  It goes a long way to fill up a rather cavernous brick-walled interior.  

The ceilings are quite tall and lined with what appears to be newer, although classically designed, aluminum tiles.  The duct work is prominently visible, adding to the building’s industrial feel.  It all comes together quite well, and although Melt seems to draw a sizable dinner crowd, it never feels too busy.

After discussing several of the room’s more interesting knickknacks, my group and I turned our attention to the food.  I quickly ruled out the Melt Challenge listed at the bottom and after much deliberation, I chose a half-sized fried green tomato BLT for my sandwich.

It should also be noted that even the menus themselves are a little “cheesy.”  That’s because they’re printed on the back of album covers.  And, if my menu is any indication, it doesn’t have to be a classic album by any stretch. I suppose if you’re getting material from record store bargain bins, though, this selection would make sense.  

Although I was perfectly satisfied with my sandwich selection, the monthly specials were simply too fascinating for me to pass up entirely.  So, instead of the customary fries to accompany my half-sandwich, I substituted the kung pao brussels sprouts.  I also added the featured beer – a DuClaw El KaBong apricot chili ale – to wash it all down.   

Although it’s probably one of the less “experimental” sandwiches on the menu, I found the fried green tomato BLT worthy of praise, especially when you consider their touch of substituting seared pork belly for bacon.  If there’s one thing on this earth better than bacon, it’s pork belly.   The fried green tomatoes themselves were very well done and compared favorably to those you’d typically find in the Deep South.  But the star of the sandwich was the remoulade sauce.  Put simply, they nailed it!

As for the beer, I can safely say it was the best apricot chili ale I’ve ever had.  It was in all honesty quite tasty although it took a little getting used to the chili aftertaste that just kept you thirsty.      

The best thing I had for dinner, though, were the kung pao brussels sprouts.  The hoisin-style sauce used in roasting them took the concept of carmelization to a whole new level.  And the crushed peanut topping was an excellent complement.  It was an outstanding side dish and large enough to be a meal by itself.   

The only disappointing part of the meal was the cup of roasted garlic tomato soup I ordered as an add-on.  After all, what goes better with grilled cheese than tomato soup?  The coffee cup was another nice, cheesy touch, but the overall flavor of the soup – which seemed to be little more than crushed tomatoes and garlic – was a little bland for my taste.  

Still, Melt Bar and Grilled completely met my expectations, and its menu was so intriguing that I went back a few more times while I was working in Cleveland.  As you can imagine, Punky was less than excited to learn I had discovered Melt Bar andGrilled, but at least she has a good standard bearer to follow if she ever decides to own a similarly themed restaurant. 

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