Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I'll stop the world...

Hey look everybody it's an actual blog post!!!!  I know this is pretty shocking so I will give you a moment to catch you breath. . . Better?  Good.  Here we go!

I may have mentioned my old roommate Aaron a few times before but I think it's important to impress upon you the kind of influence he had on my food/beer taste. When I went to school at WVU I came back from Thanksgiving break armed with a six pack of Christmas Ale from GLBC, a kolsch style beer from Crooked River (now under new management), and a four pack of Celebrator from Ayinger. I brought it over to my friends Aaron, Tackas, Rygar, and Kevin. I am pretty sure that Aaron was one of the few people who really took to the idea of "fine beer". It kinda changed his world a bit. And soon the student became the master and now he schools me in beer knowledge.

Jump ahead a few years and Aaron has just finished training to become a chef and he is looking for a place in Cleveland to live and complete his externship. I tell him that I have plenty of room in my apartment downtown and before you know it he is moved in and working at the newly reopened Lola. This was very cool for two reasons. First he was the first roommate that I had that I did not wish to murder and second, he learned a whole bunch of recipes from Lola that he would experiment with. He introduced me to new food all the time. While they were not all winners he made some great food while living there. And we drank VERY good beers.

Then one day in early spring he kept talking about this grilled cheese place on the westside that we HAD to check out. Apparently his chef friends were going on and on about this place but they said that you had to get there in off hours or you won't get a seat for a very long time. So around 3:30 on a tuesday we drove over and walked into this tiny little place called Melt Bar and Grilled. I can't remember exactly what I had that day but I remember it was a 45 minute wait for a table and another 45 until our food arrived. I was starving and thought "there is no WAY this is worth the wait." Turns out I was wrong. Since that first visit I have waited for a table for upwards of two hours to sit and another hour for the food with no regrets.

The concept of Melt is pretty simple. Unique grilled cheese sandwiches with a unbelievably great beer selection. It ranks up there with some of the great bars in town when it comes to what they have on tap and by the bottle. It is also very seasonal. They are one of the first to carry a Pumking or Xmas Ale and they are usually available throughout that season and perhaps a bit beyond. They also have some pretty rare finds that would be the envy of most beer snobs.  Is it the best bar in town... no.  But, on any given day it can give that bar a run for it's money.

But this isn't what you go to Melt for. It's not the reason that you could find yourself waiting upwards of an hour to be seated. No, the reason you come is for that beautiful grilled cheese sandwich that puts all else to shame. Now I can hear you saying "grilled cheese sandwich?!?!?!  I am not waiting that long for a grilled cheese #@&#ing sandwich!"  and before I ate there I would be with you.  I could walk to the kitchen right now and make a grilled cheese sandwich in the time it would take me to order a beer at most places.  But it would never be as good as what they serve there.  To start there is a standard sandwich for those purists or faint of heart they they dub "The Kindergartner" which is simple but excellent.  From there things start getting a bit more... interesting.

Items like the Porky Cheese (ham and cheese with bacon) and the BBQ Chicken are not out of the ordinary but quite tasty in their own right but find yourself scanning the menu further down and that's where your heart will skip a beat (most likely in fear).  "The Dude Abides" has a GIANT meatball on top of mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce and provolone.  "The Lake Erie Monster" has deep fried Haddock (although depending on the time of year I have seen Walleye) with jalapeƱo tartar sauce and american cheese.  Hell they have a sandwich called "The Godfather" which has a 3 cheese lasagna on a "spiked" garlic bread sandwich which in simply insane.  And of course if you are incredibly brave* you can try the Melt challenge.  Feel your life slip away from you as you eat a 5 lb. sandwich that is filled with 13 different cheeses.  If you can finish it you get your face on a wall of fame or something.  But the fact that this exists just proves how crazy this place actually is.  And I won't even began to touch upon the ever changing specials that they run, which can very from reasonable to something you might suggest on a drunken dare.

What's more is the size of these portions.  For me I often go with the Chorizo and Potato (it's just the right bit of spiciness but never over barring) and I almost always leave with a half a sandwich for lunch or dinner the following day and nearly bursting at the seams.  Plus the fries are perfectly seasoned and accompany the meal perfectly.  Also there is slaw,  I don't necessarily like slaw in general so would not be the person to ask about this (mostly because I just get more fries instead) but my girlfriend LOVES it.  All this with a cool atmosphere that celebrates the history of this town and you have a very nice dining experience.

I really love this place.  But, there are a few downsides to it.  For one is the wait time.  Now I stated earlier that I would be willing to wait an hour for one of these sandwiches and I will stand by that.  However, I also have a life and can't always do that.  Another problem is that it has gained some national exposure through various food/travel networks jumping on the bandwagon and talking it up.  Which I am happy about because it's great exposure for the town and also for the restaurant but it also adds up to longer wait times.  And finally it has opened up a few more locations.  Again I am very happy for these guys.  They deserve the attention and rightfully deserve to expand however, by the time number three opened up it started to feel a little more like a chain than that unique dining experience I had a few years ago.  With all that said I want to be clear on this next point.  I DON'T CARE.  The food does not suffer and with more locations it has helped the wait time (depending on the day).

Melt is not a 5 star restaurant on the cutting edge of the culinary arts.  It is a restaurant that loves it's freaky tattooed chefs and it's hipster servers.  It takes the idea of what should be a simple dish and makes it something that is unique.  It loves Cleveland warts and all and invites it in on a cold winter night for a sandwich that faintly reminds you of your childhood without treating you like a child.  At the end of the day Melt is one of those things that I will always cherish as a true Cleveland experience that reminds me of how creative this town can be and nothing can change that for me.  Because on any given day, when that craving hits, there is little that can be done to control it and you will find me waiting for my order with beer in hand and a big smile on my face because at that moment I know I am about to eat one best sandwiches in town.