Melt Bar and Grilled could have made a fair go at being a monk. Give me bread, cheese and beer, and I can live happily — as long as I’m not required to pray at all hours, wear a sack cloth or keep a simple, humble, celibate, silent life.
As luck would have it, my career as a chef and food writer allows me ample opportunity to enjoy that trio of favorites while still remaining somewhat uninhibited in most secular pursuits.
If I were, however, forced to pick a place to be cloistered, I’d wile away the days engaged in la vita contemplativa within the cozy confines of Lakewood’s booming grilled cheese restaurant, Melt.
To be fair, when I first heard murmurings of a grilled cheese restaurant opening in town, I was skeptical. I pictured a sanitized and simplified version of the family-friendly greasy spoon with a withered wait staff, cornucopia of culinary transgressions, and who knew what else: vinyl booths, giant sodas in those irritating retro-red plastic Coke cups, booster chairs, coloring place mats and paper hats?
However, reports started filtering back that Melt was not merely a grilled cheese restaurant, but (and the clouds parted) a grilled cheese restaurant and bar!
Straightaway, I gathered my old lady and my best friend and headed to Melt’s front door. My pulse quickened as we approached the location: the former home to the White Door Saloon, a favorite Lakewood bar for generations. This could be good, I thought, and, by golly, it was.
Maybe the folks at Melt possessed some psychic ability, but this place hit me squarely in the intended demographic: Melt was absolutely the sort of place I’d been waiting for.
Since then, I’ve probably been back to chef Matt Fish’s clever little eatery (and drinkery) a dozen times, dragging along, on various occasions, my business partner, another business partner, my entire kitchen staff, all of my friends, our real estate broker and anyone else I could think of personally and professionally who wouldn’t bill me for the time.
For once, then, I have managed to produce a review based on my own opinions, and a pretty strong consensus built by yours truly, his pals and some well-spent time and money.
The space borrows the well-worn charm, comfort, and patina of an older bar and blends it successfully with some cool visual updates. New lighting, decor pieces, and some awesome cutlery-encrusted stained glass above the front door give the room a nice hip touch that still pairs well with the somewhat standard, but interesting collection of Cleveland memorabilia that covers the walls.
As an established local musician for years and apparent member of the Kiss Army (judging from Melt’s MySpace page), Fish brings a touch of rock sensibility into his venture as well: taped live performances of mighty rock gods are mixed with DVDs of classic comedies on Melt’s television. Menus are pasted outside old record sleeves. The idea resonated with my guests. On each occasion, people compared album covers and swapped menus in hopes of holding a favorite vinyl memory in their hands one last time.
The real joy of Melt, however, is what the album cover holds: not just dated cover art, but a menu of delicious, if somewhat standard takes on bar appetizers, a collection of respectable, freshly made salads (each with cheese, of course), eight tasty half-pound burgers, and, saving the best for last, more than 20 different grilled cheese sandwiches.
My sensibilities being as they are, I chose, on most visits to Melt, to select my appetizers from the extensive beer list. The bar offers a wide array of upscale domestic and international brews grouped by origin and accompanied by helpful information such as alcohol content. The caveat here is that the kitchen at Melt is not exceptionally fast, so, theoretically, one could knock back a few beers before receiving anything to cushion them with. If this worries you (it shouldn’t), why not try some appetizers or a warm cup of housemade soup?
If you’re not going to be getting pierogies ($5.50) later (they show up on the Parmageddon ($9) along with napa vodka kraut, grilled peppers and onions, and plenty of cheddar), these locally produced gems are close to perfect and definitely provide the avid beer drinker with a good start on sustenance. Hand-cut fries ($5.50) are also good but, again, there’s a good chance you’ll be seeing more of these later if you plan to order a sandwich.
If you are hoping to avoid any possible redundancy, try the spinach and artichoke dip ($8), a bar classic at its best.
The quesadillas are also wonderful. The $6 version features cheddar, grilled onions and peppers, roasted corn, fresh salsa and sour cream. The gourmet flavors of the Melt Quesadilla ($8) include goat cheese, bacon, roasted garlic, fresh basil and grilled pepper and onions.
As the last word on starters, if you’re looking to begin with some serious comfort indulgence, Melt offers a trio of soups. The various soups of the day ($3.25) ranged from butternut squash to mushroom and were generally very good, as was the vegetarian three-bean chili ($3.50).
My guests evinced an almost universal dislike for the roasted garlic and tomato soup ($3.25), though, which was served as thick as chunky tomato sauce. The flavors seemed to be on point, but the consistency disappointed those looking for what we generally consider “soup.” That, however, is my only complaint, because everything that comes after is simply wonderful.
I don’t believe that we have adequate space here to ruminate over each of the grilled cheese sandwiches that my guests and I have sampled, since we tried them all. As a unifying concept, each is served on giant slices of bread, contains a generous portion of cheese and other fillings and is sided with a big serving of freshly cut fries and crisp, cool housemade slaw.
Instead, I will list my five favorites. They are: The Kindergarten ($5) with tomato and bacon added; the Wake & Bacon ($6) with fried egg, bacon and American cheese; the Smokey Russian ($9.50) with smoked turkey, vodka kraut and smoked Gouda; the Municipal Stadium Magic ($9) with local bratwurst, vodka kraut, grilled peppers and American cheese; and the Chorizo & Potato ($7.50). Friends raved about most of the other selections, including a Grilled Peanut Butter and Banana ($6), fit for The King.
For those of you looking to knock back a few beers before or after church (just kidding), Melt is open for brunch every Sunday with an ample menu of eggs, waffles and omelets.
It’s a great place, you’ll see. Bring some friends and plan to hang out. You can expect to wait for a table during prime hours, and wait for your food once seated, but don’t wait to try this original area eatery.
Melt Bar & Grilled, 14718 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, (216) 226-3699. Kitchen hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. - midnight, Sun 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.