The Taste Food Tour :: Melt Bar and Grilled

There’s something inherently comforting, even decadent, about a gooey, oversized grilled cheese sandwich on the perfect slice of buttered bread.

At Melt Bar & Grilled, they call the plain, old-fashioned kind, “The Kindergarten.” Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not baby food.

Customize it with your favorite cheese from a list of 12 choices (I adore smoked Gouda on The Kindergarten), add a few toppings (caramelized onions and bacon, anyone?) and throw in a cup of Melt’s amazing Buffalo Chicken Chowder, and you get Lakewood’s own take on comfort food at its finest.

Melt has four established Northeast Ohio locations and one in Columbus and has more expansion plans on the horizon. I’m a firm believer that the true, original Melt experience can be best had at owner and founder Matt Fish’s original Lakewood location, 14718 Detroit Avenue. Then again, as a Lakewood resident, I might be a tad biased.

In 1986, Fish combined his love of craft beer with grilled cheese and conceived Melt. Today, it’s not uncommon to still wait for a table before you are seated and pick up the restaurant’s signature record album-cover menus. If you find yourself in this position, stick it out. It’s worth it.

While The Kindergarten, plain or highly customized, can satisfy even the most discerning grilled cheese lovers, don’t stop there. Study the menu and then dive into some highly creative grilled cheese goodness. You can get a hefty full-sized sandwich or order a half one. To me, the half is a normal full sandwich pretty much anywhere else.

All orders come with a choice of coleslaw, fries or kettle chips. Upgraded sides include a cup of soup, side salad or seasonal vegetable. The menu offers vegetarian options and also vegan cheese selections. Happy Hour fans will enjoy Melt’s generous HH menu and a full bar with creative cocktails and a big craft beer menu with drafts and bottled selections.

On a recent Saturday, the Suttells made a point of ordering three different sandwiches for lunch. I went with an old favorite I hadn’t had in ages: the Monte Cristo. Melt takes honey ham and smoked turkey and combines them with Swiss and American cheeses on fresh-baked bread. They don’t stop there, though.

If you aren’t familiar with the workings of a Monte Cristo, it’s as if French toast decided it wanted to be more than breakfast food. It’s battered and deep fried and served with berry preserves for dipping.

I went with the half order, which still was immense. I topped it off with a cup of the highly addictive, aforementioned chowder as my side for a thoroughly comforting lunch on a cold, damp day. I secretly wanted seconds on my entire meal.

I confess I did ponder the menu for awhile before I settled on my choice. I’m also a longtime fan of the Smokey Russian — smoked turkey, Gouda cheese, fresh Napa vodka kraut and “zippy” sauce. Always a great choice, but I have to say the Monte Cristo reigns in my #1 slot now that I’ve revisited it.

That same day, Evan went for one of his favorites, the Parmageddon. This sandwich pays homage to the region’s strong heritage of pierogi connoisseurism and greater Cleveland’s hotbed of this food’s heritage — Parma. Pierogi grilled cheese? Yes. When you combine a potato-and-onion pierogi with fresh Napa vodka kraut, sautéed onions and sharp cheddar on fresh grilled bread, you get just that.

Scott tried something new to him, the Korean War Pig. Melt’s kitchen takes Korean BBQ-glazed pulled pork, seared pork belly, kimchi slaw and pear onion and grills them together in a sandwich with Muenster cheese. Cilantro relish tops off this Asian-inspired fare.

Diners have 25 other sandwiches to choose from, including the big daddy of them all, the Melt Challenge. This gargantuan $35 entree comes with a prize (a Melt Army tee or pint glass and a $10 gift card), not to mention fame and notoriety to any soul who can finish it. Here’s what you must eat entirely: three slices of grilled bread, 12 cheeses, a pile of fries, slaw and pickles.

Are you ready to tackle it? Visit Melt at the 2017 Taste of Lakewood on June 11, Madison Park, and kick off your training.

In GOOD FOOD and community,