Thursday, May 31, 2012

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner @ The Melt

The Melt is a fairly new grilled cheese/soup shop that opened in my office building a few months ago. They have several other locations around the area as well, with ambitious growth plans. They have been open only for lunch and dinner until now, but their breakfast menu debuts on Monday. As a preview, they were giving out free oatmeal and breakfast sandwiches to everyone who works in the building today. They did this back when they originally opened with their grilled cheese and soup as well.  Since I never published those reviews here, I've included them below as well.

I desperately wanted this place to be good (grilled cheese and soup at my doorstep would be fantastic!) ... but it hasn't impressed me yet.

Summaries of lunch/dinner offerings (full reviews and photos below):

Cheese:
The cheese was consistently melted well! Most of my unhappiness here was just in the fact that I didn't get to pick my cheeses, so since I don't like jack cheese, I disliked the colby jack and the jalapeño jack (but the jalapeño jack did have a really nice layer of real chilis!). The brie was a pretty standard brie. I'm still interested in trying the sharp cheddar and the provolone/fontina.
Overall, decent.

Bread:
The bread itself was pretty generic and standard. The herb layer on the outside also didn't really seem to add much. Again though, I had the sourdough and the white wheat, which I wouldn't pick. I'm interested in trying the potato, the 8 grain, and the garlic.
Overall, not offensive, but not good either.

Sandwich execution:
They were ruined by soggyness. They need to be crispier. Perhaps less butter. The butter level was pretty nasty, but it is hard to tell if it was just too much given the sogginess and if it would be good once crisped up.  Jalapeños and apple butter spreads were pretty good.
Overall, bad.

Soups:
All were decent - not worth going out of your way for, not worth getting on their own, but paired well with melts. Purees work well for dunking. Served a little too cold. I did leave the meal with an overly salty feeling in my mouth however, and I think it came from the soups.
Overall, decent.

Combos:
These were well done. I do recommend getting one of their suggested pairings - they clearly put thought into what flavors combine well, and if you like dunking your sando in soup, these worked well. Sum of the parts is greater than the whole!
Overall, great!

So ... would I go back? It is hard to say. At the end of the day, most canned/boxed soup is equivalent in flavor.  And I can certainly make a better grilled cheese. But it is convenient and I would like to see what the ones I'd actually order are like.  And then there are the interesting sounding sweet ones to try (s'mores, pb & j, and raspberry shortcake) ...


Lunch [ Originally published November 16, 2001 ]
I've been excited for this place to open as it is uber convenient and I've read a lot about their crazy high tech machine that is supposed to make the perfect grilled cheese (cheese melted perfectly, bread toasted perfectly, in under 1 minute). They also do online ordering - you scan a QR code on your phone when you walk in the door so they start making it when you get there, etc.  Sounds very promising.

Today they were giving out free combo lunch meals to people who work in the building. To handle the crowds (I assume) they were doing it mass production style, so you didn't get to choose what you ordered and they just kinda handed them out in batches. So, keep that in mind as my experience will be different than a standard ordering experience.

The menu features 5 grilled cheeses ($5.75), 5 soups ($3.95), all puree style for easy dunking (two tomato basil, sweet corn tortilla, spicy black bean, italian sausage and pepper, and creamy wild mushroom), cookies, drinks, and 3 sweet dessert sandwiches. Full menu here. They also recommend combo meals ($8.75) that pair a sando and soup and include some chips. You can always add bacon or tomato to any sandwich (for free).

Of the grilled cheeses, there were three grilled cheeses I wanted to try: sharp cheddar on potato bread, fontina & provolone on garlic bread, and brie and apple on white/wheat, one that I wasn't all that interested in (colby jack on 8 grain), and one that I really didn't want: jalapeno jack on sourdough (jack is probably my least favorite cheese and sourdough my least favorite bread!). Of course, the one they had for lunch was ... jalapeno jack on sourdough :) So, take my review with that in mind.
"The Mission" combo meal, $8.75. 
The packaging included a cute a little binder clip on the bag ... uh why?  The chips were just standard, greasy, forgettable.
Sweet corn tortilla soup.  $3.95.
The Misson combo included the sweet corn tortilla soup. I thought the soup was better than the sandwich. It had a nice corn flavor, but certainly wasn't anything I'd ever go out of my way for. I didn't really get the "tortilla" aspect of it since it was a puree. I probably wouldn't like it eating it on its own, but I don't think they really intend for anyone to just get a soup here, I think that is why they are all purees. Dunking the spicy jalapeño grilled cheese in it did work very well, I see why they recommend that pairing. This was a case where both elements were certainly better when combined.
Jalapeno jack on sourdough. $5.75.
The sando did have a nice kick to it - I'm not sure if there was a jalapeño spread on there, or if all of the jalapeño chunks came from the cheese, but there was a healthy layer of jalapeño that was quite nice. The cheese was melted well. One slice of bread had an herb coating on the outside, the other was plain. Both slices were buttered up quite a bit. But ... it was soggy and not crispy, which was a big fail, as that is what their fancy machine is supposed to do right? Maybe it got soggy in the walk back (3 mins)? The bread being so soggy really made this not very good. I see the potential since I did like the jalapeño flavor, but the buttery/soggyness just ruined it. I'm guessing that since both the cheese and the bread weren't the ones I'd choose, this was even a bigger issue for me since the flavors didn't save it either.



Dinner [ originally published November 16, 2001 ]
I went back for dinner, since they were offering free dinner for my apartment building! Like earlier, there was no choice in ordering, so again, I am reviewing things I would not normally order.

I had two combos:
"The Outlaw": Colby jack on 8 grain bread with spicy black bean soup. My last pick of soup paired with my second to last pick of sandwich.
"The Parisian": Brie and apple butter on white wheat bread with creamy wild mushroom soup.
Colby jack on white wheat bread.  $5.75.
As I mentioned before, I do not like jack cheese. At all. And colby jack is even worse than jalapeño jack, since the jalapeño jack at least as the jalapeños to give it a kick and something interesting. This sandwich is normally served on an 8 grain bread, which sounded hearty and good to me, but they were out of that and it was served on a bread they called white wheat. I kinda hated this sandwich. Slightly less soggy than the one I had earlier, but still not crispy, way too buttery, full of cheese that I found repulsive, on truly boring bread. The cheese was very nicely melted however, and it included the spices on the outside again. For me, this was not good, but if you like colby jack, I'm sure it was fine.
Spicy black bean soup.  $3.95
The spicy black bean soup was much better than I expected, although this is not a soup I'd normally ever order. It had decent spices and did combine well with the colby jack. Again a case where I see why they recommend the pairing, and where the soup and sando are both much better together than they are on their own. The soup was flavorful enough to eat on its own too.
Brie and apple butter on white wheat bread. $5.75 
Decent brie and a decent apple butter that complimented each other nicely. I liked the sweetness from the apple butter. The sandwich was again soggy however, and again way too buttery (don't get me wrong, a nice crisp buttery grilled cheese is a fantastic thing, but in this case, the butter just contributed to the sogginess). The white wheat bread was pretty boring but not bad, per se.
Creamy wild mushroom soup. $3.95.
The creamy wild mushroom soup was decent and had a strong mushroom flavor. In this case, I did not like dipping the sandwich in it, as the mushroom flavors just overpowered the brie and apple. It was definitely more of a standalone soup.

Breakfast
Like the lunch/dinner sandwiches, the breakfast sandwiches are all grilled.  And you can add bacon or tomato for free to any sandwich.  Instead of pairing with soup, you can pair with kettle cooked, steel cut oatmeal.  They offer two varieties of oatmeal ($3.95 each) and four sandwiches ($4.25).  They also offer Peet's coffee for a somewhat steep $1.75 per cup.  It was bitter and seemed over brewed or old.  Meh.  [ The second and third days, it was much, much better! ]
Maple raisin oatmeal (sample size).
The oatmeal itself seemed undercooked, strangely crunchy.  There wasn't much maple flavor.  Plentiful raisins.  Would not order.
Cinnamon apple oatmeal (sample size).
Again, the oatmeal seemed a little undercooked, but not as much as the maple raisin.  There were little apple chunks throughout.  The flavor seemed off, it was cinnamon, but really wasn't very good.  This was kinda gooey, a really unappealing consistency.  Definitely would not order.
Maple Banana Waffle.  $4.25.
This was decent.  Two crisp waffles, filled with sliced banana, grilled.  The banana got really soggy from the grilling process however, which made it a little unappealing.  The waffle had a subtle maple flavor to it, but it also came with a side of maple syrup to dunk everything in.  The syrup definitely made the dish!  It wasn't particularly good maple syrup (I'm a bit of a snob in this area, having grown up in New Hampshire with family that makes their own), but it really did compliment the waffle and banana quite well, and added some needed sweetness.  The waffle was surprisingly crisp.  I'd consider getting this again.
Another Maple Banana Waffle.
[ Updated 10/12/12 ]
I said I'd consider getting it again, and I did :)

This time I liked it much less.  The waffle wasn't nearly as crispy as the previous time, and it didn't have much flavor.  The banana was sliced fresh to order, which I really appreciated, but it was again warm and soggy since it was inside the waffle, which is just a little weird.  The syrup was again the best part, but not particularly flavorful.   I think some peanut butter inside of this would go a long way ... mmm!

I won't get this again, but it did make me appreciate a few things about The Melt.  Even though I am too much of a snob for their syrup, I am glad they use real maple syrup and not fake stuff.  And I like that they slice the banana to order, or in the case of the egg in the hole, crack an egg to order.  They do have a good commitment to quality.
"No Nuts PB&J".  $4.25.
This is on their lunch/dinner dessert menu as well.  8 grain bread, filled with Biscoff spread and fig jam.    I love a toasted PB&J so this sounded great!  Unfortunately, it failed in exactly the same was as all of their regular grilled cheeses: too oily/buttery on the outside and kinda soggy.  The bread had a decent heartiness to it, but was fairly unremarkable.  The fig jam was good, with lots of fig flavor.  I didn't taste much of the Biscoff spread. (Biscoff spread is sorta peanut butter-like, made from Biscoff cookies, those pretty boring, hard, graham cracker-like speculoos cookies that are often served with coffee).  There wasn't a lot of either spread, it could have used more.  Would not order again.
"Egg in a hole".  $4.25.
Wow!  This was actually really good!  White wheat bread, sharp cheddar cheese, optional bacon/tomato, and then egg cracked into the hole.

This is their classic grilled cheese, made with their standard white wheat bread and aged cheddar cheese.  But then, they cut a hole in the top piece of bread and crack a fresh egg, to order, into it.  The whole thing is then put into the grill, which manages to fry up the egg nicely.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well the egg came out, with a crispy exterior where it had touched the grill.  Sure, I'd prefer a slightly runny yolk, but this was nicely cooked.  The top was brushed with a salty herb mix.  The seasonings went perfectly with the egg.  The inside was where it shined.  The cheese was just perfectly melted.  I can't say I've ever ever had cheese this perfect in my life.  It oozed out, coating the egg, coating the bread, just amazing.  I also added bacon.  It wasn't quite as crispy as I'd like, but was smothered in cheese and pretty delicious.  My co-worker added tomato and said that was quite good as well.  Like all of their sandwiches, I would have liked the bread to be crisper, and again blame this on the amount of butter/oil they slather on the outside, but it was certainly the best sandwich I've had from there.  I'd order this again.
"Egg in a hole".  $4.25.
I got the egg in a hole again, after having liked it so much the first time.  This time, it wasn't nearly as good.

The bread was again too soggy, and buttery/oily.  The egg was overcooked and uninteresting.

The cheese was again absolutely perfectly melted and rather amazing, but needed to be consumed within moments of it coming off the grill or it lost that quality, and the congealed cheese was really nothing special.

The bacon as the winning ingredient.  It had a really amazing flavor, and went so well with the cheese. It was the bacon that kept me eating this after it got cold and unappealing.

I'm not sure why the magic was lost on this one.  The machines are all using timers and are calibrated the same, so it should be exactly the same as my first one.  If I go for breakfast again I'd still consider getting this, but I won't be going out of my way for it.

[ No Photo ]
Cinnamon raisin with lemon cream cheese.  $4.25.
This was decent cinnamon flavored bread with some raisins in it, nicely grilled and crisp.  The cream cheese inside had a subtle lemon flavor but a really bad mouth feel.  I didn't like the cream cheese at all.  Perhaps it was just strange from being served warm?  Would perhaps try again, as I really wanted to like this one.
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