Photos by Brad Keefe/
This neon sign is about to be one of the most-Instagrammed things in the Short North.
I got to pop in on a private pre-opening at the much-anticipated Short North location of Melt Bar and Grilled, a Cleveland export known for every variation on grilled cheese your heart could desire.
Expect a proper restaurant review from G.A. Benton in the coming weeks, but here are my early impressions.
First off, the space — part of the new development The Hub — is quite large for the Short North. A long bar and a ton of tables make for a lot of seating, which is a good thing, since the original Cleveland location is notorious for long waits.
The quirk factor is high in the playful decor, but I found it generally be on the fun side, not the fake kitsch side you might see at an Applebee's. Upon entering, you're greeted by an amazing mural featuring 105 famous Ohioans.
There's a guide posted right around the corner to let you know who all is featured. It's the most I've enjoyed a guessing game like this since the '80s baseball player piece at Dirty Franks.
My personal favorite juxtapositions: Randy "Macho Man" Savage sharing a moment with Phyllis Diller and Marilyn Manson sharing a roller coaster car with Toni Morrison.
More fun when you're seated: food menus glued to the backs of old LP covers. I only wish we could have listened to Jimmy Nelson's "Instant Ventriloquism" while we dined.
I perused a really solid beer list: 40 well-curated drafts and an equal number of offerings on bottles. I hate to see the increasing number of overloaded taps, since more isn't necessarily better when it comes to keeping your draft beers fresh, but there were some nice finds on the list. I had a Duchesse de Bourgogne, an outstanding and sour Flanders Red Ale that you won't often find on tap around here.
We started off with what is soon to be a vegetarian favorite in Columbus, an order of tofu wings.
I'm not sure what it is about wings, but many of my vegetarian friend seem to miss them most of all. These amazing little crispy-fried breaded tofu wedges nailed the outer crispiness and flesh insides of real boneless wings. We got them with a nicely kicky but not-too-hot Thai chili sauce. My (vegan) editor Justin McIntosh has already declared that he "wants to eat BBQ tofu wings from Melt for all the meals. In fact, I don't ever want to not be eating them." Even as a carnivore, I tend to agree.
And then our already-filling bellies had to contend with the arrival of those massive sandwiches. We opted for the Cleveland-iest sandwich we could find, the "Parmageddon" — named after the Polish-heavy Cleveland suburb — which featured a potato and onion pierogi, "vodka kraut," sauteed onions and cheddar cheese.
Warning: Food photographed under neon lights is more delicious than it appears.
And that was the smaller of the sandwiches. We paired it with one of several behemoth-y offerings on the menu, the "Dad's Meatloaf Dinner" — meatloaf, bacon, chipotle ketchup, potato and onion croquette cakes (think fried disk of mashed potatoes), lettuce and tomato (so it's healthy?) and muenster.
Both were delicious in a kitchen sink/dare-you-to-eat-it-all way. The bread, seemingly buttered on all sides and with just the right crispiness coming off the grill, was little match for that tasty, greasy blend of ingredients. There are more than 20 grilled cheese variations to choose from, so it will take a while to work through this menu and find the favorites. There are also occasional specials (a chicken-and-waffles-themed sandwich currently). Strangely missing from the Columbus menu, however, was the Thanksgiving-themed sandwich offered in Cleveland and named after a seminal Columbus punk band: the New Bomb Turkey.
First impressions: Melt is a blast. Expect packed houses for quite a while, but it's worth the wait.
Melt, located at 840 North High St. in the Short North, opens Friday, November 15, 2013.