“I just don’t know how to deal with this,” gasped a young woman at a bordering table. Her hands were caked with grease as she was grappling with an enormous, impossible-to-bite-into “sandwich” of deep-fried fish and hush puppies garnished with mayo-leaking tartar sauce and slaw plus fries. This caloric avalanche, which was spackled with melted cheese and bundled inside fat-slicked extra-thick griddled bread, took over an hour to be delivered after being ordered. The wait for tables that night — which might’ve been spent merchandise-browsing for store-branded T-shirts, hoodies, pint glasses and toys — was two hours. That’s like three hours invested to buy something apparently designed not to fit into a human mouth. Welcome to Melt, Columbus.
Based on the teeming crowds interminably awaiting tables, I’d say this XXXL-sized branch of the schtick-and-kitsch-pitching, Cleveland-created chain has its finger on the ever-more-hypertensive pulse of Midwestern diners. Melt Bar and Grilled (its full name) understands we want cheesy entertainment and absurd amounts of cheesy food, but we don’t wanna pay much for it. On that, Melt delivers.
So the place is cheeky, but in a corporate-theme-park sorta way. Its sprawling open space and huge bar are decorated with Halloween and Christmas lawn sculptures plus images inspired by ’60-era comics. To be placed on that all-important waiting list, Melt issues better-be-patient patrons “wacky” new names like “Conan the Barbarian” and “Winona Ryder.” Servers — who were utterly delightful during my visits — are hokily trained to call the adult beverage list “Our Bible.”
But man if that bible doesn’t contain some amazing beer deals! Most of the 40 offered — and many are high-falutin’ — go for around $4/pint. And a couple cocktails I tried were fine-enough (a local gin “Manhattan,” $10.50) or better (a refreshing $5 Bloody Mary).
A few starters are offered, like a good-looking, locally made duo of braided Pierogi ($6). Unfortunately, mine were quite gummy and their “fresh napa vodka kraut” only tasted like scorched oil.
The crackly battered crust leading to a “meaty” bite, acidic vinegary rush and chile-heating sting of the vegan Wild Tofu Wings ($8) illustrate Melt understands the primal allure of wing eating. Plus, the garlicky “spicy Buffalo” sauce — a kinda Thai chile and Buffalo hybrid — was killer. I only wish the big blocks of bean curd underneath had been previously marinated, because past their exterior thrill, my eight “wings” were flavorless.
A gratuitous blob of gooey cheese and an overarching, bitter garlic flavor marred my large bowl of Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup ($3.50). Frankly, it was like spooning up pasta sauce rather than soup.
Melt’s primary conceits are that more is still not enough and everything — lasagna, a fried fish dinner, chicken-n-waffles — is better enveloped in huge, cheesy and greasy griddled bread. If you buy into these, then you’ll like Melt more than me.
For instance, the Black-Sabbath-honoring War Pig ($12; all two-meal-sized grilled cheeses come with grease-baked-in handcut fries) had deliciously aromatic “ancho-and-espresso-rubbed” pulled pork and intriguing (perfumed johnnycake-like) tamale cakes. But tack-on pork belly, sweet ham, pork rinds, cheese, that greasy bread and more, and I throw in the (frighteningly stained) napkin.
Some advice: When ordering Melt sandwiches, try asking for something to cut through the fat — like mustard, pickles, Lipitor and a hacksaw. More advice: Go small and less outrageous.
My favorites were the spicy-hash-laden Chorizo and Potato ($9) and the tender beef brisket-starring Cleveland Cheese Steak ($12.50, with “garlic mushrooms,” provolone, peppers and onions, tangy “rosemary onion aioli” and whatever else). Make no mistake: These are still way over-the-top. But you might just know how to deal with them better.