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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Melt Bar & Grilled

Place: Melt Bar & Grilled
Location: 13463 Cedar Road Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118  Google Maps

Quick Blurb:
Experiencing Melt’s sandwiches is something that everyone must do at some point (very much like Gasoline Alley). Unique, tasty and redefining the phrase “comfort food”, Melt serves up gigantic grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with almost anything you can imagine (lasagna or perogies anyone?).

Arriving at their second, newer location in Cleveland Heights (aka East Side), we were met with 24/7 parking meters! Oh no! Luckily we scrounged up some coins, popped them in and off we went. Not much to look at as you walk to the entrance besides abandoned storefronts; it would be great if having Melt here attracts more business to the area.

Once inside, you can experience every holiday at once! Decorations for Halloween and Christmas look as if they hang year round – very fun. Lots of photos on the wall; I assume to fulfill your time waiting for a seat.
Not a great shot, but here's a view of where we sat at the bar - you can see the holiday decorations in the background
We arrived at 2pm on a Sunday and there was still a wait to be seated along with the phone ringing non-stop. The staff still took time and gave us “the time of day”, so to speak – I admire that. We chose to bypass the table wait and sit at the bar. Our waitress told us up front that it was going to be about a 35 min wait for food once we ordered – I like the honesty and straight forwardness.

Um, take a look at the size of the sandwiches and you’ll understand why we didn’t even consider ordering any appetizers.

I psyched myself up before coming by watching the Man vs. Food episode where he attempts the Melt Challenge – over 3 ½ pounds of cheese, plus fries and cole slaw…

I opted against insanity and chose the Big Popper instead. By now, some of you will know my love of ‘hot’ and I just couldn’t resist when the first ingredient listed is “fresh jalapeno peppers”. Keeping the jalapenos company: cheddar & herbed cream cheese, beer battered bread, and mixed berry preserves…Yum.
Imagine a pile of cole slaw hidden behind the Big Popper
When this was placed in front of me, I thought they might have somehow given me the Melt Challenge – not the case. My eyes couldn’t process what was in front of them, but I bravely moved forward and took the first of three pieces of Big Popper that lay in front of me.

The first bite definitely included a fresh jalapeno pepper; so far so good. The herbed cream cheese overpowered any cheddar that may have been included, but that doesn’t bother me. Then I start to appreciate the beer battered crust of the bread, which was sprinkled with some powdered sugar; it reminded me of a funnel cake from a county fair. Surprisingly, it worked. One piece down, two to go; I’ll skip ahead and let you know that I could only finish one other piece and took the last home with me (which I ate that evening after heating it up in the oven). The richness of the cheese and the thick beer battered bread slices were very filling.

After my second piece, I decided to engage the sides. Not being a cole slaw lover, I figured I might as well get that part out of the way. Crunchy cabbage, vinegary dressing, with a hint of sweetness – I’ll be the first to admit, I took more than one bite; that never happens. I didn’t finish it off, but I actually liked cole slaw that afternoon.

Onto the fries: no doubt about their freshness. These were homemade fries, nicely deep fried to a dark golden brown, salted well, and not greasy! They get a ‘thumbs up’ from me.

My wife opted for the Wake and Bacon. She prepped all day for this, starting by eating cereal instead of eggs and bacon that morning for breakfast; it paid off with her coming within a few bites of finishing it (albeit she only had two pieces to my three). She was raving about it throughout the meal and continued to on the ride home – so I can honestly say that she would recommend it.
One of the best 'breakfast sandwiches' you'll taste!
The last piece of my sandwich later that day.

Melt has a great draft beer selection – I opted for the Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.

Most sandwiches were priced between $8 and $11. Beers about $4 average.

Overall Experience:
After hearing all the hype, I did enjoy my experience here at Melt. Would I get my sandwich again? Probably not; but only because there are many other masterpieces that I would like to try. Well, maybe also because I ate a lot of Big Popper! The servings are big and I saw people polishing off their plates (impressive).
We were lucky to find a seat at the bar and not have to wait 45 minutes for a table – this was Sunday at 2pm (as we have read in other reviews, the waiting time can be a little on the obnoxious side).
Ultimately, come with a big appetite and enjoy selecting your concoction from the menu, oh, and enjoy a beer while you wait!

Melt Bar and Grilled on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Vaccaro's Trattoria

Place: Vaccaro's Trattoria
Location: 1000 Ghent Road Akron, OH 44333  Google Maps

Quick Blurb:
Located in an obscured strip mall – off a road literally 5 yards before an on-ramp to a highway, Vaccaro’s offers traditional Italian food and a decent wine list. We were privileged to be invited to experience a, chef inspired, 6-course prix-fixe meal.

Vaccaro’s is hidden off the road in a strip mall that I honestly have never noticed before. A quaint outdoor sitting area greets you as you walk in, albeit it seems slightly forced as one overlooks the plaza parking lot, which in turn overlooks the highway on-ramp. Walking in, I noticed the white linen tables and the photos and art pieces hanging on the walls. Some music plays in the background; a charming atmosphere.

From the moment we walked in, we were greeted with smiles. We were there with a dinner party of 13 and we had our table nicely situated towards the back of the room. Our waiter was very polite and did the small things very well: remembered your name, what drink/type of wine you were having, etc.

As mentioned, we participated in a 6-course prix-fixe meal. Reservations were at 6pm and we waited a good 40 minutes for the first course to arrive. In the mean time, they served us some bread and olive oil for dipping, but didn’t provide us with plates. Apparently, the bringing the bread to the table was a mistake and they were out of bread plates. (I’m as confused as you are reading this). Oh well, onto the meal!

Soup and Sandwich, Smoked Tomato Bisque/Mini Grilled Cheese Panini
Vaccaro’s spin on the typical grilled cheese and tomato soup. The smoked tomato bisque was delicious. While slightly more dense that what I am used to (a bit sauce-ish), the smokiness and sweetness of the tomatoes really complimented each other well. I loved it.

As for the mini grilled cheese, well, there was nothing mini about it! This was a grilled cheese with a multitude of cheeses including mozzarella and goat cheese. Not that a large sandwich filled with cheese was enough, it was coated in panko breadcrumbs and then deep fried. Well, this sounds amazing, but for the first of six courses, a bit overwhelming. Unfortunately, my sandwich was mainly mozzarella and lacked the other flavours that others were talking about. I still ate it up as I’m a grilled cheese fan!

Baby Arugula/Fresh Citrus/Scamorza/Cirignolo Olives/Cinzano Vinaigrette
Following the soup, came the salad. You can play “look for the olives” all you want in the photo, but you won’t find any – they got lost with the bread plates I suppose!

If there wasn’t so much salt on the salad (yes, salt), I would have really enjoyed this. I enjoyed the bitterness of the lettuce and citrus fruits, offset slightly by the sweetness of the berries. But the salt – oh, I don’t know if the shaker must have had larger holes than normal, but it was very salty. Not everyone at the table complained about it, but there were others – so perhaps the salad was made in batches? I’d expect consistency of making a salad to be relatively easy.

Fried Green Tomato/Shrimp & Langostino
This was my second favourite dish – after the surprise main course. The tomato in the description was actually a squash – cucuzza to be exact. This had a very eggplant-esque look and taste to it. Filled with baby shrimp and langoustine in a mayonnaise sauce, I felt this was the most unique dish of the six - it reminded me of the Belgian dish, 'Tomates Crevettes'. Although I really enjoyed this, I felt the shrimp and langoustine ‘filling’ felt a little flat – as if it were missing the final piece to really make this plate pop.

Local Heirloom Tomato Sauce/Fiochetti Pasta all Uovo Primavera
Coming to a ‘traditional Italian’ restaurant, I was hoping for a homemade pasta dish – this was going to be it! The presentation of a basic pasta and sauce dish was great; a nice touch. The heirloom tomato sauce was very nice – fresh, light, and full of flavor. The pasta, however, took the cooking style ‘al dente’ to the extreme. I really was hoping for pasta that I could tell was fresh and homemade. Instead, I got pasta that could have really used another minute or two of cooking to be a true al dente. All together, the dish was OK.

Surprise Main Course
Soup, salad, seafood, pasta, and now, the meat – a thick bone-in lamb tenderloin to be exact. Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, and topped with an apricot demi-glaze; I was left wanting more. The lamb didn’t have much of a gamey taste to it, so my wife who doesn’t go head over heels for lamb, enjoyed it very much. The mashed potatoes that accompanied it were seasoned well and helped soak up the juice and flavours of the dish. I very much enjoyed this course, and as I said just a moment before, I definitely wanted some more.
Housemade Ricotta with Lemon Mousse, Fresh Berry Compote – Toasted Savoiardi
The dessert was served in a small martini glass full of colour from the berries and aesthetically pleasing to the eye (apologies for the dark photo). Crumbled lady fingers topped it off. I didn’t taste the lemon mousse (I believe I heard the chef mention that it was a vanilla mousse mixed with ricotta); regardless, it was tasty, not heavy on the stomach (after 5 previous courses), and an excellent way to end the meal.

They have a great selection of wines from all over the world. I enjoyed two glasses of the Pinot Grigio, Ritratti, Trentino from Italy – very crisp, great bouquet, and a burst of flavour.

Granted this was an organized meal, our prix-fixe was $40 a person, without drinks, tips or taxes. Typical entrees are in the $20’s.

Overall Experience:
I had big expectations coming into this dinner and they were partially met, in other words, some courses seemed to fall just short of being great. Had each course been as interesting as the lamb and cucuzza, I would have left with a more positive feeling about the place. That said, the ingredients were very fresh and other reviews that I’ve read online have been positive. Perhaps another visit is necessary; one where we order from the set menu.

Vaccaro's Trattoria on Urbanspoon