Year of the cheese
Forget the Year of the Horse, it seems like 2014 is the year of the cheese. Even though almost two-thirds of humans are lactose intolerant, the melting pot that is the United States skews heavily as cheese loving. And lately, lots of restaurants have been capitalizing on this fromage fondness.
In the last year, Sacramento has gotten The Rind, The Cultured & The Cured, and Block Butcher Bar—all big promoters of cheesy goodness. Now Davis has the first Central Valley outpost of the San Francisco-based fast-casual chain called The Melt.
Guided by a board of directors that includes venture capitalists and Apple alums, The Melt is also advised by big-time chef Michael Mina. It shows in the attention to eco-minded and digital details.
So, how’s the food? In a word, comforting. It soothes the stomach, the wallet and the conscience, which is a pretty clever market niche.
Patrons can order online or in person, choosing any of the restaurant’s 10 grilled-cheese versions. Depending on how busy they are, the employees may deliver orders to the table, or diners may have to pick them up.
Everything comes packed in compostable boxes or steel baskets with recyclable cutlery and cups. You can choose from all-natural cane-sugar sodas, Peet’s coffee, or a variety of canned microbrews or sparkling wine (alcohol is available for ordering in only).
If you like grilled cheese, The Melt’s are pretty good. The bread is thickly sliced, with good crusts, and the cheeses are varied and flavorful. Everything is cooked quickly in sandwich presses for golden-brown toastiness.
An aged Swiss on sourdough is simple but a little upscale, and diners can add a variety of meats or veggies, or even choose gluten-free bread. The Mac Daddy is made of macaroni and aged cheddar on white bread, and it’s perfectly fine, if not inspired. It benefits greatly from a dip in the Two Tomato Basil soup.
In fact, all the soups are made specifically for dipping. They’re smoothly pureed and fairly thick. The Spicy Black Bean has a hint of chili, while the Sweet Corn Tortilla tastes like melted sweet tamales. It seemed a bit odd at first, but worked well with the salty grilled Italian Job of fontina and provolone cheeses on garlic bread.
The Caesar and The Field Greens salads come fairly heavily dressed, with the clever addition of grilled-cheese croutons. Apples, sunflower seeds and goat cheese make the greens an unusually good mix for a fast-food setting.
The weak points of the menu are the sweets: The chocolate-chip cookies are dry, and the milkshake was no better than McDonald’s. The Melt’s website shows a tempting s’more melt for dessert, but the eatery didn’t seem to have it at the Davis location.
Diners can also order breakfast all day, in the form of grilled cheese with egg, like the Egg-in-a-Waffle. The dish features Eggo-style waffle rounds with aged cheddar and a little hole on one side for the egg. It comes hard-cooked and is an interesting combo, but could border on addictive with a higher-quality waffle and the optional addition of smoked bacon.
The restaurant was virtually spotless on our visit and decked out in of-the-moment orange accents everywhere. It all seemed so perfect that it was somewhat disconcerting. I don’t usually frequent fast-food or even quick, casual places, so perhaps I’m a bit out of touch. However, The Melt seems like one of those places that’s so focus-grouped that it’s lost a bit of soul.
Is that bad? Not necessarily. You’ll get exactly what you expect from The Melt—maybe even a bit more. It’s the epitome of 21st-century American comfort food.