It seems like grilled cheese is everywhere these days—a grilled cheese emporium on America's Next Great Restaurant, a renegade grilled cheese delivery service, grilled cheese trucks on the road. So it wasn't at all surprising to hear about the new Melt Shop, a grilled cheese restaurant in Midtown East.
The Classic ($4.99) is by far the best sandwich we tried. The sandwiches are grilled low and slow just like they should be, so that each one develops a deeply browned, even, buttery crust over the course of its 7-minute cooking time. A good amount of gooey, perfectly melted American cheese is stuffed inside, which you can augment with (under)caramelized onions, sliced tomato, or bacon, if you'd like.
It's when Managing Partner Spencer Rubin and Consulting Chef Katy Sparks (former Executive Chef at Quilty's) start playing around with the fillings that things start to go amiss. More often than not, the pure flavors of a good grilled cheese just end up getting diluted or muddled.
Buttermilk-Fried Chicken ($8.95) on country white bread with jalapeño Jack cheese, red cabbage slaw, and "Melt" sauce is far less flavorful than anything combining those ingredients should be. It's the combination of under-seasoned all-white meat chicken and a cabbage slaw that tastes just like chopped cabbage that does it.
The Three Cheese Melt ($7.75) combines Gruyere, Fontina, and goat cheese with a few token roasted tomatoes. Three cheeses aren't always better than one, though, and it's hard to say what each one brings to the party. That said, this sandwich isn't half bad, and just like the standard grilled cheese, it's perfectly buttered and grilled, but nearly eight bucks is a hefty price to pay for such a small, simple sandwich.
The Beef 'N' Blue ($8.95) sounds good on paper: roast beef, blue cheese, caramelized onions, and horseradish mayo, but just like most of what we tried, it's completely unbalanced. The blue cheese utterly dominates everything else in the sandwich, and the few slices of rare beef are well done and chewy by the time the sandwich is heated through.
Sides include Zapp's potato chips (love 'em!), some of the same red cabbage slaw from the chicken sandwich, and regular old Tater Tots fried dark and crisp, served with a mayo-based fry sauce.
A great sandwich needs to combine elements that support each other and come together in a way that makes sense. While you can't complain about the quality of ingredients at Melt Shop, they simply don't come together in a coherent way. Stick with the plain grilled cheese, and you won't go wrong.