Could you eat a 5-pound grilled cheese sandwich? Should you? If there's anyone who can and will, it's Adam Richman, star of Travel Channel's cross-country chow challenge series Man v. Food. On Monday's episode (7 p.m., September 13, on the cable station), Richman attempts to conquer the Monster Grilled Cheese at Melt Bar and Grilled, a 4-year-old Cleveland, Ohio, restaurant that specializes in gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Our friend in Cleveland knows all about Melt. He says that Melt's customers line up for two hours or more to order from a menu of $10-$13 cheese sandwiches. One of the most popular is the "Parmageddon," which adds pierogies and fresh Napa vodka kraut to the basic grilled cheese. There's the "Lake Erie Monster" featuring beer-battered walleye (a Great Lakes fish), American cheese and jalapeno tartar sauce. The plain old grilled cheese like your mama made, just two slices of bread and yellow cheese, is called "The Kindergarten" and costs $5.50 (they do bake their own bread). The restaurant sells 500 grilled cheeses on a typical day and that's on top of the burgers and other diner fare they offer. (They also have more than 150 different beers.)
Melt's owner and chef, Matt Fish, asked why he fixated on such a simple dish, says, "It's simple, it's good, it's filling and it's easy to keep bread and cheese around."
The "Melt Challenge" that the Man v. Food star takes on presents him with the Monster: 13 different cheeses, three slices of grilled bread, plus coleslaw and a pile of hand-cut fries. Clean the plate with no help or breaks and the prize is a Melt T-shirt or beer mug, plus a $10 gift card and a commemorative photo on the wall of the Melt Challenge Hall of Fame. (Check out the restaurant's gallery to see who's defeated this Mount Everest of sammiches. They're mostly big fat dudes with weird facial hair...surprised?)
Melt Bar and Grilled has plans to ooze beyond Ohio in the near future. There does seem to be a grilled cheese vibe happening in the world of comfort food. Last month the New York media all bit on the story of the "underground grilled cheese guy." The mysterious chef takes orders by text message, does his grilling on an East Village apartment stove and rides a bike to meet his customers on street corners to hand off bags of sandwiches that cost between $5 and $7 apiece. Known only as "Ronnie," he appeared on The Today Show in disguise, fearing a shutdown by the health department. (He does have a Facebook page.)
Ronnie's secret is his grilling method. He fries each sandwich in a pan of melted, unsalted butter. Then he wraps the sandwich in foil and heats it in a 500-degree oven for a few minutes to crisp the bread. Using high quality cheeses and the best bakery breads he can find, Ronnie was selling more than 40 sandwiches a day before all the publicity hit.
With business that Gouda (sorry), we're in the mood for one of these. Where's the best grilled cheese 'round these parts?