We check out three cheesy brands so you don’t have to
It’s all about the cheese at (left to right) Good Stuff Eatery, Melt Shop and The Melting Pot, but the after-lunch food coma is hard to avoid.
The beef is just barely visible through the gooey web of cheeses, and it’s not until that first bite into my Good Stuff Melt that the burger reveals itself, flavorful juices and all. One of a handful of “original burgers” on the menu at Spike Mendelsohn’s flagship Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., the melt version doubles down on its cheese application with an abundance of cheddar and muenster. Caramelized onions and mushrooms, along with a generous dollop of Good Stuff Sauce, round out the flavor profile, and the $7.65 price tag is in line with Good Stuff’s premium-product-on-a-budget value proposition. It’s indulgent, and while the considerable cheesiness flirts with excess, this made-to-order melt ends up being intensely satisfying. Plus, the Pennsylvania Dutch bun is soft yet sturdy enough to handle all that melty-ness. The space itself has an urban farmhouse feel, with wood-look flooring and agricultural images adorning the walls. A few street-level counter seats and second-level tables look out to Pennsylvania Avenue SE and Capitol Hill is just two blocks away (the restaurant is reportedly beloved by political elites).
The upshot: When a former Top Chef competitor whose restaurateur lineage goes back two generations is behind the concept, expectations are high. The Good Stuff Melt does not disappoint. —LM
Spencer Rubin is the prince of iteration at the Melt Shop, the grilled-cheese-sandwich brand he co-founded in New York City, backed by his bosses at Aurify. But for the Melt Shop’s main item, the seemingly humdrum grilled cheese, “it’s been one iteration,” he tells me at his flagship store off Broadway and on 50th Street, with half American cheese and half sharp cheddar cheese. Made with one type of bread and one type of bread only—from Orwashers Bakery, billed as a “veteran old-school bakery for Jewish-style breads, cookies and sweets”—the Melt Shop nails its grilled cheese. Rubin met me at the restaurant, basically blowing the idea of “FT Undercover” but plying me with so many delicious food items and sides, taking the time to describe the buffalo sauce with 22 ingredients, or the yummy loaded tots, especially the bacon and jalapeno, for $5.25. Don’t tell Rubin, but the fried chicken melt is my absolute favorite, at $9.25 and with toothsome goodness inside and out.
The upshot: The Melt Shop nails the perfect grilled cheese, with a crusty exterior and pillowy insides, but its stated goal to capture a “healthy indulgent customer” seems far-fetched, since after all that cheese and bread you can’t avoid the after-lunch coma. —BE
Ever wonder how consumers feel about your franchise? Editorial staffers Laura Michaels, Nick Upton, Tom Kaiser and Beth Ewen check out three brands in a different genre each issue, and report back.
For the ultimate experience in cheese we headed to The Melting Pot, famous for its fondues. We chose Classic Alpine, with gruyere, raclette, fontina and white wine, and Bacon & Tomato Alpine, with bacon, lager beer and sundried tomato pesto added to the mix. To our delight, two friendly servers appeared at our table, with hot plates in the middle, to hand mix the concoctions. Victor even showed off his very well-toned wrist, which he gets from all that stirring. My experience with fondue dates to the 1970s as a kid, when my mother, like all good homemakers of the era, would put on her flowered hand-sewn maxi dress and serve fondue at the foot of the macramé weaving she had made and hung on the wall. We were groovy as a North Dakotan farm family at least once in a while. The Melting Pot, alas, had the plastic and generic atmosphere of any old bar, and was nearly empty from 4 to 6 p.m. despite the advertised “best happy hour in town” sign outside. Lucky for us for the half prices, too, since the fondue was served for $10.75 per person, which seemed a stretch for a couple of handfuls of cheese and a lackluster sideboard of bread and limp veggies.
The upshot: If fondue is supposed to be fun—and what’s the point if it isn’t, since it’s kind of a hassle and doesn’t fill you up—The Melting Pot seems staid and expensive to boot. —BE