Melt It! blends into a quartet of interesting Pasadena eateries
By Erica Wayne 01/30/2013
Squeezed in next to Gandolfo’s New York Delicatessen and bookended by M, a Mediterranean grill, and The Dog Haus, is Melt It! Along with its three narrow neighbors, the recently opened Melt It! makes a quartet of casual restaurants on the southeast corner of Hill Avenue and Union Street — walking distance to Pasadena City College and, more importantly, to me.
The other three eateries all have sister establishments (in the case of Gandolfo’s, many sisters in many states), but Melt It! — owned by the same proprietor as M — is unique.
It’s also only a couple of months old and has some bugs in its operation that I hope a little growing up will fix. For instance, the menu features two salads: baby greens (half portion $2, full $4) and arugula beet with mandarin oranges and champagne vinaigrette (half $3, full $6).
Naturally, we ordered the latter, only to be told (at 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon) that they’d run out of arugula. Hmmm. Since the green also figures prominently in a couple of their sandwich creations (Herman, consisting of Munster cheese, havarti, tomatoes and arugula on sourdough — $6; and Mojo, made of roasted potatoes, sautéed bell peppers, caramelized onions, cheddar, red pepper aoli and arugula on French roll — $6), you’d think they’d stock up.
More egregious was the fact that we ordered our meal to go: two sandwiches, a side of fries, a dessert and a cup of Melt It!’s “signature” tomato basil soup. But when we unpacked the bag, no soup was to be found. We were pretty irritated at the oversight (not to mention the $3 overcharge) and couldn’t even blame a harried kitchen staff, since we were the only customers in the shop. When I checked what Yelpers had to say, it was clear we weren’t alone in missing parts of carryout orders. So, buyer beware!
Despite these problems, I must confess that Melt It! melted my heart (and, most likely, clogged my arteries) with the menu items we did get to try. Our Black Jack sandwich (bacon, tomato, jack cheese and chipotle aioli on rye — $6) was griddled, and the chipotle added a zing I suspect might have been lacking if the jack had been left unadorned. Melt It! also has pepper jack on the menu, which might be a good substitute if you’re seeking even more zest. And the bread was excellent — real chewy Jewish rye, studded with caraway and coated with cornmeal.
Our Mojo (yes, we ordered it despite the lack of arugula) was a much messier composition. The caramelized onions, sautéed peppers and melted cheese tended to leak, but it was worth every drip. The roll didn’t have nearly the character of the rye, nor, I suspect, did the baguette that Melt It! uses as an envelope for its brie and fig compote, or its mozzarella, tomato and basil with olive oil balsamic reduction — both $7). However, it stood up to the juicy filling quite well.
Melt It!’s hand-cut fries ($3) are amazing. The ones that folks seem to like best (McDonald’s, In-N-Out) have a very short shelf life. Within five or 10 minutes, the crisp is gone, and you’re left with a tangle of flaccid, oily strands that only the dog will eat.
Melt It! must double-fry theirs. What you give up is a fluffy interior, but what you get instead is a fry that’s still crunchy even after two nights in the fridge and subsequent microwaving. Like everything else Melt It! makes, the portion is huge, and we only finished them up for lunch on Thursday.
Finally, there’s the piéce de résistance: Melt It!’s “scrumptious dessert,” a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: 1. the peanut butter and strawberry jam filling was warm and gooey and luscious; 2. the surrounding dough might have been brioche or Hawaiian bread or even doughnut, but whatever it started out as, it ended up fluffy, sugar-coated and immensely satisfying; 3. it was enormous, more than ample to share, even though neither of us really wanted to; and 4. this magnificent thingy was a mere $4. Hell, I’ve paid more than that for a teensy artisan bonbon or cupcake.
The décor of Melt It! is kind of cute. One side of its elongated interior is taken up with the open kitchen and counter, swathed in corrugated metal, which also serves as wainscoting for the lateral walls, one of which is painted a cheery cherry red while the other is a more muted pale yellow. There’s a row of wood tables with uncomfortable chairs and lamp shades are made of metal buckets. Stacks of similar buckets behind the counter make me think that they probably serve as containers for eat-in orders. The walls have several blow ups of fun mid-20th-century black and white photos.
Melt It! has already raised prices on a couple of their sides, but everything on the menu’s still quite cheap. Another plus is Melt It!’s wrappings are all heavy paper and cardboard, no Styrofoam or plastic. So the only things that aren’t easily biodegradable are the four bazillion fat grams we ingested with our meal. But, two or three days hence, when we’re finally through digesting, we’ll definitely be back for that cup of soup, a mac and cheese on sourdough ($6) and another PB&J or two...or three.
105 N. Hill Ave. #103,