With Oktoberfest in town, my wife and I decided to ditch downtown on Saturday, September 16, and head to Cincinnati’s rock’n’roll neighborhood. Known as a haven for the edgy and artistic, Northside also boasts a diverse food scene. Amidst the coffee shops and cafés, diners and drive-thrus, visitors and locals alike can find some of the best organic, vegetarian and vegan food in the Queen City.
For my wife and I, the lunch restaurant of choice in this grungy and hip neighborhood is Melt Eclectic Cafe. Located on Hamilton Avenue among the shops and eateries of the historic district, Melt features an expansive and varied deli menu of salads, sandwiches, wraps and sides. Although the restaurant offers a large selection of vegetarian dishes – including a few with lesser known meat substitutes tempeh and seitan – there is plenty of hearty fare available as well.
In addition to its menu offerings, Melt sells its house-made seitan, vegan cheddar cheese and salad dressings in bulk. At the front counter, you can also find a small selection of sweets, including organic gummy snacks, fresh baked vegan cupcakes and Northside’s local Chocolats Latour. Furthermore, local art hangs on the wall in the main dining area, giving customers interesting sights to view and discuss as they enjoy their meals.
Upon walking through the front door, you’ll notice that Melt is setup like more like a fast-paced urban deli than a typical café. Behind the front counter hangs a board detailing the menu items and the restaurant’s daily specials. There are a few smaller menus available as well that you can look at if you find the board hard to see. In any case, I suggest looking up the menu online so that you can figure out what you want before you arrive, as this gives you more time to make up your mind.
Since we’ve been to Melt countless times, my wife decided to try something new this Saturday: the Tempeh Pesto Club. Along with the sandwich, she ordered a bowl of the daily special Sweet Potato Curry Rice. I on the other hand opted for my long-standing favorite – The Joan of Arc – with a side of house-made hummus and chips. For drinks, we both got iced, unsweetened Earl Grey tea.
My wife was thoroughly surprised and delighted by the Tempeh Pesto Club. Melt’s tempeh – a high protein patty of fermented whole soybeans – was rich, hearty and quite meaty, and it made an excellent foundation to a delicious sandwich. Along with the gooey Muenster cheese and herbaceous pesto, Melt’s fresh vegetarian take on this deli classic is a great success. The curry rice – a version of which they often have on special – was sweet, nutty and savory, and it made a warming and robust addition to the meal.
Since being acquired a few months ago by Wellman’s Brands – run by well-known Cincinnati restaurateur Molly Wellman and parent company to six bars and cafés across the city – Melt’s menu has undergone a few alterations. In my opinion, one of the most important changes has been the substitution of braised brisket for deli-sliced roast beef on a couple of Melt’s sandwiches, including The Joan of Arc. The succulent and salty shredded brisket makes this sandwich one of, if not my favorite, in the Queen City.
Upon this meaty foundation Melt piles caramelized onions and roasted red peppers and garlic to balance out the heavy and savory brisket, bringing a sweet earthiness to the bold and fatty beef. Finally, this masterfully crafted sandwich is topped with piquant blue cheese, uniting all of the flavors together with its creamy pungency. The house-made hummus and Sun Chips is by far my favorite side on the menu. The hummus is smooth, nutty and garlicky, and it goes perfectly with the salty Sun Chips. Also, Melt places its hummus on a bed of spinach, which adds a nice freshness and crunchy texture to this Levantine staple.
One thing that sets Melt apart from other sandwich shops and delis around town – in addition to its high-quality ingredients and bold flavors – is its bread. Most of Melt’s bread is locally made by Sixteen Bricks and Sweet Williams Bakery, which promotes the restaurant’s locavore philosophy and its commitment to sustainability. Moreover, all of the bread is packed with flavor – whether the buttery, crunchy and slightly sweet flatbread on The Joan of Arc or the nutty and full-bodied multigrain on the Tempeh Pesto Club – adding a depth and subtleness to bolster the taste of every sandwich.
As always, our lunch at Melt was absolutely delicious and filling, and it only cost us $28. For the quality of the ingredients and the variety of flavors, the price of Melt’s sandwiches and other menu items simply can’t be beat. I highly recommend visiting Cincinnati’s rocking neighborhood, chowing down on Melt’s delicious food and experiencing all that Northside has to offer!