Table Talk

Cleveland favorite Melt readies for debut in Short North

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Matt Fish displays the "Purple Parma" sandwich at Melt Bar & Grilled, which opens Friday, Nov. 15, at 840 N. High St. in the Short North.

Matt Fish had only modest ambitions when he opened his first Melt Bar & Grilled in 2006.

Fish opened the small craft-beer bar in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood and began serving grilled cheese merely to offer customers something to eat.

Then he began tinkering with his recipes and patrons began to notice.

"I really just wanted to support my community," Fish said. "I wasn't thinking about expanding.

"It wasn't a Cleveland thing. It was a Lakewood thing."

Now it's a Columbus thing.

Fish is scheduled to open his fifth Melt -- the first in central Ohio -- Friday, Nov. 15, in the Short North.

The restaurant takes over 5,400 square feet of space at 840 N. High St. in the ground level of The Hub, a new mixed-use development still under construction at the northeast corner of High and Hubbard Avenue.

The Hub includes 70 luxury apartments and a parking garage.

"This facility just kind of came out of nowhere," Fish said.

He said he had been looking for a location in Columbus for three years. Finally, a broker came to him.

"They were looking for a unique fit in the area," he said.

The restaurant has its trademark quirkiness: a blue tin ceiling, vivid murals at the entrance, vintage license plates on the walls and what could be the longest bar in town, seating 30.

Then, of course, there's the food.

Melt is known for its gourmet, oversized sandwiches. Fish, who received his culinary training at Cleveland Community College, said his creations are chef-inspired.

Consider the Parmageddon -- featuring a potato and onion pierogi, fresh napa vodka kraut, sauteed onions and sharp cheddar.

"Our philosophy is if we can fit it on a sandwich, if we can figure out a way to put an entire plated entree on a sandwich, we will," he said.

The Columbus store will open with a winter menu that includes several new sandwiches, including the "Backyard BBQ," "Cleveland Cheesesteak" and "Curry Chicken."

Fish admits most selections offer plenty to share or take home. Yet, he maintains a modest price point, with sandwiches costing between $6.50 and $14. Burgers, starters and soups round out the menu.

The restaurant will feature 40 taps, many devoted to microbrews, and another 40 in the bottle, plus signature cocktails and a "small, smart wine list," he said.

Those with the biggest appetites can try the Melt Challenge: a grilled cheese featuring 13 different cheeses, three slices of grilled bread and a pile of hand-cut fries and cole slaw.

Fish says it weighs in at more than 5 pounds. Those who finish the $30 meal are awarded a T-shirt or pint glass, their picture on the company's website and $10 gift certificate.

Adam Richman, host of Man v. Food on the Travel Channel, completed the challenge. But that wasn't Melt's only brush with fame. Guy Fieri of Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives on the Food Network also paid the restaurant a visit.

But even before the national networks arrived on the scene, Melt routinely had lines wrapped around the building.

Fish said the original location was 1,900 square feet of space with seating for 60. He added a 30-seat patio but when the weather changed, the customer base didn't subside.

So, by good fortune, a vacancy opened next door, so in 2008, he expanded another 1,700 square feet.

Since then, he added three more locations in Greater Cleveland: Independence, Cleveland Heights and Mentor.

"It's an animal now that's almost untamable," he said.

Melt is open lunch and dinner hours daily. It does not accept reservations or call-ahead seating. Patrons are seated on a first come, first served basis. For more information, call 614-453-1150.