4165 Hamilton Avenue
M-Sat: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sun: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood is filled with interesting, eclectic shops and restaurants that reflect the diverse, creative spirit of the community. There is groovy Shake-It Records, one of the best independent record shops in the country; Northside Tavern hosting live, local music every night of the week; Bughouse Video for all your cult, foreign, and film-noir needs; and an array of independent restaurants dishing up delicious homemade delights.
Melt bills itself as an "eclectic deli," serving vegan-friendly gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads using whole, unprocessed ingredients in environmentally-friendly packaging. They source locally when possible and are mindful of re-investing in the local economy and community.
The restaurant is appealingly quirky with brightly painted walls of berry and periwinkle, and comfy, mismatched tables and chairs. Dine-in meals are served on funky thrift-store dinnerware, and local artists showcase their work here too, further decorating the cheerful space. When the weather is nice, be sure to check out the zenlike outdoor dining area in back.
Nearly everything on the menu is vegetarian or vegan. There are veggie cheesesteaks made with seasoned seitan, vegan melts of savory, baked tofu, BBQ hoagies made with tempeh, and a half-dozen awesome, healthy salads served with multi-grain bread from Over-the-Rhine bakery Shadeau. The restaurant makes all their dressings in-house - there are four vegan and four vegetarian dressings on offer - and for $4.50 you can get a 16 oz. side of dressing to go.
All the melts and deli sandwiches are served with a choice of sunchips, mixed greens or ginger rainbow slaw, or for a small upcharge you can substitute from their a la carte menu, which includes pesto veggie pasta salad, vegan penne & "cheeze," seasonal fruit salad or roasted rosemary potatoes with curried catsup. They also boast a mean vegan chili that garners rave reviews, and their soup of the day is always vegetarian. Best of all, nothing on the menu runs more than $7.50. How fantastic is that!?
I'll be honest - I'm not a huge fan of "fake meats." Don't get me wrong. I think they serve a purpose, and were useful when I first became a vegetarian, but since at that time they weren't as easy to source as they are today, I learned not to rely on them. Although I was tempted by the BBQ tempeh hoagie, on my most recent visit I decided to go with their daily special - the Torpedo Burrito (a baked tortilla wrap of scrambled tofu, guacamole and spinach) served with a spicy, homemade pico de gallo. The wrap was healthy enough but I felt it lacked seasoning. Tofu doesn't have a flavor on it's own, instead it takes on the taste of marinade or whatever it is cooked with. The scrambled tofu in the burrito was very bland, but could have been alleviated had they scrambled it with some basil pesto or other seasoning. The addition of pico de gallo helped, but there wasn't enough of it. I also got a side of the roasted rosemary potatoes, which were fantastically tasty if a little cold by the time they reached the table, and the curried catsup was a welcome surprise.
My non-veggie dining companion opted for The Joan of Arc, a roast beef melt of red peppers, roasted garlic, blue cheese, caramelized onion and provolone melted on focaccia. Other non-veg items include Tuscan chicken, Albacore tuna and turkey.
The restaurant offers several meal-sized appetizers, including a Mediterranean plate of homemade hummus, olive tapenade and vegan pesto pasta salad, a brie plate served with fresh fruit, toasted walnuts, mixed greens and multi-grain crackers, and nachos covered in vegan chili and pico de gallo. For the kids there is baked grilled cheese, gourmet PB&J made of natural peanut butter with raspberry preserves on French bread, or a protein choice (turkey, chicken breast, roast beef, tuna or baked tofu) served with sunchips or fruit.
Although I've heard grumblings about Melt's portions being on the small side, personally I haven't found that to be the case. In fact I have yet to leave room for their scrumptious baked goods, which is a real shame since Melt offers a nice variety of housemade vegan dessserts. There are also cupcakes, brownies, bread puddings and key lime bars from local bakery Take the Cake.
Much like the community it serves, Melt is open-minded, friendly and inviting. It's the kind of place that encourages patrons to linger and soak in the hip, unpretentious ambiance.