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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Road Notes: Cleveland Rocks (Really)

Cleveland is not for the weak of heart.

The bitter sequence their sports fans have known ad nauseum—the last second Browns collapses, the Indians' oopsies and the recent, soul-less evacuation of LeBron James—reads like a recipe for madness.

Some of its streets can feel a little empty, in a misshaped, muggy and mean-mugging kind of way.

Fittingly, then, one of its flagship eateries is a place where compromised arteries need not apply.

At Melt Bar & Grilled (216-226-3699), every sandwich is stacked and grilled and stuffed with cheese and other heart-rattling ingredients—but done so deliciously enough that a table for two necessitated a 45-minute wait.

At 11:30am. On a weekday. (I only heard later that if you get the logo tattooed on your body you get "free cuts.")

Folks flock for items like the Breakfast Burger ($9.50), with two fried eggs, crisp and thick bacon and good old American cheese on still thicker Texas toast.

And the Smokey Russian ($9), piled with smoked turkey, fresh napa vodka kraut as good as it sounds, smoked gouda and Russian dressing. At our barback's behest, we added good crispy bacon too. The Midwest never tasted so good.

The bartender pointed out that the 150-deep beer list is designed to occupy folks as the tiny kitchen takes its time to carefully assemble its super-rich sandwiches—like the Municipal Stadium Magic (locally made brauts, fresh napa vodka kraut, grilled peppers and American cheese, $9) or the Godfather (three cheese lasagna, spicy red sauce, "garlic-spiked" bread with provolone, $11)—made to order.

Other stylish distractions, like the album menus (above) and the slick design elements (below) help make the extensive wait go down easily.

Those are kitchen knives and silverware imbedded in the stained glass.

The stamped metal ceilings and intergalactic light fixtures are also pretty fly.

Walls covered in kitsch also entertain, from local sports totems like a Bernie Kosar picture or evidence of a Guy Fieri visit.

But it's the robust, unapologetic, fattening flavors that pack the place. Take the house favorite called the Big Popper—fresh jalapeños, herb cream cheese, melted cheddar all beer battered and deep fried, with a mixed berry preserve dipping sauce that makes the powdered sugar dusting on top and the savory stuff inside come together surprisingly well. (Looks like that Lake Erie swim to the lighthouse is increasingly mandatory after that sucker.)

In an unmandated exchange for a taste of the Big Popper—"Have you ever shared food with a stranger at a restaurant before?" my Cleveland-living sister (and occasional Weekly contributor) whispered—we even snacked some Parmegeddon ($10), with two potato and cheese pierogi with the napa kraut, grilled onions and never-better cheddar.

The strategy seems to be that in a land where the sports misadventures leave folks feeling empty, the food certainly won't.

Just ask the Man v. Food dude and the Travel Channel team.