While walking through my Northside neighborhood recently, a shiny new storefront caught my eye. "Hey," I said suspiciously to no one in particular, "that looks like a restaurant." Pushing open the front door to demand some answers, I found out that yes, Virginia, MELT (4165 Hamilton Ave., 513-681-6358) has found a home. This funky little café serving sandwiches, soups and salads is devoted to wholesome, nutritious food, describing itself as "an alternative to corporate junk food."
Now don't let that last sentence scare you foodies — wholesome doesn't have to equal tasteless. The food is definitely a vegetarian's dream, but it just as quickly lures the gourmet's palate. Accompanying your vegan melt ($4.95) with tofu, red onion, lettuce and tomato, you can have a blue gingered pear salad ($6.95) with spring mix, toasted walnuts, gorgonzola, slices of poached gingered pears and maple balsamic vinaigrette. Or how about a Tuscan Chicken Sandwich ($6.25) with pesto, red onion and sun-dried tomatoes?
On a recent Saturday, a friend crossed the Ludlow viaduct over to the "Hipside" to join us in some eclectic cuisine. While the prices seemed a little high to our cohort, there was no arguing that the ingredients were high quality and fresh, and in my book that's worth a few extra pennies.
Lisa Kagen, Melt's owner, says she was irritated with the lack of healthy food options in the city, so she decided to do something about it.
Everything at Melt is made fresh and Kagen takes every opportunity to use wholesome foods, such as Applegate Farm all natural deli meat. She's also a strong advocate of investing in the local economy — Melt offers bread from Shadeau Bakery, coffee from Sidewinder and desserts from Take the Cake.
Even die-hard carnivores will be hard pressed to deny the lip-smacking goodness of the peppery Veggie Cheesesteak ($6.25). The Artichoke Melt ($6.25), with artichoke dip, fresh tomato and white Vermont cheddar cheese, was delicate, gooey and quite satisfying. And our not-so-basic Basic Salad ($4.95) with chicken ($1.50 extra) and the rinotta ($1 extra), a tofu-based cheese substitute, was flavor-packed with the spicy homemade rinotta and tangy thyme Greek vinaigrette.
Serving healthy food that tastes good is no easy line to walk, but Kagan and her staff excel at balancing on the tightrope. You won't find another restaurant like it in Cincinnati right now — but wouldn't it be great if they started a new trend? Grade: A
CONTACT LORA ARDUSER: letters(at)citybeat.com