Arts & Culture

UMelt redefines grilled cheese

The gourmet sandwiches, made with fresh and local ingredients, offer an affordable comfort food

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 22, 2013

“The Tomato and Basil,” one of several vegetarian options on UMelt’s menu, transforms the traditional combination of tomato, mozzarella and basil pesto into a grilled cheese sandwich on a crispy baguette.

This article is part of the series Restaurant Week, Fall 2013

Easy to miss  among the bevy of eateries on Weybosset Street, UMelt might be the greatest thing since sliced bread. Specializing in gourmet grilled cheeses, from classic to quirky, UMelt boasts a casual atmosphere and a pleasant staff.

UMelt, whose original location in Kingston made it popular with students from the University of the Rhode Island, opened its Providence location at the beginning of last summer in hopes of replicating its success with students from Johnson & Wales University and Brown.

Walking in, customers might mistake their surroundings for a modern take on a quaint Norman Rockwell painting. The brightly colored walls and diner-style seating create a retro yet still contemporary vibe, complemented by indie pop and last decade’s alternative rock hits playing in the background.

The sandwiches, which cost between $4 and $8, appeal to a broad spectrum of palates and culinary comfort levels. Menu items range from the reliable simplicity of “The Classic,” made with just American cheese and bread, to inspired innovations such as the combination of cheddar, bacon and BBQ potato chips in “The Chipster.”

For the health-conscious, “The Veggie” delivers a nutritious powerhouse with Havarti, hummus and fresh vegetables on multigrain bread, in addition to a variety of gourmet salads, all of which cost less than $8. For customers over 21, UMelt also carries wine and locally brewed beer.

Choosing from such a diverse menu can be daunting. But sharing with friends is easy at UMelt, where the sandwiches are cut in half before being served. While many options include meat, the staff’s flexibility in altering or omitting ingredients upon request makes the menu malleable and vegetarian-friendly.

“The Tomato and Basil” grilled cheese is the distant, more glamorous cousin of the pizza at the Sharpe Refectory with the same name. The tomato is noticeably fresher than its College Hill counterpart, and the mozzarella cheese has a creamy consistency, a constrast to the Ratty’s rubbery cheese. The full-bodied flavor of the homemade pesto mingles perfectly with the delicate yet savory balsamic glaze.

For those with torn allegiances between mac and cheese from the Ivy Room and grilled cheese from Josiah’s, “The White Trash” is an ideal solution, stuffing mac and cheese, cheddar and BBQ pulled pork between two thick slices of sourdough. Though slightly messy to eat, the sandwich is less dysfunctional than might be expected — possibly because the cheddar allowed the noodles to stick together, preventing too many casualties. And while UMelt’s mac and cheese is not as decadent as the Ivy Room’s, the strong cheesy flavor provides the same satiation without the bloating and remorse.

The staff is friendly and down-to-earth, chatting and joking with customers and audibly marveling at particularly appetizing orders. Employees are clearly passionate and knowledgeable about the sources of their ingredients, which are fresh and local whenever possible — for example, the pesto in “The Tomato and Basil” was made entirely with ingredients from the Providence area last summer. Basil has since gone out of season, but UMelt’s pesto continues to be one of the housemade products prepared in small batches to ensure freshness and quality. Even UMelt’s jalapenos are pickled in house.

As a tasty and affordable afterthought, consider indulging in “The Dessert,” which oozes warm Nutella from honey-roasted banana slices with each sumptuous bite. Though the raisin bread’s light sweetness complements Nutella’s viscosity, those who do not want to be overwhelmed by raisins might consider requesting a different kind of bread. Lightly dusted with confectionary sugar, the dish is ideal for sharing or as the ultimate comfort food.

UMelt, just a 10-minute walk down College Hill, proves breaking out of the campus bubble can be hearteningly comfortable. It offers a vibrant, fresh and more socially conscious solution to cravings for roughly the same cost as a meal credit. In the chilly fall weather, its grilled cheeses make you feel so warm you melt.