As an erudite food critic once opined, there are few things that don’t taste better under a layer of melted cheese (think pasta, fondue, etc.).
Call them whatever you like – panini, grilled cheese or, as modern Hebrew does, “toast” – most aficionados of Western cuisine love the taste and texture of heated cheese sandwiches that ooze the gooey result.
Israelis are no exception, and two new local eateries – one stationary and one mobile – are betting that they can satisfy just about every taste by offering menus revolving almost entirely around melted cheese.
Melt Room is the reincarnation of Street Chef, a “fast fusion” restaurant by chef Liroy Kapuza, which was previously reviewed on these pages (14.2.21).
Kapuza’s original gourmet interpretations of street food were itemized in a menu that comprised no fewer than eight sections; his current bilingual food menu has been streamlined to a mere four: Sliders (NIS 36-44), Grilled Cheese (NIS 22-45), Fries (NIS 17-32) and Mac & Cheese (NIS 20-35).
As before, however, there are quite a few vegetarian options, but limited vegan ones; on the other hand, the grilled cheese sandwiches may be ordered on gluten-free bread.
The category titles should not be taken too literally. There are no small hamburgers among the sliders; rather, the name appears to derive from the shape of the small, paired rolls on which the five sandwiches are made.
It is worth ordering something from this section just for the bread component: fluffy rolls lightly smeared with herbed butter, then baked to form a thin, crispy crust. Case in point: the vegetables in the vegan slider were unremarkable when eaten with a fork, but took on a whole new dimension when consumed as a sandwich.
Similarly, only the gluten-free versions of the grilled cheese sandwiches emerge with golden brown bread so closely identified with the genre: the various fillings now come on a soft brioche bun.
As Kapuza explains, “When Israelis see grilled cheese, they see just a sandwich; when the same thing is served on a bun, they consider it a meal.”
Be that as it may, his Ruben Melt – butternut brioche with roast beef, corned beef, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, house aioli and jalapeno cabbage – is a thick, decadent delight, and well worth the cholesterol overindulgence. We enjoyed it with a side of excellent, piping hot french fries.
We were less impressed with the Cordon Bleu, in which the chicken was overpowered by the cheese, and the run-of-the-mill, plain Mac & Cheese (although there are four versions of this classic comfort food, and one of the enhancements might have improved it).
The lone dessert – apart from the Tennis Ball, a scoop of chocolate ice cream – is the Melted Nutella [Double] Slider: Nutella spread with halva and marshmallows baked in butter, a cloyingly sweet concoction.
Melt Room displays occasional flashes of the brilliance of chef Liroy we had experienced with the Street Chef. It is to be hoped that he upgrades by bringing back some of the greatest hits of his former endeavor.
A food truck named after a dog
Arguably, the chef most identified with the trend toward better-than-average fast food is Omer Miller, who left the world of fine dining to launch Susu and Sons, a very successful chain of hamburger joints. More recently, he opened Leon, a food truck on Tel Aviv’s Herzl Street, specializing in toasted sandwiches.
Now, Miller has joined forces with the Paz Oil Company to create the Yellow Chef Trailer, serving Leon Toasts. The trailer will be stationed in the parking lots of various Paz gas stations’ Yellow convenience stores, rotating from one location to another until a decision is taken on a more permanent site (or sites).
The Yellow Chef Trailer, which began its career at the Paz petrol station opposite the amusement park and Expo Tel Aviv (on Rokach Boulevard), is presently scheduled for two-week stints at the Gedera Paz Compound (28.10-15.11) and the Cordani Paz Compound in Kiryat Motzkin (18.11-1.12); subsequent locations will be publicized on the Yellow app and in social media.
Leon’s hours of operation are weekdays, 8 a.m.-6 p.m., and Fridays, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; the trailer is closed on Saturdays.
The food menu – in Hebrew only, although reportedly an English one is on the way – comprises four sections: Dairy Toasts (NIS 13/25-17/38), Meat Toasts (NIS 18/32-23/42), Morning Sliders (NIS 23-27), and Pastries/Muffins (NIS 12-17).
Although both meat and dairy products are served at the same counter, they are never combined in the same sandwich. Despite also being closed on Shabbat, the trailer is not certified kosher. There are no vegan or gluten-free items anywhere on the menu.
The option to order half or whole sandwiches (as reflected in the dual prices above) enabled us to try a variety of panini, which range from plain and simple to borderline gourmet. We quite enjoyed the mozzarella-pesto, with tomato and toasted almonds, and the mushroom-Parmesan, one of two possibilities featuring two different cheeses.
The meat panini we sampled – Goose Breast with Eggplant, and Ruben-Coleslaw – were satisfactory but barely warm. Moreover, the latter inexplicably came just with corned beef and no coleslaw (probably a onetime oversight).
For dessert, our ricotta-blueberry pastry – despite the virtual absence of the fruit component – was delicious.
There is a more than adequate selection of cold and semi-frozen drinks, along with soft-serve ice cream. Finally, the hot coffee from the espresso machine was surprisingly good.
The Yellow Chef Trailer is unabashedly a grab-and-go kind of place, designed for motorists: sandwiches are served in paper sleeves, convenient for drivers to eat from on the road.
Most Paz locations where the truck will be parked will have picnic tables, but seating is not guaranteed.
Melt Room Not kosher 24 Ibn Gvirol Street, Tel Aviv.Tel. (03) 674-3503
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.