Amongst the hot science news stories to break in the past couple of years, one that rang true to many people was the 2015 University of Michigan study that indicted casomorphins in cheese as appealing to our brains’ opioid receptors. Turns out that the media coverage was exaggerating somewhat when it compared cheese to crack. Nevertheless, it’s a challenge to name a comfort food that doesn’t contain gobs of melted cheese, or that wouldn’t arguably be improved by the liberal applications thereof.
In recent years, canny entrepreneurs around the country have been catering to exactly that type of craving by dedicating new restaurants and food trucks to the culinary art of grilled cheese. It’s a meal that can be enjoyed pretty much any time of day by folks of all ages, is inexpensive, quick and easy to prepare, adapts to a wide range of toppings and fillings and can even be eaten by vegetarians of the ovo/lacto persuasion. How could you go wrong with such a concept — especially in a college town?
So when word got out a couple of months back that a gourmet grilled cheese emporium would shortly be opening in New Paltz, anticipation started to build. And now at last the doors are open at Amazin’ Melts, which had its “soft” opening last Wednesday. “Most of the people coming in are saying, ‘We’ve been waiting for this,’” said cook/operator/co-owner Debbie Gould on Saturday, as she served tasty sandwiches to several patrons who were already back for their second or third visit. “We’ve had a lot of repeat business already. The feedback has been phenomenal. It was busy the first day, and hasn’t slowed down.”
Amazin’ Melts’ instant popularity may seem surprising, given the checkered history of businesses located in the little building set well back from the road, just across Route 299 from Ulster Savings Bank. Originally the garage for the house next door at 235 Main Street, it has been an ice cream parlor in the past, then a travel agency and more recently the Venice Barber Shop. But none of those incarnations seemed to last very long, probably due to its midtown location, out of the flow of village foot traffic. But now that the building houses a cozy spot for a hot meal or a gooey snack, plenty of Paltzonians are making a point of stopping in.
The space seats 14 diners indoors, and outdoor tables will be set up as soon as the weather permits, Gould said. A long counter made from recycled pallets runs along the south-facing windows; three ceramic-topped tables with matching wrought-brass chairs were rescued from a defunct 1920s ice cream parlor in Kingston. The bright, sunny space offers free Wi-Fi. You place your order at a small counter, behind which delicious smells and sizzling sounds waft through a pass-through opening from the kitchen.
It’s the food that makes or breaks a restaurant, of course; and the offerings on Amazin’ Melts’ menu are nothing like fast-food grilled cheese. The ingredients are high-end, with all the breads and rolls (including gluten-free choices) delivered daily from Bread Alone and the soups made on-premises. “We want to work with as many local vendors as possible,” said Gould, noting that a broader variety of vegetable options (currently tomato, avocado, onions, peppers and mushrooms) will become available once local produce comes into season. “We try to get everything organic.”
While some house “specialty melts” are offered, most of the listings are devoted to the “Make It My Way Menu.” For a $4.75 base price, you can choose among six cheese options (one of them vegan) and six types of bread. Optional extras at various prices include eggs, meats, veggies, spreads, sauces and even sweet toppings like Nutella and fig jam, for those so inclined. But mostly, said Gould, “It’s all about the cheese, and it’s all melted.”
For $5.99, you can test the waters with a “Classic 101” combo: American cheese melted on Pullman white bread, a cup of the house-made tomato bisque and a side of cole slaw. Gould makes the slaw from her father’s traditional Polish recipe, and it’s just about perfect. The tomato soup is so chunky and flavorful that you definitely won’t miss the canned stuff of your childhood memories — not even for nostalgia’s sake. As for the sandwiches themselves, they’re thick and gooey, crunchy and golden, grilled in ghee in a cast-iron pan. They clarify their own butter. And instead of French fries, they make their own thick, crispy potato chips. Nothing on the menu costs more than $9, with the exception of the Classic Grilled Cheese Six-Pack for takeout at $16.99. Delivery is not yet an option, but curbside pickup is offered if you’re in too big a hurry to pull into the parking lot!
At present, Amazin’ Melts is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, closed on Sunday and Monday until the weather warms up. To place an order or inquire about daily specials, call (845) 419-2808. The business’ website (still under construction) can be found at www.amazinmelts.com, with a Facebook page soon to follow.