The Melting Pot

Though a fairly popular chain of restaurants now, the first Melting Pot opened in 1975 in Maitland, Florida, with the first franchise following in Tallahassee, four years later. Since that time they’ve spread across the Unites States and will be crossing the US-Canada border in 2010 with 2 locations already in the works. If you haven’t tried out your local fondue hot-spot, maybe now would be a good time to give it a whirl?

Reservations are highly recommended, but not required. We’ve done it both ways and the wait’s not usually too long but we’ve also opted to eat in the bar area (aside from cozier booths, it’s really no different than being in the main restaurant. Keep in mind, though, dinner is a several-hour affair so plan accordingly.

The basic order of a full meal at the Melting Pot goes like this: you choose the type of cheese fondue you want from half a dozen choices which is then mixed in front of you. With the cheesy goodness comes assorted cubes of bread, raw veggies and apple slices which you then dip into the cheese and nibble on while enjoying the company of your dinner companion(s) and maybe sampling something from the bar. They’ll bring you more dippers if you run out or have a particular favorite.

The salad course is optional, but it’s also quite tasty and you really don’t have to worry about filling up on it because the length of dinner allows you to graze without over-filling yourself. When Todd and I were there, the waiter actually had an issue with our cheese mix–turns out the water level of the pot had dropped too low and wasn’t producing enough steam to melt everything together–so the salad course helped bide our time until the second chance at the cheese fondue had a chance to melt.

You can order your main course a la carte, with options for single meats or combinations, shared dinners for 2 or a larger “Big Night Out” feast. We like the latter because you tend to get a little bit of everything but there’s usually 3 different options even within that range. Your cooking style options include a number of flavored broths or oil. Our favorite part of dinner on our first visit was the Butternut Squash ravioli but, unfortunately, it’s a seasonal entree only and we’re currently not in season. But nothing is really bad here. The meats come out arranged nicely on a platter, cut in bite-sized chunks to promote quick, even cooking and your meal is totally guided by your own pace. Several sauces are served with the main course and a separate place, with wells for each sauce, are provided for the cooked meats and veggies.

Dessert is where they really shine, though. I mean, who can resist chocolate fondue!? Again, there are several mixes to choose from and some even feature a bit of flambe action. The dessert place is really something to see with cubes (as well as a separate slice) of cheesecake, fresh strawberries and bananas, different types of marshmallows, brownies and rice crispy-treat cubes that are great on their own or liberally slathered in chocolate. Many people I know have stopped in after a night out just for the dessert fondue and nothing else.

Now, I won’t lie, dinner here isn’t exactly cheap: a full meal for 2, with all the courses, is routinely $100 or more, especially if you add in cocktails or after-dinner drinks. But the experience is certainly worth the splurge. And, ladies, check your local Melting Pot for details, but on the last Wednesday of each month, a ladies-only table gets you a 3-course fondue dinner for $28 a person and THAT is a steal.