by Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Dinner at The Melting Pot is a social experience. Whether you need time to connect with your mate, spend with family, catch up with friends, or have a business dinner, this is the place for a leisurely night out together. Unlike some restaurants that book reservations back to back and expect you to leave at a certain time, The Melting Pot invites you to linger over your meal for a couple of hours—or more.
The Melting Pot is located at 611 Doug Baker Boulevard, in the Village at Lee Branch Shopping Center off of Highway 280 East. Upon entering the restaurant, we are welcomed by a trio of friendly hostesses and views of the restaurant’s glass-encased wine room, which houses their substantial wine collection. To the left is the entry to the full bar, where classic cocktails, single malt scotches, and cognacs are poured. The bar area also has two free-standing, high-top tables and a bar, all equipped with burners for fonduing. In the main dining space, seating options range from intimate two-seat booths, booths with a view, and booths large enough for families. There are no hot pots of boiling oil here; instead, each table is equipped with burners with temperatures controlled by your server. And the burners don’t get hot until metal objects (fondue pots) are placed on them.
Partners John and Carrie Dooley and Bob and Debbie Hammond are the local owners and operators. They brought The Melting Pot to Birmingham in 2007. They have a friendly and well-trained staff who make our evening at The Melting Pot a pleasure.
Tonight we are dining with our friend Ned Paine, who is in town for the weekend, for his belated 91st birthday celebration. We toast his birthday with cocktails: the Bootleg Bramble, Grand Margarita, and Yin Yang Martini.
Menu offerings include a la carte four course meals. You may select any items a la carte from the individual selections of cheese fondue, salads, entrees, and chocolate fondue. Or you may order the Four Course Experience, which includes one of each. There are two pots for each course, which are brought to the table and removed from the table with a device that prevents spills and splashes.
For our cheese course, we select the Bourbon Bacon Cheddar and Wisconsin Trio. And we pair the fondues with a food-friendly New Zealand wine, Craggy Range, Sauvignon Blanc, Te Muna Road. Both the white “with a bite” and the chunky cheddar cheeses are scrumptious choices for swirling the variety of breads (French, pumpernickel, and rye) and crudités (cauliflower, celery, carrots, and Granny Smith apples). They also offer a second salad course, which we save for next time. Choices for that include Caesar, California, House, and Spinach Mushroom.
We surf and turf our individual “Fondue By You” entrées by choosing Cold Water Lobster Tails and Filet Mignon. And we leave the cooking styles to our server’s expertise, with one pot better suited to steak and one for lobster. The lobster is accompanied by creamy butters and lemon wedges. While our steak sizzles in one pot and lobster steams in another, we enjoy the time to visit, catch up, and laugh together. Each of us cooks our tender, juicy pieces of steak to our own preferred degree of doneness. And the succulent lobster bites make the meal for this seafood lover.
For dessert, we chose Pure Milk Chocolate and Cream Brulee, which is flambéed at the table, resulting in a creamy inside and a golden caramelized top. Dippers include marshmallows, strawberries, bananas, Rice Krispies treats, cheesecake, and brownies. We go back and forth, swirling piece after piece of these treats into the chocolate and the brulee, which serve as hot icing for these little bites of heaven.