COEUR d'ALENE - A restaurant that takes one of America's best-loved comfort foods and ramps it up in a gourmet way is going gangbusters since opening its doors three months ago in Coeur d'Alene.
Mid-afternoon Wednesday, after the daily lunch rush had died down, customers at Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese - in the Fairway strip mall near the intersection of Kathleen Avenue and Ramsey Road - still filtered in, placing orders for creative concoctions of large slices of grilled Wheat Montana bread, melted cheeses and other adventurous ingredients.
"It's an ever-evolving menu," said Joe McCarthy, owner and chef.
There are days when the line of customers waiting to place their orders wraps around the side of the storefront table area, he said.
McCarthy's business partner and longtime friend Matt Yetter's current favorite sandwich is their newest menu item, the Potsticker Meltz, which features provolone and jack cheeses, pork, peppers, scallions, ginger, sesame and fried wontons. It's served with a side of potsticker dipping sauce.
The Meltz menu offers "Extreme," "Uncommon," and "Simple" sandwich options, all prepared on the diner's choice of sourdough, wheat or a gluten-free bread option.
Extreme items include "Gobbler," a blend of white American and jack cheeses, smoked turkey, sausage stuffing, fried sweet potatoes and chunky cranberry aioli.
Sharp cheddar, barbecued pulled pork, bacon, cavatappi pasta, buttermilk and fried onions fill the "Oinker," one of the most popular Meltz menu items.
"Border Patrol," another Meltz hit, combines pepper jack, Colby jack, jalapeno bacon, buttermilk, fried onions, roasted garlic and ranch.
Other Extreme Meltz sandwiches are cheesy flavor odes to buffalo chicken wings, south of the border fare and meatloaf and potatoes.
"There's no shortage of things you can do with sandwiches," said McCarthy.
Sandwich fillings are carefully prepared and measured to achieve the perfect flavor balance, he said. Rich cheeses are paired with vegetables and other items to create what McCarthy calls "the Yin and Yang of food." It's what makes the traditional tomato soup-grilled cheese sandwich combo work, he said.
At Meltz, the sandwiches aren't all extreme.
The Kid Comfort sandwich, just bread and cheese, sells for $3.75. There is also a list of add-ons for customers who would like to build their own creations.
"Somebody might want spinach, carmelized onion and fried egg on a sandwich. If we have it and you want to create it, we'll do it," McCarthy said.
For grilled cheese fans seeking a lighter alternative, Meltz offers low-calorie butter spray, low-fat cheese, turkey and vegetables.
Meltz sandwiches, prepared on large slices of bread - about 5-by-7-inches - can be ordered by the half, for the lighter appetites.
The Extreme sandwich prices range from $7.60 to $7.95, with half-sandwiches selling for $4.90 to $5.15.
It's not all sandwiches. There's a daily soup special; Wednesday's was macaroni and cheese soup. Meltz also sells its own fresh potato chips with a variety of house made dips including garlic alfredo; garlic, tomato and basil; gorgonzola and sweet chili; and grainy honey mustard barbecue.
McCarthy studied at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, and previously worked as executive chef at the now-shuttered Brix restaurant and the Mirabeau Park Hotel in Spokane Valley. For 10 years, he has worked for Indycar Racing Services, cooking for the drivers, staff and VIPs at Indianapolis 500 events at tracks throughout the country. He hopes Meltz will allow him to back away from that work, because it keeps him on the road and away from his wife and two children.
Yetter, who was born in Coeur d'Alene, is retired from the U.S. Army and owns a Spokane window cleaning business. He is married with five children and four grandchildren. He said he leads a ministry at Real Life Ministries.
The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
They're closed Sundays, McCarthy said, so they can go to church and spend time with their families.
"We're a Christian-based business. That filters into everything we do," McCarthy said."
Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese is at 1735 W. Kathleen Ave. Phone: 208-664-1717
Meltz offers 27 different cheeses to add into their gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
The cheese from a sandwich bubbles up as it melts onto the grill.