Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Grilled cheese is simple, inexpensive comfort food, improved only by proximity to a cup of tomato soup. Capitol Melts has them both, and awesome desserts as well.
Actually, someone has thought of it. There are several grilled cheese franchises in other parts of the country but Capitol Melts on State Street in Albany is locally owned and operated. Its first incarnation was as Cheesewich: Grilled Cheese Concoctions, open for about six months in the Aviation Mall in Queensbury.
It’s quick fare to eat in or take out, just a tidy counter in the lobby of 136 State St., part of the old Hotel Wellington. The five buildings that make up Wellington Row are in various states of renovation or adaptive reuse in a multiyear project by Columbia Development.
Capitol Melts Grilled Cheese Cafe
WHERE: 136 State St., Albany, 487-4816, www.capitolmelts.com
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday
HOW MUCH: $21.97, before tax and tip
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Visa, Master Card, American Express. Wheelchair accessible. Parking on street.
The spacious lobby of 136 is bright, spotless and roomy with white tables and chairs. It’s more lobby than restaurant, but wall-sized windows make for good people-watching. The restaurant counter is across from the busy elevator.
Lisa and I arrived at lunchtime and got menu cards from the counter. Capitol Melts serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays. Breakfast melts (all $3.95) have fillings like sausage, ham, bacon, hash, eggs and, of course, cheese. At lunch there are grilled cheese sandwiches, salads, soup and a pizza melt.
The array of sandwiches includes Say Cheese, made from a signature blend of cheeses; there’s spicy chipotle and habanero, bacon cheeseburger and taco. Sandwiches are $4.95 — choose from a selection of breads. Add tomato and bacon for a bit more. There are weekly soup, sandwich and pizza specials.
I was told the tomato bisque ($3.95) wasn’t homemade, but their cheese is locally sourced from New York and Vermont and includes McCadam, Yancy’s Fancy and Cabot.
You put in your order and pay, then watch for it to come up. We took a table by the window and waited until someone brought out a tray with two sandwiches and looked around. It didn’t take more than a few minutes.
The sandwiches were served on crisp white paper in a cardboard boat. They were just gooey enough inside and still crispy on the outside, and nicely browned.
“This sandwich is amazing,” said Lisa, who ordered the wingless Buffalo melt — shredded chicken in a spicy sauce along with lots of cheese. The square sandwiches are sliced once down the middle to let the hot cheese ooze out a bit, and are just the right size for lunch.
I recommend the red pepper pesto and spinach sandwich. While veggies add vitamins and flavor and color, the abundance of melted cheese keeps it from being too healthy. I tasted sharp cheddar. The were caraway seeds in the rye, and I liked how the crust, crunchy from grilling, pulled away from the bread easily.
Though the Tater Tots ($1.25) could have been hotter, garlic seasoning made them delicious. “They don’t need ketchup,” said Lisa.
The mac and cheese ($4.95) is more meal than side, the same price as a sandwich. We both thought it was starchy, the elbows too thick, and the sauce watery. There was some melted white cheese but it was swamped by too much salt.
The desserts are luscious and well-priced at $1.99. We shared a slice of silky cheesecake with a smooth browned top and a square of powdered sugar-covered crumb cake that was more crumb than cake and enjoyed them both. “These would be great with coffee,” Lisa said.
The tab for it all, with a diet soda, came to $21.97, before tax and tip.
So if you work in downtown Albany, consider your proximity to Capitol Melts a stroke of luck, and stop in for a cheesy breakfast or lunch.