Early 50 years ago, in Maitland, The Melting Pot first elevated dining by introducing fondue with shareable courses consisting of melted cheese, flambeed meats and chocolate fondue. Mark Johnston, a waiter working his way through college at The Melting Pot, saw the popularity of the concept.
In 1979, he joined forces with his brothers, Mike and Bob, to open The Melting Pot, in Tallahassee. Based on the success of that location, they opened their second location, in Tampa, in 1981 and never looked back. In 1985, the Johnston brothers had the insight to purchase the rights of The Melting Pot brand and establish The Melting Pot Restaurants as a new franchise company that currently has 95 locations throughout the United States and Canada.
What happens when an establishment such as Melting Pot has an offshoot sibling? Melting Pot Social, also known as MeltSo, was created to provide a contemporary, bar-centric, cheese-forward, restaurant where patrons are encouraged to play with their food.
In July 2022, MeltSo introduced the first concept to the Asheville, North Carolina, market. Fortunately, Dan Stone, chief operating and development officer of Front Burner Brands, along with his team, had the forethought to root MeltSo in the heart of downtown Tampa, opening the doors in May 2023. It serves a niche for the downtown area, including the Straz Performing Arts Center, Glazer Children’s Museum and the University of Tampa. Before MeltSo, theatergoers and downtown dwellers had limited dining options beyond Maestro’s.
MeltSo is a whimsical approach to cheese that makes it accessible any time of the day. Patrons may customize the fondue to please their palates based on preferred tastes and dietary needs, or they can opt for a curation by chef Jason Miller, the “chief melting officer” as coined by Brooke Palmer Kuhl, of RSBP Events, who manages the establishment’s public relations. Stone allows Miller free rein with innovating dishes if it checks off the three must-haves—meltable, crave-able and shareable.
The Blackberry Lavender Shrub is a cleansing vodka cocktail with a touch of apple cider vinegar and lemon juice to balance the blackberry and lavender syrups. The Teascake is a bit different than the average cocktail. It’s their version of cheese tea, combining Jameson Irish Whiskey, green tea and cream cheese foam with a hint of matcha, for a unique flavor.
Anyone who loves cheese will have a challenging time deciding between the queso Fuego fondue, the chef’s blend of cheddar and Emmenthaler cheese, Big Storm Wavemaker Ale or the MeltSo mac and cheese combing a total of six cheeses, with an additional four cheeses on the crostini, as if there weren’t enough cheese already.
If you haven’t been to Europe or New York City to experience raclette, don’t fret, now you can get it any time, in the Tampa market, at MeltSo. What exactly is raclette? It is an iconic cheese dish, originally from Europe, where the cheese is melted within the cheese bowl and then scraped onto the dish filled with vegetables and, or, meats. The raclette and prosciutto appetizer is the perfect bite combining all the flavors of melted cheese, fig crostini and herb Dijon mustard.
While the burger is tasty without anything on it, there is the option to try either fondue or raclette cheese atop the burger—both options will satisfy any meat and cheese craving.
Be sure to save room for dessert. As Stone says, “The cookie souffle gives me life and, until now, is one of the best-kept secrets.”
He’s not exaggerating. The sea salt toffee cookie, served in a cast iron crock, topped with vanilla gelato, cascading down the scrumptious dish, indeed is everything. Even though no one had room for dessert by the end of the meal, somehow that dish magically disappeared.
MeltSo is distinct from The Melting Pot by offering more meals including brunch, lunch, dinner and late night, with each menu reflective of the time of day served.
True to the bar-centric vision, MeltSo has karaoke every Friday night from 9 p.m. to midnight.
MeltSo isn’t quite as posh as The Melting Pot but it is a place to gather to dip, sip and share, bringing much-needed life to downtown Tampa. ♦
Follow Barbara Lynch at @PosherPalate and @AmbassadorBarb.