Birthday adventure discovers Sweet Mel's cuisine
By: Melissa Kahan, GLOB Correspondent
My birthday was supposed to be simple: cheering on the Gators at The Swamp, heading downtown to meet up with friends, and sharing a nice dinner just me and my beau. But every other year I have a birthday dinner of sorts; it's the one aspect of my typically drawn out birthday celebration that is the most low key. We eat good food, catch up on what's new with each other and celebrate another year of Melissa. This year I did not want the hassle of planning and coordinating another birthday dinner to fall on my tired shoulders. But after much inquiry of "Why not?" it seemed giving in was just easier.
After multiple failed attempts to seat eight of us in a restaurant in downtown Gainesville on the Friday before game day, the search seemed futile – let's face it, I walked right into that. It wasn't until stumbling upon Sweet Mel's on the corner of University Ave. and Main Street that hope was restored. I had been inside the restaurant one other time but had not eaten there. It was the raves over the eclectic and uniquely assembled burgers that sparked my interest – that and they would seat all of us without wait.
The restaurant was pretty full with tables of mostly two, three and four. Our table was by far the largest with the bar lining the length of the small restaurant and encompassing about half of the dining area. Everyone immediately scoured the burger menu, but seeing as how it would be somewhat of a wait until we could order, the staff being sparse compared with the number of hungry customers, we first ordered two appetizers for the table. Now, I've never heard of Philly Cheese Chips, but who could resist ordering basically the nacho version of a classic Philly cheese steak? Alongside that, the Battle of Rings complete with multiple warm, breaded onion rings and a spicy dipping sauce left us at the beginnings of full stomachs.
As far as the main attraction was concerned, everyone ordered a different, equally interesting-sounding masterpiece of flavors. It was quite a challenge for this food adventurer to narrow down just one option, though. Each plate brought to the table was nothing short of a piece of art. Luckily I asked about the rarity levels of the meat, and I was told my usual medium-rare order was to be a slab of meat pretty much still "bleeding." The medium was cooked to my liking with a slight pink center, and everyone else seemed pleased with how their burger was cooked, too, which has definitely not always been the case in previous dining out experiences.
I'm getting sidetracked. My Smokey Mountain "mouth-watering" burger with a side of sweet potato waffle fries (right) was an all-around tasty treat. Complete with the usual fixings, minus onions, of lettuce, pickles and tomato, it distinguished itself from the other 17 listed burgers with a smattering of BBQ sauce on the inside of the buns and crispy bacon and onion rings atop a cheddar cheese-coated Angus beef patty. Each bite oozed with flavor: the cheese rich against the crispness of the lettuce and tomato while the sweet and smoky BBQ sauce complemented the hearty bacon and onion rings that sizzled in the middle with the other burger fixings. It took all that I had to even finish half of the burger, as I felt the sweet potato fries deserved some attention as well, although I feel these typically sweet and hearty fries merit a thicker form than the thin lattice of waffle fries Sweet Mel's prepares.
I was very proud of my fellow diners' adventurous burger choices, allowing me to sample a little more of the vast burger menu. Mariel's Guido burger, a heaping bite about to be had (image right), was an Italian's dream of fried cheese, parmesan and marinara atop a juicy patty. Thomas, my boyfriend, about to enjoy another bite of burger, image right, ordered the Baby Bella burger. I was considering this option for myself as well despite it veering on the safer side of the menu, complete with sautéed baby portabella mushrooms, caramelized onions and Swiss cheese sandwiched together in a rich combination of flavors. Even my friend's Bacon Mac, complete with a heart-stopping combination of fried Mac and Cheese, bacon and even more melted American cheese atop a beef patty, sounded like a burger worth the feat, image at right.
All in all, good burgers were promised, and good burgers were received. The server was not knowledgeable of what was in most of the alcoholic drinks, let alone which were being served/on tap, but the food was great. The company, I must admit, was better. I think this sweet Mel will be back at Sweet Mel's for a go at maybe one of the other many food options, from pastas to open-faced sandwich "Stuffers" and pita pocket sandwich "Humps."
The Pluses and Minuses of Sweet Mel's
Sweet Mel's + indicators: Well-made, unique burgers, large portions for the price, quick seating for larger group, variety of menu items.
Sweet Mel's - indicators: Staff not very knowledgeable of menu.