My job as a teacher — at its heart — is about intel. And as has been true for decades, high school students are a wellspring of intel. Who’s got a crush on who, when that other teacher’s assignment is due, how much the new iPhone is going to cost, and, occasionally, the answer to the content question you were asking that rudely interrupted their conversation.
A few weeks ago, I noticed a rash of conversations about egg rolls. TikTok rules everything around me, so I figured there was a new food trend going around. Finally, in the waning moments of seventh period, I interjected when the topic came up: what’s the deal? Where’s the video?
No video, they told me, there’s a place down the road. Why hadn’t I been there yet?
I asked where “there” was and was met with a pitch-perfect “uhhhhh.”
The question was called out to a peer across the room and delivered, in the most suburban way: “What’s that place we went to with the rolls and grilled cheese? In that shopping center across from the Post Office. Behind the Moby Dick.”
It was Melt 502 (6318 Bardstown Rd.), the same name in the graffiti visible the moment you set foot in the restaurant. The logo hangs above a small stage in a corner opposite the bar and diagonal from the small counter where you place your order. There you’ll find an array of delivery-app tablets and a front-and-back sheet menu that sports a surprising three dozen items spanning from egg rolls and melts to wings, burgers and salads, most of which are named after hip-hop artists.
In a nod to the variety that exists within the genre, Melt’s topping combinations are equally expansive. From the chicken-and-waffle Roscoe Roll to the cheesesteak style Philly Jawns. If I had to describe the Bossalinie any other way than what’s on it, I’d say it’s an Italian sub topped with spaghetti bolognese. And the Juvenile homage 400 Degreez sits just above a straightforward Caprese Classic melt. Looking at the menu, it seemed like the owners were aiming to do what Tom & Chee — which closed its last Louisville location five years ago — never seemed willing to: go further out, get more creative.
Luckily, we beat the lunch rush because deciding took considerable effort. I ended up with the M.I.-Y.A.Y.O. roll (feat. garlic shrimp and spinach) and the LaBelle melt with caramelized onions, melt sauce and ground beef (no patty). Add to that my brother’s lemon pepper buffalo wings and two canned sodas and my total, with tip, was a few cents north of $40.
Taking our seats at the bar, we occupied ourselves recalling the first time we’d heard the albums under the laminate mosaic. In January, co-owners Reinaldo Murphy and Jamel Smith told Michael L. Jones of Louisville Business First that they think of Melt 502 as a “hip hop Hard Rock Cafe.” I started to wonder if the final iteration of Melt might feature murals in place of the showcased memorabilia. Maybe some gold record plaques to line the wall over the liquor selection.
The thought was interrupted when our food came out. All considerations of music went out the window when I saw that my egg roll was almost the size of my Coke can. A few bites in revealed why: they used extra-large shrimp. The flavor profile reminded me of an extra saucy shrimp Alfredo. Despite its size, it went too quickly.
My brother was kind enough to admit he was in over his head with the ten-piece wings. They were served uncut and had a strong nose of the Frank’s Red Hot in the buffalo sauce. But the acidic tang of the lemon pepper added depth to the sauce.
Finally, the godmother, the LaBelle. The ground beef that made up the bulk of the filling was seasoned and provided little resistance to the bite; it almost seemed to melt. But its tenderness didn’t mean weakness. It held together after a bite rather than its ingredients tumbling out onto the bar. Accentuated by sweet caramelized onions — not simply grilled, as some might expect — the melt would’ve been worthy of an encore. As I sat back in my seat, I wondered how often customers came in prepared to have dessert.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, we tend to sort creativity into two categories. On one hand, there’s the more-accessible, indulgent type of creativity. The kind that says pile it high; stick six skewers in a Bloody Mary; put spaghetti on an Italian and griddle it. The other kind, which gets lauded for being “refi ned,” fixates more on pairings and fidelity of ingredients above all else.
Melt 502, however, doesn’t fi t in that dichotomy. They’ve assembled a menu that, line after line, says, “We’ve got something damn good that you’ve never seen.” If we extend the hip-hop theme to their current status, they’re still in their underground phase. But I’d recommend getting there soon so you can tell your friends you saw them before they blew up.
6318 Bardstown Road
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