We have always loved Eva’s birthdate, December 1. It kicks off the most magical time of the year and the world seems ready to be festive after the gray days of November. It also has made planning her birthday celebrations a breeze, as there is no end to the holiday events that can be borrowed under the guise of a birthday event. In years past we have used sleigh rides, Santa parades, the Nutcracker, and even Scrooge to celebrate Eva’s big day and she was always happy. But this year she was turning 18 and something (or someone) had changed. As we began to discuss possible options to celebrate her birthday, we could see nothing was really getting her too jazzed.
Part of my mood had to do with my boyfriend being away at college, and I think part of it was I just was ready to separate my birthday from the holiday stuff. I’ve loved all my birthdays, but this year I just wanted something unique.
I was kind of leaving it up to her at this point to decide how she wanted to celebrate. Which was a good call, because she said out of the blue one day, “Hey Mom, have you ever heard of The Melting Pot?”. My head shot up. “You mean the fondue restaurant?!” Well! Eva had found something to “light her fire”.
We made the reservation and the Gertz Girlz, plus Eva’s dad Stu Gertz were looking forward to a grown up birthday adventure!
As we drove to the restaurant, I reminded Stu that the home fondue concept was a huge trend in the early 70’s. Just about every middle-class home had a fondue pot (usually an avocado green or burnt orange color) with six forks whose handles were a variety of colors. I remember that being a big deal as a kid – choosing your fork color!
Cheese fondue has its origins in Switzerland where it was, and still may be, a popular midnight snack at parties. The ingredients don’t vary much: Swiss cheese, garlic to rub the pot with, a dry light white wine such as Neufchatel, and a fresh grating of nutmeg. Combine all over a low heat flame and the result is a delicious pot of melted cheese. This was all done at our table by the friendly waitress at The Melting Pot.
Every time I try to conjure this restaurant’s name, my mind switches it to The Magic Pan. Sure, they have the same initials, and the same ‘one syllable-two syllable-one syllable combo’ but I think it’s something else: both restaurants offer experiential dining. Or I should say one offers experiential dining; the other is defunct.
Back in the 80s, The Magic Pan was in the Burlington Mall in Burlington, MA where I grew up. It’s claim to fame: crepes. Dinner crepes like the famous Crepes Suzette, dessert crepes, and I believe, soups and salads, because man cannot live by crepes alone—they’re a bit scant. I visited on at least one occasion that I can recall, and didn’t feel particularly full at the end of the experience; just vaguely disappointed. I don’t like feeling full anyway, so it could have been the circumstances, which involved an ex-boyfriend and his mother, but I won’t go there.
Vaguely disappointed and a dubious dining companion cannot be said for The Melting Pot experience. Of course it was the very special occasion of Eva’s 18th birthday, so that alone made it a slam dunk. And I have fond memories of fondue dinners around our family table in the 1970s, when I was a teen. But as experiential dining goes, this one was pretty good, if not too easy on the wallet (thank you Stuey for generously treating us). Particularly if you order–as we did–the Four Course Experience.
The Melting Pot restaurant is pretty unique in terms of its layout. For one thing, it is enormous, with several rooms set up for perhaps larger parties and containing several tables. But the four of us were led through the back section, which can only be described as a warren of alleys containing what seemed like endless private booths, each one with its own built-in electric stovetop and fondue pot. The aesthetic is very pleasant, clean and warm. And always important to me, the noise level was comfortable, with Al Green type music playing in the background.
The fondue experience is a bit more complicated than traditional dining. To quote one of my ancient old cookbooks from the 1950’s, “It has to be the right kind of a party–the guests have to be good eggs.”
Let me add to that, they also need to not be germaphobic or famished, and they should have some dexterity with a long-pitched fork! There is patience required as everyone begins to dunk their food into the same communal pot, twirling to coat their precious cargo with cheese or chocolate. Sometimes you lose your passenger. Sometimes two of you lose a passenger and then you are in a pickle, trying to find the one that belongs to you. The waitress, thankfully, left us with a large slotted spoon which she described as a “Search and Rescue”. That comes in handy!
I adored the cheese course! Unless you loathe cheese, there’s no way you can’t fall in love with this silky, creamy, gooey concoction. If I were to visit again, I would a la carte this fondue, pair it with a salad to assuage my guilt, and leave a very happy – and way full, but I would deal with it – woman.
I ordered The Classic, a surf and turf combo. More turf than surf, it came with three shrimp and Certified Angus Beef® Sirloin, Memphis-Style Dry Rub Pork, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin and Herb-Crusted Chicken Breast. All the meats were wonderfully seasoned and tender. However, this dining experience comes with a democratic vote. One of four choices for the cheese and dessert courses, and you can choose only one of four cooking methods for the entrée course. I would’ve preferred oil, but a broth base won out. I have to admit, I didn’t love it. Meat boiled in vegetable broth? Not for me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I did. But I went back to my teen experiences of steak tips in hot oil and so the broth came up wanting. That’s okay. I have a fondue pot, so I can always have it my way. Of course, I never use it 😉
The experience was enjoyable, but I’m a big guy who would rather tackle a filet mignon with a fork and knife than go fishing for the bites of food we had. But, Moe, Larry, the cheese…fondue! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=us7SZKdPDIM
Luckily there were lots of leftovers from the Girlz’ plates…they used to call my dad “the Seagull” in college because he would swoop in for everyone’s leftovers! My favorite part of the four-course meal was the dessert…a pot of melted milk chocolate with all kinds of fruit, pound cake, marshmallows and brownies to dunk in. Fondue is fun! I’d love to come back with a group of friends someday!
Seagull, lol…yes, he shish kabobbed my remaining meat! Anyhow can you go wrong with melted chocolate and a selection of sweet dunking treats? Please…
Food aside, I can’t believe my little Sweetie Pie, my cute baby niece, is now a beautiful young woman. Snapshots of past memories fill me with so much happiness…and a bit of melancholy. As the saying goes, it went by too fast. But she is an amazing young woman who also fills me with pride for her sweet, kind and level-headed nature. A special and talented person, this Eva Marie Gertz! When she is sprung from high school next spring, it will be something special to watch what she does next.
Gertz Girlz Final Dish:
Ah yes…18 years old. Another milestone, and we will need to not be offended if Eva’s next birthday celebration is absent of older adults…it’s the nature of growing up, we suppose. After all, she will be away at college next December 1st. So perhaps it will be just Lisa and Dee at home, watching a Christmas movie and firing up our own little fondue pot. We will just have to smile, make a toast to Eva, and say “cheeze”.