Everyone hates a cold, soggy grilled cheese, and the way the cheese congeals into a lukewarm brick and the bread sags under the weight of the oil.
Leave it to a venture-capital-backed grilled-cheese chain to solve this ungodly problem.
Fast-casual eatery The Melt, whose headquarters are in San Francisco, dedicates itself to savory and tech-savvy grilled-cheese sandwiches starting at $US5 a pop. It recently relaunched its patented Smart Box, a catering-delivery system designed by former NASA engineers that regulates humidity, heat, and air circulation, ensuring that the sandwiches arrive at your office or home in warm, ooey-gooey condition.
Business Insider’s West Coast team recently ordered some of The Melt’s new catering menu items to see the Smart Box in action.
Thommy Thompson, head of catering at The Melt, rolled the Smart Box into our office. At chest level, the wheeled contraption was surprisingly light.
Before the Smart Box leaves a Melt location for delivery, it’s plugged into a power source so that the hot plate can heat a mass of aluminium inside. En route, the aluminium acts as a “heat battery,” storing the heat and continuing to warm up the chamber after it’s unplugged.
An exhaust fan at the back of the box regulates the humidity level, and a center fan blows a continuous stream of air on the aluminium, creating a convection flow that evenly distributes heat and humidity.
As the chamber heats up, the humidity levels must be adjusted accordingly, because hotter air holds more moisture. A microcontroller monitors and regulates the box’s internal environment using a proprietary algorithm.
The engineers also designed the trays the food comes in. Each sandwich sits in a pocket so that it doesn’t get squished in transit. Holes in the bottom let out moisture, preventing the bread from getting soggy.
All this science means the grilled cheese tastes fresh from the frying pan every time.
I ate the Fontina sandwich, named for its spread of fontina cheese melted over truffles and spinach, about a half-hour after the delivery person arrived. The sandwich lost its warmth by then — it had been a half-hour, after all — but the white bread maintained its crispness.
The Buffalo Chicken Melt, on the other hand, retained heat thanks to its parchment-paper packaging. The item is a new addition to The Melt’s menu, which now includes burgers, chicken melts, fries, and mac and cheese.
Naturally, we tried everything on the new catering menu, from the Double Bacon BBQ Chicken Melt topped with aged cheddar and grilled onions to the Trio mac and cheese made with cheddar, fontina, and jack.
A public-relations manager for The Melt tells us other restaurant chains are looking to get their hands on the Smart Box too. After tasting its grilled cheeses, we understand why.