photo credit: Peter Marquez
Mel’s is run by the team behind Al Coro, which is right next door in Chelsea. The food at Al Coro is undeniably good, which isn’t much of a surprise since some of the staff there spent many years working at Del Posto. What is a surprise is that this same team is turning out very mediocre pizzas and wood-fired dishes at Mel’s. If we thought of all the places we’d rather go to for pizza, it would be a long list.
Every item on the menu is prepared over open fire, and aside from pizzas, there's a selection of vegetable and seafood small plates. The giant clam appetizer, which is like your favorite Thanksgiving stuffing filled with tender chunks of clam and shrimp, will give you high hopes for the rest of your meal. Once the (allegedly) roasted asparagus arrives wilted and mushy, you won’t be so sure anymore.
But Mel’s is billed as a pizza place, so it’s only fair to judge them mostly by their pies—which aren’t great. The crust is thin, a bit stale, and too charred in some areas, and the edges lack almost any chewiness, which is surprising since they’re visually quite puffy. We do like the garlicky eggplant parm pizza, and the frutti di mare version is at least interesting—like a seafood campechana in pizza form. But the mushroom pie is bland, and we wish the soppressata picante had a bit more cheese and spent a little less time in the oven. You can also get up to six different dipping sauces (salsa verde and pomodoro, for example), which might fly at Little Caesars, but seems out of place here.
The food isn’t stellar, but is the room cool? (You may be asking yourself.) Not so much. It would be fair to call the decor minimalist or simple, but “unfinished” is the word that first comes to mind. The back dining room looks like it’s from a Restaurant Wars episode of Top Chef, and the bright, square ceiling lights seem like they belong next to a crew doing highway construction at night. The disco ball pizza oven is fun though.
If you live or work nearby, Mel’s will do if you want melted cheese on bread in a sit-down environment where you can get a cocktail and a good bottle of wine. It’s not that the pizzas here are inedible. It’s just that given the pedigree of the team behind this place, we expect a lot more.
This appetizer is one giant shell stuffed with seasoned bread crumbs, clam, and shrimp. You expect it to be soggy, but it’s not. It’s one of the best items here.
Be sure to save room for dessert because the gelato sundaes are very good. Our favorite is the tricolore stracciatella with fudge sauce—mostly because of the thin slices of cake-like Italian rainbow cookies on top.
The asparagus seems like it’s steamed. It’s supposed to be roasted. Skip this dish.
Eggplant Parm Pizza
Out of the pizzas we tried, we like this one the best. In addition to eggplant, it’s topped with chunks of tomato, roasted garlic, provolone, and breadcrumbs.
Topped with mushrooms, aged balsamic, and more shallots than we prefer, this pie leaves us wanting something salty and/or fatty added to it.
Frutti De Mare Pizza
This pizza is basically a tomato pie, like one you’d find in New Haven, topped with octopus, squid, and shrimp. It’s a good option if you’re in the mood for something a little different.
A “whole” branzino really means a whole branzino (tail, head, and all)—and it’s legitimately large. Under the aggressively-salted skin, the fish is cooked well and pleasantly moist and oily. It’s on the boring side, but if you like simple, straightforward preparations, you’ll enjoy this dish.