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When is a patty melt not a patty melt? (moved from CA)

Last weekend we went to one of our popular local independently owned San Diego East County restaurants. I ordered a patty melt, I have not had one in a long time and I was looking forward to having one.
To the best of my knowledge and my many, I mean many, years of experience eating patty melts, I've always gotten, and have come to expect a ground beef patty, of varying degrees of quality and fat content, topped with a slice of Swiss cheese and grilled onion. It is then placed between two slices of rye bread, again of varying degrees of quality, and grilled until a toasty brown and adequately greasy.
You can imagine my disappointment when anticipating a nice hot, greasy, cheesy, onion-y patty melt I was served a ground beef patty between two slices of Kraft American cheese slices, yes, the kind that you can buy individually wrapped, (you know, the stuff you buy to wrap the dog's pills in to get him to take them) on marbled un-toasted bread, that's it.
I wish now I would have gotten a picture of it but I sent it back because I knew the waitress picked up the wrong order. I was informed that, that is a patty melt.
A substandard cheeseburger does not a patty melt make.
This is only part of the story.

So, what do you expect when you order a patty melt?


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  1. Being a great fan of the Patty Melt, I would expect just as you described as in the first part of your post. I would have been VERY dissapointed had I received what you did. The bread needs to be of the correct texture and thicjness as well as grilled with butter. Attached is a pic of the best patty melt I have had, good jucy meat (not cooked well done) swiss cheese (I know it looks yellow but it really was swiss) and grilled onions. The place is Max's diner in the Bay Area. That all I ever order there!

    2 Replies
    1. re: MofCarson

      thanks a lot mofcarson, after seeing that pic, now i have to go find an amazing patty melt to eat here at quarter of eight in the morning!

      1. re: MofCarson

        I have fond memories of the Max's Patty Melt as well. The thousand island dressing and the extra seedy bread puts it over the top.

      2. For me, it's the buttery toasted rye bread that makes the patty melt. I'd have felt gypped, too, if I were served what you were.

        1. OK, now I don't feel so bad about the last patty melt I ordered. It had all the elements: hamburger patty, grilled onions, swiss, rye...it was toasted, but not what I'd call grilled (not enough butter to do the job) , but the thing that boggled my mind was that it needed salt. What kind of diner doesn't salt their burgers? Calories like that shouldn't count. But in answer to your question, the minimum expectation is: hamburger, grilled onions, swiss, on grilled rye bread.

          1. A proper patty melt requires a person to reach for the napkin after each time you touch the sandwich.

            1. I've always known a patty melt to include a patty of ground beef, swiss cheese, grilled onions, and thousand island / russian dressing on toasted (buttered and grilled) rye bread. I notice nobody else has mentioned the dressing yet. Is this unusual?

              4 Replies
              1. re: antrobin

                I have had thousand island on a sandwich SIMILAR to a patty melt before, but I don't know that I would call that a patty melt. It was more like a misbegotten reuben. Toasted, buttered rye, caramelized onions and a cheeseburger is the definitive patty melt.

                1. re: JungMann

                  I think every patty melt I've ever had was dressed with a bit of yellow mustard.

                  1. re: coney with everything

                    I've never had a patty melt with any condiment on it.

                2. re: antrobin

                  No, the dressing bit is not unusual. Mr. HR and I usually throw together a makeshift dressing when we make them at home. Haven't had one in a restaurant since I was a kid so I can't remember.

                  BTW talk of patty melts, makes my mouth water... it's Pavlovian!

                3. I am a patty melt fan too and expect as you first described, a wonderful cheesy, greasy delight. I was traveling in rural Wisconsin some years ago and got pretty much as what you received but the onions were raw. At least the burger was cooked decently. FWIW, I don't think one staff person in the place was over 19 so I chalked it up to their lack of experience.

                  1. This is just another example of the unfortunate trend nowadays to co-opt classic dish names to new dishes that bear some vague resemblance to the original ingredients. When it is American diner food (like a patty melt) it is probably just sloppiness on the part of management (not training line cooks properly) but I see it everywhere. Several years ago I started seeing Cobb salads on every CA cuisine "nice" restaurant menu. Now, I grew up having the occasional treat at the Brown Derby in LA, and loved the drama of having a beautiful, fattening composed salad that included cubed chicken breast, avocado, tomato, bacon, and blue cheese carefully tossed tableside with vinaigrette. So, I eagerly ordered Cobb salad at a biz lunch, and was stunned when the wait person (young) ask me what dressing I wanted. I stared in disbelief, so she prodded me "Ranch, blue cheese, thousand island....". Sadly, I changed my order, but someone else ordered the salad, and it came, a big mess of cubed lunchmeat turkey, bacon, blue, etc. with torn salad greens and blue cheese dressing on the side. That is not a Cobb salad! There are so many examples of this kind of ignorance, not only in mid-priced restaurants, that you can hardly order based on name anymore, you have to quiz the staff about exactly how the dish will be prepared. And it is not only in restaurants, I see lots of examples in recipes, on the net, in newspapers and magazines, and even in cookbooks.

                    I am not saying we shouldn't be creative with food preparation, but if we use a classic name, we should attempt classic preparation/presentation. Why can't we be as creative with names as we are with recipes? So if we want to make a hamburger sandwich with american cheese served between toasted, not grilled, marble bread, go for it. But don't call it a patty melt! Or, following up on another thread, if we want to make avocado dip with mayonnaise, and it tastes good, call it avocado dip, not guacamole. End rant.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: dkenworthy

                      I can't remember having one, but I have seen them as you describe them, koko.

                      >>This is only part of the story.

                      But do go on!

                      1. re: dolores

                        Patty melt, greasy, gooey friend of my youth... I miss you. Most places that served them in Vancouver back in the day seemed to use real (not Velveeta) cheddar rather than Swiss but I love this definition of a PM, from a Feb 2008 post on eGullet (full text here http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?s...):

                        "The Platonic ideal of the patty melt starts with a slice of rye bread topped with a thin layer of Swiss cheese. On top of that goes a hot hamburger patty, sautéed onions, and another thin layer of cheese. Ending, of course, with another slice of bread. The bread is buttered and the sandwich goes on a heated griddle so that the bread gets golden brown and the cheese melts. Crunchy bread, melty cheese, onions and beef. Simple, pure, perfect."

                        1. re: grayelf

                          Yup. That's it. Fortunately (or perhaps, not so fortunately) the little Mexican/American hole in the wall around the corner from me makes an excellent one.

                    2. I don't mind the american cheese substitution, and don't care if its marbled rye or regular rye as long as there are no caraway seeds on the bread. Must have grilled onions and must be grilled after putting it together to melt the cheese and to put a little crunch on the bread.

                      1. I love patty melts too. Two different times (at two different placed) during the past year I have been served a "patty melt" that had lettuce and sliced tomato on it. no No NO.

                        No thousand, no fake cheese please.

                        1. At a minimum, two slices of grilled rye, with cheese, grilled onions and a burger patty in the middle. Basically a grilled cheese stuffed with a burger and grilled onions. That is the bare minimum I would accept. Not sure if any of the diners here specify swiss though... I haven't had a patty melt in a while... perhaps i'm due.

                          1. Gasp! I am still trying to get over the untoasted bread and american cheese. NOOOOO! Next you will add that the hamburger was cooked on a grill!

                            Some things are not to be messed with. Pattymelts are fried, greasy swiss cheesy fried onion (no coating, pan fried) wonders wrapped insturdy toasted (on the flat top with butter) rye.

                            That cook was on drugs.

                            1. Suggest you print out this entire exchange, send it to the restaurant, and urge them that if they're going to use the name of the classic dish, they should follow the follow the classic preparation. At the very least, they should let you know before you order that you won't get what you expect. It's like giving you ground beef when you ordered steak and then having them say, well this is what WE meant when we advertised steak. Is there no truth in advertising?

                              1. Ugh - sounds dreadful.

                                There's a local diner-ish place where we once went for dinner. I was thrilled to see that they had a patty melt on the menu and promptly ordered it - and when it came it was perfect but for one small (major!) thing - they'd added bar-b-que sauce to the sandwich! No note of that on the menu, just the way it's served at that establishment.

                                1. All this talk of patty melts has made me nostalgic for the Brown Jug restaurant on South University in Ann Arbor. It was on my way to and from campus and I would often stop in on my way home from the library for a late night patty melt (back when my system could tolerate a late night patty melt). What other fond patty melt memories to Hounds have?

                                  12 Replies
                                  1. re: kmcarr

                                    I'm currently conducting a single-tongued Patty Melt Survey in and around Los Angeles County, and I've found some brilliant ones plus a disappointment or two. The principal difference between all of these and the ones most of you think of as standard is that the yellow slices of cheese-like substance are universal - I've not found one with Swiss or any other kind, though I *AM* still looking. The other difference is one of my own preference: I don't care for grilled rye bread, but adore grilled sourdough, so I specify that.

                                    There is a place in Nashville, TN, called the Pancake Pantry, whose tremendous popularity (long lines on the sidewalk every morning, that sort of thing) I've never understood. They do have one thing I love, though, a sort of patty-melt they call The Dipper. The cheese is sandwiched inside the burger patty, which is molded to fit the contours of the rye bread (no options here). This is served cut into five fingers, with a dish of a sour cream and horseradish sauce. I could stand to eat one of those about as often as I could get it...

                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                      Will, I'm pretty certain that the default patty melt cheese at Twohey's is swiss - and I always have it on grilled sourdough, too (IIRC that's the default bread at Twohey's, too).

                                      It was the patty melt at Shaker's on south Fair Oaks that had BBQ sauce. Ugh.

                                      1. re: ElsieDee

                                        Ooohh, I've never had one at Twohey's. I'll have to add them to my gotta-try list. Dang, at this rate, since I'm rationing myself to two a month maximum, I have about a three-month backlog...

                                        I'm trying to place a Shaker's on SFO...are you sure you aren't thinking of the long-gone one on Arroyo? I know that the Central Park Grill on SFO is owned by the Shaker's people, but that's where Soda Jerks used to be.

                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                          A three-month backlog of patty melts? Here, let me play the violin for you, and cry my crocodile tears :)

                                          I *think* it's Shakers - on south Fair Oaks, in So.Pas. - just barely south of the 110, directly across from Bristol Farms on the west side of the street. (Incidentally, the place where I had my oddest "I don't know what I'm supposed to do here" restaurant experience. Someday I'll share that, though not right now.)

                                          1. re: ElsieDee

                                            Okay - I know there's a Wild Thyme around there, could that be it? Anyway, one of those old-folks-magnet Early Bird Special joints. Yeah, I could well imagine their Corporate Recipe masterminds deciding they really needed to screw up yet another classic.

                                            Hey, don't cry for me, Argentina. I just wish I could get away with a patty melt twice a week! But that happy state is at least thirty pounds away...

                                            1. re: Will Owen

                                              Nope *grinning* - Wild Thyme is on SFO at Hope, Shaker's is literally just south of the 110 - here's a link to their map: http://www.shakersrestaurants.net/map...

                                              So I just looked at their menu and this is the description of their patty melt: A Ground Beef Patty, Cheddar Cheese, Sautéed Onions & a Special Sauce. Served on Grilled Corn Rye. 8.60

                                              Should'a caught that "special sauce" notation before ordering. (Had completely forgotten the cheddar cheese, having been horrified by the BBQ sauce.)

                                      2. re: Will Owen

                                        Will you give a report of your findings?
                                        Shakers is on Fair Oaks directly across the street from Bristol Farms.
                                        I haven't been to Twoheys in years ~~ have lived in both South Pas and Alhambra.

                                        1. re: laliz

                                          Ohhh, ALL right then...Twohey's it is. Jeeze, the things I do for you people ;-)

                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                            So long as you're going to be there, mind checking out the curried clam chowder on my behalf?(I keep meaning to order it, but then get distracted.) And don't forget about the onion rings ... and the freshly fried potato chips ... and have the bittersweet chocolate sundae for dessert (try it with coffee ice cream!).


                                            Heck, maybe I'll be there tomorrow night myself.

                                            1. re: ElsieDee

                                              I always get the hot fudge sundae with chocolate ice cream, but coffee ice cream sounds killer! Actually, I haven't been to Twohey's in quite some time; it has mostly been our Eatin' Posse's default destination for dessert after too much Chinese or Vietnamese down the road, and we haven't had any of those gatherings lately. I miss them dreadfully...

                                            2. re: Will Owen

                                              ooooooh. Thanks everso.


                                        2. re: kmcarr

                                          Same memories as yours, kmcarr. Same place. UGLi closed at 2 a.m. and Brown Jug closed at 3 a.m.

                                          I may have to stop in when we drive back for Thanksgiving, instead of Blimpie Burgers...

                                          Unfortunatley this OP had the horrid patty melt somewhere in San Diego, near me...