Phantom Diner

The Melting Pot – Phantom Diner, Central PA Magazine, May 2009

Written by The Phantom Diner | May 6, 2009 4:00 AM

>Because it’s long been my practice to be honest with you, let me say I arrived at The Melting Pot honestly prepared not to like it, expecting to be using barbs for this review about the ’70s and how silly fondue was and is, and how if I wanted to cook my own dinner I’d stay home and do so.

I also was prepared to carp about the prices, which strike me as steep, and ask why anyone would shell out $70–90 a couple for a platter of raw food you cook yourself while sitting in a booth in a chain restaurant in a strip mall.

And that’s just for the raw food. It’s more if you get a cocktail, a beer or a glass or so of wine from an extensive and impressive wine list.

Also, my second impression of the place came after our server ignored us, forgot what drinks we ordered and basically left us as we leafed through copies of the large and demanding (way-too-much-work-for-a-night-out) menu with its staggering array of fondue options.

I was not calmed by later explanations about how our table of four had to agree on certain ordering parameters because we had but one cook top and pot to be shared.

Then a cardinal dining rule of mine kicked in: Give yourself over to the difference.
The rule applies when traveling or experiencing a new restaurant and basically means rather than flail against the unknown, just relax and go with the flow.

It was in this case the right decision.

Our server carefully and fully explained menu options and the “1-2-3-4” of ordering in which you choose cheese, salad, entree, “cooking style” and chocolate dessert. We were told the table has to pick the same cheese, “cooking style” and chocolate, again because of that one cook top and pot thing.

“Cooking style” means the type of flavors you want in the pot of hot oil or broth to cook your entrée. There are four, ranging from a Caribbean-seasoned bouillon to a red wine, mushrooms and garlic base (which our table chose).

And if you don’t want to navigate all options available, there’s an easy way to order here, something called the “Big Night Out.” This we did. I recommend it.

There are three levels: the “fondue feast” featuring filet mignon, cedar plank salmon, shrimp, chicken and spinach ravioli; the “fondue fusion,” which adds lobster tail to the “feast”; and the “lobster indulgence,” which adds twin lobster tails. We went with the “feast,” which was least pricey at $69 per couple.

You start with cheese and have a choice of several, including Boston lager cheddar fondue and a traditional Swiss cheese fondue with Gruyère. We got the latter. It’s served with a variety of bread cubes, chopped apple and chopped veggies and is, to be honest, delicious.

Then comes salad; again there’s a choice including Caesar, spinach and California salad (the Caesar was dry and tasteless). And then the platter of raw food comes out, along with a utensil identified as a “search and rescue” device for when (not if) a piece of your dinner falls off your fondue fork into the simmering pot and you have to fight the other seven or so forks already in there (each diner gets two) to try to retrieve it.

The cooking oil is hot, so it cooks most things in just a minute or two, and I was honestly surprised how smoothly the meal goes so long as you keep two forks cooking and keep an eye on your time (maybe The Pot should provide each diner a small hourglass timer).

Our chocolate fondue was far tastier than I expected — just delicious chocolate served with a platter of banana slices, strawberries, marshmallows, cheesecake and what seemed like little rice crispy treats.

The quality of the “feast” food was excellent, especially the beef and salmon, and the whole meal with the cheese course and the yummy dessert is certainly enough food for anyone.

And, again, there are lots of options, such as individual entrees (shrimp and sirloin, $18; Cajun shrimp, filet, chicken and sausage, $18) and entrees for two (teriyaki sirloin, shrimp, chicken and duck, $52; filet, shrimp, chicken and fish, $52) as well as multiple choices of chocolate desserts which come à la carte in either small ($13) or regular ($26) sizes.

The Pot is a national chain. The outlet I visited is on Harrisburg’s Paxton Street just across from the East Mall. The décor is dark, sleek and modern. There’s a small bar, visible and large wine racks, simple wall art and lots of dark booths.

Dining there is an experience, one that offers more fun and better food than I expected. Just plan on a long evening; we were there three hours.

Now, honestly, The Pot isn’t for everyone. If you like a quiet night out, service that attends rather than instructs you and familiar foods prepared to your liking, I’m not sure fondue is for you.

But, if you’re up for a new (or, depending on your age, old) experience, do what The Pot’s ad slogan suggests and “dip into something different.”

The Melting Pot
3350 Paxton St. (in the Scottsdale Plaza Shopping Center), Harrisburg; all fondue all the time; open seven days a week for dinner; on-site parking; full bar with extensive wine list; takes major cards; advance reservations highly recommended.

Published in Phantom Diner

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