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From a fon-don't to a fondue

Once again, I have had to re-learn the lesson of not making assumptions about things I don't really know anything about.

Back when I was a kid in the 1970s, my family bought a little electric gizmo called a fondue pot. As I remember, it was Harvest Gold, but it might've been plain old yellow. It was basically a glorified cheese melter that you put in the middle of the table, and then you took a long, skinny fork and dipped bread and things into the cheese. I don't remember liking it very much.

Now don't get me wrong - I liked it at first. Like any good American kid, I was all about dipping things into cheese and then eating them. But something about this particular experience just didn't do anything for me. I don't know if it was the type of cheese or what, but I remember a point coming where the idea of fondue for dinner didn't sound like a good one.

So when Editor Todd Cline passed along an invitation to a media shindig at The Melting Pot in Duluth, I thought, "Great, I thought I'd escaped fondue for dinner. How can I go about turning this down?"

But then Todd, who likes good food as much as me, said the magic words: "It's really good." He then went on to lament how he was going to be out of town and couldn't go. (Serves him right, since that same trip got him out of the managers' meeting, but don't tell Todd I said that.)

Curious by then, I went and checked out the menu online. I quickly learned that this was not going to be the same thing that came out of the yellow pot on Lamar Street in Decatur 30 years ago, or at least it looked that way. So my wife and I went.

What I thought was going to be a lot of journalists and their spouses sitting around dipping bland bread into a pot of cheese turned out to be a much richer experience. And not just because of the food, which was amazing.

This is a gourmet deal, to be sure. We started with appetizers and cocktails, then moved into the cheese course, at which point I thought, "Here it comes. This is where it turns into the fondue I remember." But it wasn't like that at all. All sorts of different things went into the pots - spices, oils and cheeses - and they were all good.

After cheese came the best salad I've ever eaten and then the main course. Lobster, steak, shrimp, chicken, duck - you name it, they had it, and into the pot it went. Vegetables, mushrooms, ravioli and at least a half dozen sauces, which I found worked best if you mixed them all together, helped complete it.

After that came dessert, which brought another round of plates loaded with a variety of sweet things to dip into a variety of chocolate sauces. Needless to say, you don't leave there hungry.

One thing that was the same as I remember is the communal experience. You can't help but talk to the stranger next to you when you're cooking in the same pot. Lucky for me, one of the people at my table was Elliott Brack, a newspaper man from way back who's friends with my favorite journalism professor from UGA, so the conversation came fairly easy.

With apologies to my mother, I'd have to say the folks in Duluth made me a fan of fondue again. But there are two other things you should know about the experience: 1) Make sure the waiter is finished with the sauce before you go dipping (cold cheese and warm beer is pretty gross). And 2) make sure you let the stuff cool off before you pop it in your mouth, unless you like searing pain and people laughing at you.

Not that I did either one of those, of course.

OK, maybe I did.

But don't tell Todd.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.