When people ask me for advice—which is frighteningly often given my tenuous grasp of what it means to be a grownup—I, much like Marco Rubio, tend to repeat myself, especially with this one nugget I consider particularly sage:
If at all possible, fall in love with a woman from Marion, Ohio.
I have the pleasure of knowing several, one rather acutely, and I can attest to their humor, grace, intelligence, and tenacity in the face of life’s obstacles. These are traits that we all hope to find in a partner, and I’m sure they can be found in populations other than this particular cache in Northwestern Central Ohio. So why the special distinction for the women of Marion? Because, on the way to visit her parents, you will pass through the town of Waldo, and in Waldo you will find a restaurant, The G&R Tavern, and in that restaurant you will find what can reasonably be called Central Ohio’s best sandwich. The Famous Bologna.
The G&R sits on a corner, up the block from the gas station, in a nondescript building. By way of an introduction, plastered to the building’s clapboard exterior, in big block letters a sign reads:
“G&R WALDO: HOME OF THE FAMOUS BOLOGNA SANDWICH”
And below that, in a simultaneous mockery of post-modernism and the Uncanny Valley, is a picture of their sandwich masterpiece. Not an illustration or a rendering, but a photograph, overlaid on a burger-shaped board; its drop shadow dispelling your paltry notions of “trying something else this time.”
“No way, friend,” calls the sandwich, siren-like in its beckoning, “You and I both know you’re here for me.”
One enters The G&R through a set of double doors, set on the bias and separated by a narrow foyer. Take note of the smiling family as they exit, for this is your future.
On the left is an old bar, complete with a TV and a row of regulars sipping cold domestic beer. Bounding the top of bar-space is quite literally a sandwich board—a backlit sign with those little white insert-able letters, spelling out the pub’s fare. The decor boasts an extensive collection of what future archeologists will recognize as “stunning examples of late 20th century bar swag,” including a glowing Spuds McKenzie portraiture as well as a chandelier housing a working team of Clydesdale horses! Spectacular! The seating area, to the right, as well as a charming nook in the back, are decorated with a mélange of sports trophies, the retired jerseys of local softball legends, and the various other trappings and tshotshkes that let you know you are in an establishment with a history and a real sense of place.
When ordering, try not to act surprised when the server brings you a can of pop. And yes, if there exists a place in this world where we can dispense with the dialectical debate of soda vs. pop, it is here, at The G&R. What you are receiving is most certainly a pop. For side dishes, I suggest an order of their french fries—the perfect complement to your sweetened beverage. For main courses, it’s not so much a question of what you will order, but a question of how.
I prefer my sandwich the way god intended: bologna, pepper jack cheese, pickles, and onions. My girlfriend enjoys hers with American cheese while her mother likes the addition of yellow mustard. I suggest starting with the classic and exploring your options on a return visit.
When your sandwich arrives, served on a paper plate, you will realize that, on rare occasions, there does exist truth in advertising. This is made apparent as a to-scale version of the sandwich from the sign outside now sits in front of you. A white bread bun plays host to a thick-cut slab of Waldo bologna, fried to perfection by well-practiced cooks. From its porky foundation, panning upwards, you see a membrane of melted white cheese, its four corners just edging over the rimmed mantel of the meat. Above that is a layer comprised of chunky-cut sweet pickles, their electric green standing in sharp relief to the stark white of the raw onion rings above.
The taste is a balancing act between the sweet of the pickles, working as a joyous counter punch to the savory friend bologna, and sharp, aromatic onions. My favorite part of the meal is the casing that encapsulates each puck-shaped cut. It has that much sought after ‘snap,’ that taut and toothy texture beloved by Bologna-Heads and Hot Dog Aficionados the world over.
For a happy life, first fall in love. Then drive to Waldo and go to The G&R, not just because the sandwich is delicious—it is. But because the experience, taken as a whole, encapsulates one of the best parts about food in the Midwest. The G&R and her famous bologna are simply delicious ingredients served without pretense or pretension in a place with a deep and abiding connection to a community. I’d say that’s worth the drive.
103 N Marion St., Waldo