The history of the burger is fuzzy at best. There are myriad claims to the invention of the hand-held concoction. One thing we do know: It was a simple meal for regular, hard-working people. Peasant food that warmed the belly and fortified the constitution. Once industrialization became widespread, and humans were relegated to timed lunch breaks to fill their gullets and get back on the production line, lunch counters began producing the meat and bread pairing to hand out to the masses when the whistle blew at noon.
But something changed with the lowly burger in recent years. Chefs and cooking shows began to “elevate” the burger to new heights, literally and figuratively. The ingredient list began to grow, as did its size. Soon, so precariously stacked were the avocado, bacon, pepper andouille, and egg plus 15-pieces-of-locally-made-artisan-cheese skyscrapers, served with endangered-Himalayan-salt-truffled-turnip-and-yam fries with caviar aioli dip, that they had to be served with a steak knife stabbed through the middle. Not just for effect, but to keep the greasy monster from sliding apart like a deck of colorful, fatty cards across your plate. All this and the beasts couldn’t possibly be finished in one sitting, didn’t reheat well, and could easily run you upwards of 20 dollars.
My ancestors didn’t punch a timeclock for this pretentious mess.
But now, the patty pendulum is swinging back the other way.
There is a resurgence happening of the everyman’s lunch counter favorite, a return to the basic burger. A great meat patty—grilled on a flat top like god intended, maybe some LTO and cheese, and a simple bun. Small enough to hold in your hand. Order two, and snag a working man’s beer while you’re at it. We recommend a PBR, or a Hilltop Lager.
Below, we have gathered the list of reader and staff favorites of solid burgers that won’t break your bank, and will leave you smiling from your greasy face, all the way down to your hard-earned belly.
Workers of the world rejoice!
Preston’s • 765-C N. High St., 668 Grandview Ave.
Tucked away in Eugene’s Canteen in The Short North, and at Woodland’s Backyard, Preston’s is a little burger joint that just wants to make you feel good. Entirely free of pretense, Preston’s is a place where you can get a smashburger or two to fill you up on your lunch break, as the infamous construction workers in the short north do at Eugene’s every day. Matthew Heaggans and Catie Randazzo have combined their powers, Captain Planet-style, to provide the good people of Columbus with all the smash burgers they can handle. Delicious beef, with a few simple classic toppings, and a solid bun are all you need to get you from the lunch whistle to the dinner bell. I can attest to the power of simplicity that lies in their burgers. Through the course of putting out this issue of Stock & Barrel, I had an opportunity to eat Preston’s burgers, and have been chasing that high ever since. Accept no substitute. – Jeni Ruisch
Club 185 • 185 E Livingston Ave.
Even if they’re not flipping spatulas or manning grills, you’ve to give Tina and Randy Corbin credit for their contribution to Columbus burger culture. When we asked our readers to mention their go-to burgers under $10, the list was spotted with joints that the Corbins once owned (Press Grill) and new ones they’ve built out wholesale (The Rossi, Philco, Little Palace). But, when it’s time to build the burger Mount Rushmore in Columbus (I support such an endeavor, yes) you can’t make that mountain without Club 185’s Daily Double. Don’t let the size, or lack of accoutrements shy you away; it’s a near-perfect stack of patties cheese on a golden bun, like a 3x more expensive version of a Mickey D’s double—only 300x times tastier. Happy hour, lunch, late-night—the Daily Double is the bar crowd’s best bet. Luckily, you can get something like it at all the aforementioned Corbin-owned spots. So thanks, Tina and Randy, for boosting our culture and our cholesterol. — Travis Hoewischer
Cravings Café • 114 N Front St.
Cravings Café beckons burger lovers from all over Columbus. Run by Matthew and Lindsey Tewanger, Cravings’ Downtown Smashburger ($8.50) takes homestyle taste to soaring heights. The house made brioche bun is what you notice first. Made fresh daily, buttered and toasted, it is the bun that you didn’t know you were missing until you try it. The special sauce is also made in-house and is their take on Thousand Island dressing, distinguished by the use of dill pickles and caramelized onions. The beef for the 1/3 pound burger is provided by Butcher & Grocer which locally sources from farms right here in Ohio. Everything on this burger belongs with none of the nonsense; the meat is perfectly seasoned and cooked with crispy edges, the bun has a soft and flaky interior and is complimented by pickles, American cheese and shaved onion. There is no room for droopy lettuce and out-of-season tomatoes. Matt and Lindsey put their love
of cooking into every last burger they make. There is a great chance that one of them will be making it for you when you order. You try this burger once and you’ll be hooked…easily one of the best (if not the best) in
the city. – Terrance Farmer
Culver’s • Multiple locations
My people hail from Wisconsin. So a Culver’s Butterburger is more than just a delicious and fresh (never frozen) meal, it’s a tradition. We would hop on my dad’s motorcycle and head to the original Culver’s habitat in southeastern Wisconsin to enjoy the fruits of America’s dairyland. Beef, butter and cheese. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the low-cost, yet high-quality diners had started popping up in central Ohio. Even the name of their menu star rolls off the tongue like a satiated purr. Butter burger. The menu has many sandwich options, but the good old single burger will be all I need to fuel a road trip should I feel the need to travel back up to the O.C. (Original Culver’s.) In the meantime, we’ve got plenty of options for Culver’s burgers, fries and shakes right here in the heart of it all. – Jeni Ruisch
Johnnie’s Tavern • 3503 Trabue Rd.
Started in 1948, this little old place—don’t judge a book by its cover—is loaded with character and a few great bites. Johnnie’s Tavern, 3503 Trabue Road, is notably “Home of the Super Burger and coldest beer in town.” They hand-make their burger patties and still serve beer in frozen mugs. For a mere $7.50, stack up your mouth-watering, half-pound burger on a grilled sesame seed bun with whatever fresh toppings you’d like. Or at least it’s supposed to be a half-pound burger. Depending on the chefs’ creative differences, you may end up with more. Burgers are a personal art in this place. Pair it with some old-school fried tater tots and you may have enough for two. Although, I find myself slamming the beefy deliciousness all by myself.
Just come early and pack your patience. The small kitchen is loaded with one grill and one fryer and the place has become more popular than space allows. You may need to wait a bit to grab a booth and get your fresh creation. You can always call ahead and see how things are rolling, (614) 488-0110. They’ll answer on their prehistoric red phone with the cord, not the cool ancient phone booth in the corner with all the old bookie numbers scratched into the wall. – Beth Berkemer
Beechwold Diner • 4408 Indianola Ave.
Working third shift like I do, you become very familiar with the many breakfast places around Columbus. Don’t get me wrong, breakfast is great! It’s just that after a long night of work one didn’t want to be relegated to only breakfast foods. This is where my love for the Beechwold burger comes in. I found this gem while attending—ironically enough—an after work breakfast with a friend. Not in the mood for breakfast, I asked the server if there was any possible way I could get a burger. That’s when she happily informed that the whole menu is always available.
In terms of taste it’s pretty straightforward. Nothing super fancy or off the wall. Thankfully, it’s always fresh, always tasty, always available whatever hours they are open. – Bethany Fenske
Ritzy’s • 4615 N High St.
Ritzy’s, the iconic bygone burger chain, whose growing pains lead to its near-extinction in the late ’80s, has reclaimed Columbus territory and resumed flipping patties just like the old days only this time, the second generation has been handed the spatula. It was important to the newcomers to freshen up the concept but they knew enough to not beef with what wasn’t broken. Just as you remember, Ritzy’s burgers are juicy, bursting with savory flavor, with just the right amount of crisp on the edges. The bread is baked in-house and the toppings—lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, cheese, bacon, chilli—are laid out for guests to see, crave, point at, and request to be on their patty. Be sure to surround your burger with a perfectly golden halo of shoestring fries that are, you guessed it, just like you remember. – Regina Fox
Village Coney • 418 E Whittier St.
About a year ago my daughter and I took on the self-imposed challenge of finding the best burger in Columbus. We had many a patty in the 614 and came to a solid conclusion that our go-to burger was the cheeseburger was at a hot dog shop—Village Coney in German Village.
What we enjoy about this flat-iron burger is how classic and straight-forward it is—great flavor, larger size and good price point. That with some fries for my daughter, onion rings for myself and a Coke makes for a great weekend lunch. – Pakito Martinez
German Village Coffee Shop • 193 Thurman Ave.
Here’s the thing: The Der, as it’s affectionately known to those of us old enough to remember the wooden “Der Kaffe Haus” sign that used to be affixed to its façade, is, thanks to decades of bacon grease flowing over its well-seasoned surface, home to the best griddle in central Ohio. Pretty much anything you put on it comes off insanely delicious.
So, if you are looking for a scrumptious hamburger, go a few doors down from the typical favorites and get yourself the one burger in Columbus that would make Ron Swanson weep.
Topped with crispy iceberg, a slice of tomato, a shingle of American cheese, and a bit of white onion (grilled if you’re feeling fancy), this caramelized hunk of ground beef is housed in a straightforward, untoasted white bun.
But when you take your first bite of this seemingly pedestrian burger, something magical happens. Every aspect of it fuses together into a harmonious handful of culinary perfection. No organic anything, aioli bullshit, or egg-washed brioche ridiculousness.
Just a perfect goddamned hamburger on a plate that will make you wonder how you ever lived without it. – Josh Hara
Hangover Easy • 1646 Neil Ave.
Hangover Easy is one of the few non-chain places left on or around campus where you can get a great meal. The menu definitely lives up to its name, easing rough mornings with standard breakfast fare and maybe a little hair-of-the-dog, but their burgers are really the standout feature of the menu to me. Do yourself a favor and get an OG Burger—onions, pickles, and cheese. Classic and simple, cooked how you want with a pile of tater tots. If you need all the extras though, you won’t go wrong with the HOE Burger with bacon, grilled onions, a sunny side egg, and all traditional toppings. – Tom Van Houten
O’Reilly’s Pub • 2822 N High St.
O’Reillys Pub in Clintonville is home to one of the more original and delicious burgers in Columbus. I grew up in a small rural town, so stuff like Asian fusion turkey burgers don’t interest me at all. Give me something simple, done better than anyone else around, and you’ve got my loyalty. The Pepper burger at this unassuming little diner, is exactly that, plus some pepper. A lot of pepper. Cooked any way you like it, this big beef patty is covered in black peppercorn, smothered in Provolone cheese and topped with bacon (and all the veggies you could want). The Pepper burger is legendary in Clintonville. Get yourself there, ASAP. – Levi Ely
Eden Burger • 1437 N High St.
First off, I love burgers but I don’t unfortunately get many opportunities to eat them. Secondly, I am decidedly not a vegetarian. Put those two things together and a veggie burger better be pretty damn good to get my attention! I have followed Eden Burger through many pop up events and now to their University District location and they have met the standard for TASTE and TEXTURE. These people are smart and savvy and they have a product that has substance, juice and flavor that I have never had in a veggie burger before. They are like the alchemists of old, turning lead into gold. In addition—for no extra money—I get such friendly, lighthearted and positive service from the staff that the experience not only does my body good but feeds my soul. I have a son-in-law who is a vegetarian and lives in Boulder, I will take him to Eden Burger with eagerness and pride. Boulder got nothing on CMH. – Peter Yockel
Street Thyme • 944 N Fourth St.
Surprisingly, not many of the seemingly 500 food trucks that line our streets or border outdoor festivals, focus on burgers. Odd when you consider the flat-top, hand-held staple fits perfectly on a mobile food menu. But, the ones that do really bring it. In fact, the only downside of eating an Irish Breakfast burger from Street Thyme, is that I am gonna have to eat it in public. It’s so decadent in its simplicity—fried egg, cheddar, rasher bacon, and pepper jelly—that I kinda wish I was alone, at home, able to really go at this burger with no one around to witness it. Is that weird? Probably. I don’t care. Hands-down one of the best burgers in the city.
I could eat one every day. – Travis Hoewischer