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Columbus Blue Collar Burger Trail: 13 old-fashioned joints

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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.

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.

But now, the patty pendulum is swinging back the other way.

Here are 13 of the best blue collar burgers Columbus has to offer

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.

Created by Matthew Heaggans and Catie Randazzo, 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.

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.  – Jeni Ruisch

Club 185 • 185 E Livingston Ave. 

Don’t let the size, or lack of accoutrements shy you away from Club 185’s Daily Double; 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 Corbin, for boosting our culture and our cholesterol. — Travis Hoewischer

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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.  – 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). – 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. 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. – 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

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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, chili—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.

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

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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.

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.

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

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Restaurant Review: El Lugar and Alpine bring Spanish, German tapas to German Village

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Displayed proudly along the wall behind El Lugar’s bar are rows and rows of canned seafood—not the ingredient of choice one might expect from an upscale tapas and pinchos restaurant, located in a city with a culinary scene that typically fawns over either traditional American, or fresh and local food. Nevertheless, the Espinaler cans of tuna, razor shells, and cockles reside there like a dare for those with adventurous enough appetites to try some of the finest seafood in the world. 

Photos by Julian Foglietti

El Lugar is a shared effort by co-owners Enis and A.J. Ndreu and Elidon Hizmo to bring new and authentic European flavors to Columbus. Their two new restaurants, El Lugar and Alpine, sit next door to one another and provide different, yet complementary experiences of Spanish and German cuisines. One side boasts a more family-friendly selection of meats, cheeses and hearty vegetables, while the other is fresh Mediterranean flavors of citrus and seafood. Both share an intriguing selection of signature cocktails. 

In contrast to El Lugar, Alpine features cuisine that showcases flavors from across Germany. Nicholas Paxton, the executive chef at both restaurants who was tasked with transforming the owners’ vision into menus, is neither German nor originally familiar with German food, so he brought in consultants more familiar with the region to help develop the recipes. “I love the authenticity that we provide here on the Alpine side,” Paxton said. “There’s a broad spectrum of what German food can be.”

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Alpine is continuing the tradition of authentic regional food that has helped characterize German Village, where it and El Lugar are located. The two restaurants replaced Juergen’s Bakery, a community staple that provided Columbus with Bavarian-style fare for 50 years. Co-owner A.J. Ndreu said they’d been looking for a spot in the area to open up another German restaurant (they also own Wurst und Bier in Worthington), so when the opportunity presented itself, they jumped.

“I used to buy all my pastries from Rosemarie [Keidel, Juergen’s Bakery’s owner],” A.J. Ndreu said. 

“We just connected and she’s like, ‘I’d love for you to take over and make a German restaurant out of it.’ ”

With that, he and his cousin launched into bringing to life their concepts for German and tapas restaurants, which they’d been developing for a decade.

One of the most instrumental sources of inspiration for A.J. has been traveling around Europe. He lived in France, where he fell in love with French food. But once he experienced all the different ways Spanish cuisine used seafood, beef and pork, he was convinced otherwise. “I thought French food was the best cuisine in the world until I started going to Spain.”

The simplicity of Spanish food is a challenge for Paxton, who says his tendency when developing a recipe is to mess with its components. Spanish cuisine, in contrast, consists of ingredients that can speak for themselves; all Paxton has to do, he says, is figure out how they work together and wait for inspiration to hit.

Back in 2008, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Catalonia for his show “No Reservations” to explore the same flavors that intrigued Ndreu and Paxton. At a little bar about half an hour outside of Barcelona, Bourdain tried Espinaler’s canned seafood, and asked, “How can any chef do better for you than that?” Ndreu was captivated.

“I was like, ‘What the hell is he talking about? It’s canned,’ ” Ndreu puzzled. “So […] I went, and I was amazed. It’s unbelievable. It’s some of the best seafood I ever ate.”

After that, A.J. spent years trying to find a way to bring Espinaler’s products to Ohio, and he finally uncovered an opportunity in El Lugar. But besides the seafood, El Lugar also features Vermut Lacuesta—not the vermouth used for lining a martini glass, but a wine-like drink to be enjoyed on its own or in a cocktail. It also offers the Spanish serrano and ibérico hams, which can be cured for years. The more expensive of the two, ibérico ham comes from black pigs fed an acorn diet and can take up to five years to reach peak flavor.

Next door, Alpine’s menu describes dishes like leberkäse (a meatloaf) and wurstteller (a selection of sausages). Diners can also order raclette, available by the scrape, over any meal. But not forgetting that it’s still in the United States, Alpine offers a handful of American classics during happy hour. These include mini cheeseburger sliders, tater tots with beer cheese dip, and fried chicken wings, among others. 

Alpine and El Lugar present their guests with foreign foods that encourage diners to explore the culinary diversity of Europe. Portion sizes, particularly at El Lugar, may be a bit smaller, but Paxton hopes Columbus diners will recognize the value in great, unique-tasting food and finding excellence in unexpected places.

“We don’t want you to fill up on it. We want you to taste some amazing flavors that nobody else is doing,” Paxton said.

Alpine and El Lugar are located at 525 S 4th St. in German Village. Find out about Alpine at alpine614.com and El Lugar at ellugar614.com.

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They’ll be nothing to wine about at these 9 local wineries

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Everyone knows that Columbus is a craft beer city, but fortunately for those who never got acclimated to the yeasty drink, there’s wine. We may not have the best climate for grape growing, but these nine wineries around Columbus are breaking down barriers and serving up delicious bottles to vino lovers.

Camelot Cellars Winery | 901 Oak St, Columbus

Camelot Cellars, an award-winning Urban Boutique Winery, handcrafts all their own wines sourcing premier juices from vineyards all over the world. Offerings include retail wines by the bottle, wine tastings, flights, and event spaces.

Via Vecchia Winery | 2050 S High St, Columbus

This family-owned, urban winery is tucked away off a private lane and hosts 7700 square feet of exclusive venue space. With original exposed brick archways, wood ceiling beams and limestone walls, every experience is sure to be unforgettable.

Wyandotte Winery | 4640 Wyandotte Dr, Columbus

Wyandotte Winery is the first and oldest winery in Central Ohio, conveniently located just miles from Easton Town Center. With wines made from Ohio grapes and a beautiful patio to enjoy them on, you’re sure to enjoy your experience at Wyandotte Winery.

Signature Wines | 3816 April Ln, Columbus

Unlike many urban wineries, Signature Wines makes wines predominantly from whole grapes  and juices brought into Columbus from predominately California and Ohio using traditional, small scale winemaking techniques.  Stop into the Winery to enjoy a glass of wine in a comfortable atmosphere.

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Hidden Lakes Winery | 650 Winchester Pike, Canal Winchester

Hidden Lakes offers a delightful selection of house-made, award-winning wines and unique craft beers. Along with beverages, enjoy food from the newly-updated kitchen while taking in the scenic lakeside view.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant | 4230 The Strand, Columbus

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants celebrates moments that matter with chef-crafted food, award-winning wines, and life-long friendships. Outstanding wine, modern fare, Napa-inspiring tasting room: Cooper’s Hawk.

Good Vibes Winery | 2 S State St, Westerville

Good Vibes Winery is an urban winery located in Uptown Westerville, offering guests a wine experience, bistro samplings, and a beautiful environment to be enjoyed by friends and family.

Plum Run Winery | 3946 Broadway, Grove City

Plum Run Winery is a family-owned winery focusing on small batches of quality wines made from locally sourced fruit. A 3-acre vineyard located five miles south of the winery provides many of the grapes for the estate wines. Stop by and enjoy the wine and hospitality!

Powell Village Winery | 50 Liberty St, Powell

As one of the first wine négociants in Ohio, Powell Village Winery sources, blends, and produces small lots of high quality vinifera wines from America’s notable grape-growing regions. From bold & dry to sweet & fruity, they strive to create a diverse range of distinct wines for every taste.

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Tuttle Mall getting a lot sweeter thanks to 2 newcomers

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Malls have changed a lot over the years. Remember Waldenbooks? Was KB Toys your go-to as a kid? Heck, even Sears will soon be nothing more than a memory.

While mall establishments are frequently lost to the sands of time, it’s rare that you see a former retailer return to a mall it’s already vacated once. Well brace yourselves, sweets fans, because a gooey, sugar-frosted favorite is making a comeback at Tuttle Mall.

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Of course we’re talking Cinnabon, which was last in operation at Tuttle some years ago, and is now listed as “coming soon” on the mall’s directory. But wait! As tempting as it will be to fill up on cinnamon rolls after this long absence, you’ll want to save room for this other coming attraction: it seems Duck Donuts is also setting up shop in Tuttle.

Hop on the treadmill and give your dentist a heads-up, mall lovers—sweets are back at Tuttle in a big way!

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