A Columbus Fried Bologna Odyssey

The fried bologna sandwich is one of the unsung stars of American casual fare. It has taken a back seat to hot dogs and hamburgers in the national consciousness but continues to be a favorite here in the Midwest. While the fried bologna sandwich is not indigenous to Columbus, it has become a mainstay on menus throughout the city.

The concept behind the fried bologna sandwich is a fairly simple one: bologna is caramelized on the grill and placed on a toasted bun. Frying the bologna not only turns a traditionally cold sandwich into a hot meal, it develops the flavor of the bologna, transforming a somewhat bland piece of inexpensive meat into a delectable and savory treat.

To explore this often-overlooked sandwich in more depth, I embarked on a fried bologna tour of Columbus this summer. While my tour was far from comprehensive, it allowed me to sample a portion of sandwiches spanning the bologna spectrum. Visiting food establishments throughout the city, I was able to categorize the sandwiches into four groups: thin sliced, medium cut, and two types of thick cut. The odyssey has predictably left me (as many have always believed) full of baloney.

Brazenhead

Brazenhead

The thin sliced variant (or as I like to refer to it, the gateway bologna) is the perfect introduction for the uninitiated into the world of fried bologna. Less intimidating than a slab of thick cut bologna, the pile of thin slices offer a milder version of the sandwich. Brazenhead’s interpretation is topped with American cheese, grilled onions, and grilled jalepeños. The sweetness of the onions help balance the saltiness of the bologna, while the jalepeños give the sandwich a little heat.

Blue Danube

Blue Danube

Best Breakfast and Sandwiches

The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches

The next category I unofficially call the medium cut. Sliced thinner than the thick cut, it includes sandwiches from the Blue Danube and The Best Breakfast and Sandwiches. The Blue Danube’s version comes with pepper jack cheese and grilled onions. The Best Breakfast offering is served on grilled, house-made rye bread which provides a nice flavor and stands up well to the bologna.

Village Coney

Village Coney

Dan's Drive In

Dan’s Drive In

Village Coney and Dan’s Drive In offer my favorites in the thick cut regular bologna category. The milder bologna flavor is perfect for the mayonnaise and yellow mustard found topping these two examples. Both have cheese—the Village Coney version comes with pepper jack, sliced onions, and pickles; while Dan’s has a cheddar/mozzarella mix and grilled onions. I prefer the pepper jack as the heat and spiciness add another layer of flavor to the bologna.

Otie Baloney from Otie's

Otie Baloney from Otie’s

Sally's Hillbilly Cheeseburger from the Red Door Tavern

Sally’s Hillbilly Cheeseburger from the Red Door Tavern

The last group consists of thick cut German bologna. Otie’s Otie Baloney, the Red Door Tavern’s Sally’s Hillbilly Cheeseburger, and the offerings from Johnnie’s Tavern and German Village Coffee Shop are the heavyweights in the fried bologna world. Heartier than regular bologna, German (or garlic) bologna can be identified by its dark color and stronger taste. Spicy mustard is the perfect accent to these full-flavored sandwiches, and a slice or two of tomato provide a nice fresh note. Most of these come with the full complement of toppings, though I like to add hot sauce as the heat and acidity provide a nice foil to the denseness of the meat.

Johnnie's

Johnnie’s Tavern

German Village Coffee Shop

German Village Coffee Shop

There is no shortage of this ubiquitous sandwich in central Ohio; a visit to almost any Columbus diner or bar will reveal fried bologna on the menu. While the sandwiches profiled here are representative of only a small percentage of options available in our city, they offer a cross section of fried bologna choices to those unfamiliar with this American classic.

16 responses to “A Columbus Fried Bologna Odyssey

  1. These look yummy! Though admittedly, I’m not really sure what bologna is…I suspect we must call it something different in NZ. In some of your pictures it looks like what we would call ham steak (the thick cut) and in others it looks like luncheon/Belgium sausage – a cheap, uber processed, overly pink round of thin sliced ‘meat’ that we would put in sandwiches. I’m intrigued…

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  2. Bologna always reminded me of hotdogs in taste and so I didn’t care for it. I would eat it fried though because it provided a whole other flavor element to it that I really enjoyed.

    When we were feeling spunky I would get some bologna from Bluescreek and fry it up for sandwiches at home. Always with mustard and always with onions!

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  3. I love fried bologna. Before I grew up and became slightly more health-conscious (only because older age means being a little more careful about what I put into my body), I’d have a couple pieces of pan-fried bologna in between two slices of soft, white bread. Yum! A definite childhood favourite for me. The offerings in Ohio look much more intriguing and sophisticated!

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  5. Can’t believe I overlooked this post. I should have some bologna du Food Truck coming soon. G&R Tavern in Waldo. They have their stuff made by the Herman Falter Packing Co on Greenlawn Ave., near Thurn’s. The sandwiches of my youth – and there were many involved american cheese, grilled bun, pickles mustard and ketchup.

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  7. Excellent post wiith some awesome photos! I’m researching local Cbus restaurants who serve up unique, vintage eats with a twist for an upcoming article I’m writing for Live Columbus, and came across this post. Great job, man.

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