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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.