I thought I’d start this post by extolling the virtues a simple hamburger has over its adorned and embellished relative, the gourmet burger. A few sentences into my diatribe I began to notice a vaguely familiar-sounding tone to my writing and realized I had already been up on that soapbox during a previous post. Re-reading what I had written a year and a half ago, I found that most of what I wanted to say here, I had already expressed back then: for me, a simple, good burger always wins when pitted against the extravagant craft burgers of gastropubs and upscale burger joints. One pet peeve of current restaurant trends I hold is burgers served with a large steak knife impaled through the top, as it does nothing to elevate the taste of the burger; it’s pure presentation (as are communal tables and—my wife’s favorite annoyance—beverages served in canning jars. But that’s another post…). This is not to say that many of these burgers aren’t delicious in their own right, but sometimes you just need to keep things uncomplicated with a straightforward burger.
A stellar example of a simple burger whose flavor stands buns and patties above its fancy brethren is the cheeseburger featured at Johnnie’s Tavern. Located in the neighborhood of San Margherita, just west of Upper Arlington and Grandview, Johnnie’s Tavern is an unassuming little bar that has been turning out fantastic burgers for years. The sparse food offerings center around the star of the menu, the burger, and are comprised of mostly sides. Though they do have roast beef, fish, coneys (on Wednesdays), and fried bologna for those who want an alternative to the cheeseburger. (I would add that their fried bologna sandwich is one of the best in Columbus, and is definitely worth a trip to Johnnie’s on its own merit.)
The sign above Johnnie’s proclaims the bar is “Home of the Superburgers.” And what makes their burger super is neither artisanal flare nor any array of exotic topping choices; it’s just a solid burger with good flavor. It is minimally dressed: lettuce, onions, tomato, pickles, and your choice of cheese (American, Swiss, Cheddar, or pepper jack); and that’s all it really needs. The hand-formed burger is juicy and flavorful; the bun maintains its integrity throughout the meal. And, much to my delight, there’s no need for Arthurian-like theatrics to extract a sword, bamboo skewer, or any other sharp implement from the burger, as the cheeseburger is served already halved.
While Johnnie’s sides are great for sharing, I’ve found that the burger itself is quite substantial and filling. I’ll normally forego sides unless I’m with a group of people who want to split an order of onion rings, fries, or mini corn dogs.
In a world of gourmet and artisan burgers, substance is often overshadowed by price and pretense. With the influx of new burger restaurants opening throughout Columbus, Johnnie’s Tavern is a refreshing step back to the basics—a reminder of how good a classic burger can be. Short on gimmicks and ornate presentation, Johnnie’s cheeseburger is big on flavor. Plain and simple.