Pat and Gracie's courts regulars with smash burgers, craft beer and scratch specials.
There can't be too many burger joints in the world named after a real-life gambler and madam. But Clintonville has one, and Downtown just got another.
The burger tavern in question is Pat and Gracie's, named after an early 20th-century couple from the Columbus underworld: the gambler/philanthropist Patrick Murnan and his beloved Grace Backenstoe Murnan, a one-time madam. The Murnans settled in Clintonville on a thoroughbred horse farm, the very land where the strip mall shopping center we call Graceland stands today.
Pat and Gracie's opened in 2016, and a clear effort to re-create a Cheers atmosphere is underway. To bring in the requisite crowds of regulars, there must be honest food, fair prices, friendly service and plenty of beer. Happily, Pat and Gracie's has a strong hand.
The restaurant's signature is excellent burgers, smash-grilled on a flattop. This burger cooking technique originated in diners in the 1930s or earlier. Here, the kitchen turns out a burger with crusty edges, one that is somewhat less fatty but still juicy. Two smaller patties are served on one burger, making a hefty, but not overwhelming, sandwich.
The house burger combinations ($10.25–$10.50) include the Bacon Cheese Burger, the Pimento Cheese Melt, the Chimi Burger (laced with chimichurri sauce) and the BBQ Smokehouse Burger—all worthy recipes, though the chimichurri could use more spice, garlic and vinegar. You can also build your own burger with high-quality toppings like thick-cut smoked bacon, properly caramelized onions, tangy house-made bread, butter pickles, pimento cheese spread and chimichurri.
For some reason, salmon and smoky, fatty pork are a magic pairing, and Pat and Gracie's Salmon BLT ($11.99) is a perfect example. It combines a filet of mildly spicy blackened salmon, hefty slices of bacon, shredded arugula and spinach, caramelized onions and Sriracha mayo on thick white toast. The blackened chicken in the Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($8.99) is not especially spicy, but is nicely paired with avocado spread, bacon, caramelized onions and Monterey jack cheese.
Burgers and other sandwiches come with fresh-cut fries, some skin still on. They have a nice, earthy potato flavor but aren't crispy enough. (If they aren't using the double fry method—fry until almost done, fry again just before serving—they should). In place of fries, there's a serviceable mac 'n' cheese or the P&G Side Salad ($1 extra) with kale, arugula, spinach, carrots and cucumber. Bits of salty feta cheese add a nice touch.
The menu lists three salads “served in large stainless-steel mixing bowls” ($9.99). I don't know about you, but oversized bowls are how I make (and eat) salads at home—the best part is that you can mix in just the right amount of dressing, and it coats all the greens evenly. In addition to the P&G Salad, there's a spinach salad with tomato, red onion and hard-boiled egg, sprinkled with grated Parmesan. It comes with a sweet bacon vinaigrette, but the restaurant's blue cheese dressing works even better. The Roasted Chicken Salad uses the blackened breast meat along with the kitchen sink—several kinds of greens including Brussels sprout leaves, cucumbers, onion, tomatoes and crumbled blue cheese. I liked the use of various greens, but this salad could use some editing.
The list of starters ($6.99–$10.99) reads like something from the '80s—spinach and artichoke dip, fried mozzarella sticks (with marinara, of course), cheese fries, pretzel bites (that look like Buckeyes), fried pickles, chicken tenders and hot wings. Although well-executed, they are, as we say, what they are. The most interesting starter is House Made Tots—freshly grated russets, deep-fried with onion salt and pepper. These are terrific, though I would recommend adding more salt.
Pat and Gracie's is open daily, and each day brings a different special entrée, from Sunday's spaghetti and meatballs to Friday's lobster mac 'n' cheese. There's plenty of lobster meat in the mac dish, and the spaghetti is cooked al dente in its plain marinara. The best special is Saturday's Yankee Pot Roast. The substantial hunks of meat come with potatoes, onions and carrots—it brought me back to the home cooking of my childhood. The meat is soft, deeply beefy and swimming in rich meat juices from the slow braise—a great Saturday afternoon meal with a dark beer (followed by a nap).
Luckily, since Norm, Cliff and their pals at Cheers downed all those steins of cheap lager, the world of beer has evolved—Central Ohio alone has more than 30 craft breweries. Pat and Gracie's takes full advantage, with excellent beers from Columbus and beyond, including 16 on tap, from Seventh Son Brewing Co.'s flagship IPA, The Scientist, to off-the-charts hoppy Gamma Bomb IPA from Dayton's Warped Wing Brewing Co. to Portsmouth Brewing Co.'s Peerless Pale Ale. Draft beers run $6–$7.50, and bottles are also available. The bartenders here offer several craft cocktails, including the Pearl Beatty, consisting of Watershed vodka, blueberries and lemon juice, while Pat's Old-Fashioned comprises Buffalo Trace bourbon, cherry juice and bitters. (Craft cocktails are $7–$10, with $5 martinis on Mondays.) There is also a small selection of drinkable wines at decent prices.
Everyone on staff whom I interacted with at Pat and Gracie's was engaging—they all seem to like where they work and are cheerleaders for the food in a sincere way. More than one of them mentioned that the place uses lots of local foodstuffs (some, anyway) and that the restaurant does not even have a freezer (true). One server went on and on about the day's soup—which turned out to be a wonderfully creamy lobster chowder ($6) chock full of fresh veggies and lobster meat. It was worth going on about.
Pat and Gracie's occupies a comfortable but plain strip-mall space—a red chandelier and five big screens provide some color—but no one comes here for the furnishings or art. (Maybe they will at the new Downtown Pat and Gracie's, which is now open near Columbus College of Art & Design at 340 E. Gay St.) They come for the beer, a little quirky Columbus history, expertly smashed burgers, affordable prices and friendly service. If I were a gambling man, I'd say it's here to stay.