Two junk food-loving chefs walk into a dive bar. The rest is burger history.
Let me tell you about the best burger I've had in recent memory.
It's not artisanal-looking or expensive. It doesn't boast a super-thick, “would-you-look-at-that” patty like Thurman's. It's not served on a ciabatta roll. It's an old-school, messy smash burger—one that seems simple and effortless to produce even if it isn't. Just ask Matthew Heaggans and Catie Randazzo, the chefs and buddies behind Preston's Burgers, a pop-up inside a bar—a burger speakeasy, if you will.
Preston's (named after Heaggans' paternal grandfather) is located up steep stairs on the second floor of Three Sheets, a self-proclaimed “drinkers' bar” housed inside a 1920s shotgun-style brick building at 560 S. High St., the former home to the American bistro T. Murray's Bar and Kitchen. Three Sheets is a friendly, scruffy joint that smells of age (I'm guessing old pipes). It's got wood floors, darts, a jukebox and worn-out chairs and tables (one chair I sat in was near-collapse wobbly). The bar offers liquor and eight taps with several Ohio brews, plus more beers available by the bottle and can. Sure, you could go with an Ohio microbrew, but it's the kind of place where ordering a can of Hamm's or PBR just makes sense.
But about that burger. Heaggans and Randazzo say their idea of a perfect burger stems from G.D. Ritzy's back in the day and Danny Meyer's Shake Shack more recently. (Randazzo recalls G.D. Ritzy's fondly: “Do you remember when you could bring your report card in, and if you were on the honor roll you got a free kids' meal or whatever? … That's the only reason I made the honor roll.”)
Heaggans and Randazzo have been feeding Columbus diners for some time; he at Flatiron Bar & Diner and The Rossi and she through her Jewish deli-inspired food truck Challah! and its pop-up inside Woodlands Tavern. The chefs conceived of Preston's as a tribute to junk food and a way to tease their forthcoming restaurant, Ambrose and Eve, which is under construction just a couple of blocks south on High Street.
Although Preston's burger seems simple, a lot of thought went into its development, technique and the selected ingredients. (Heaggans and Randazzo had a serious debate about the order in which you stack a burger's accoutrements.) The Pres' Double ($11), comes with two thin, griddled patties, the beef sourced from New Creation Farm via The Butcher & Grocer. (The single patty burger is $7.) The patties offer that perfect crispiness around the edges that you want out of a smash burger, something achieved by maintaining a really well-seasoned griddle, Heaggans says.
Caramelized onions give the burger's house-made sauce its depth, and the finishing touches include iceberg lettuce, tomato (only when in season—thankfully), red onion, house-made pickles and American cheese. It all comes sandwiched between a fantastic potato bun that holds up under all those ingredients—the very same bun used at Shake Shack, from Martin's Famous Pastry Shoppe in New York.
The rest of the scratch-made menu is also more than worthy of a tour, from the excellent salt and vinegar fries ($4), vegan Cincinnati chili ($9, on tofu or fries) and fried chicken sandwich ($12) to the flavor-packed jalapeño poppers ($6) and MacCheek ($12) pork sandwich slathered in Cherry Coke barbecue sauce.
Preston's, which started out as a temporary pop-up, is now here to stay, and the chefs say they're currently looking at additional locations for the concept. “We think it's something that can grow, and we want to see where we can take it,” Heaggans says.