Preston’s burgers are still a ‘smash’-ing success
But don’t sleep on the other offerings dished up at this North Market mainstay
A couple of years ago, I joined a Columbus Monthly panel of adventurous (read: reckless) food writers (read: gluttons) in an important community-service mission (read: dream job). We taste-tested 30-some burgers and then crowned the city’s champion.
Even through our ensuing mental fog and full-body exhaustion, when we had finished that burger-a-thon survey, no one on the panel (read: reckless gluttons reassessing their dream jobs) was really surprised that Preston’s: A Burger Joint came out on top. After all, Preston’s had been building a stellar reputation, griddle-smashed burger by delicious griddle-smashed burger, for years.
By serving elevated fast food starring crisp-edged cheeseburgers made with locally raised beef, Preston’s has become the Columbus answer to Shake Shack. The business has assumed multiple titles through its existence (like Ambrose & Eve, an early iteration of a related and too-short-lived restaurant) and multiple guises (concessionaire in various taverns, pop-up restaurants, a food truck), but its fare has always been terrific and much written about.
When I last covered Preston’s in 2018, it was operating out of an old Brewery District bar. Today, I’m glad to say that it inhabits a hopefully permanent new home: the Downtown North Market. I’m also happy to report that the eatery has branched out into fried chicken territory, cooking Ohio-raised birds (from Gerber’s Amish Farm) and achieving typically excellent results.
And, as evidence recently bore out again, Preston’s signature cheeseburger is as addictive as ever. Currently called the Classic ($7; $10 for a recommended double), it’s smashed-and-seared, fresh-tasting patties (mine had a desirable hint of pink in the center) flattered by melted American cheese, house pickles, shaved red onion, shredded lettuce, a zippy mayo-enriched “secret sauce,” plus a puffy and sweet toasted bun. Given its fine (if familiar) ingredients and careful execution, the trendy and inhalable burger seems both newfangled and old fashioned.
You definitely want fries with that, too. Because Preston’s golden-brown, thin and audibly crisp fries ($3) are top-notch.
Want a spin on that standard burger? A few variations are offered, and the two I sampled were inspired creations.
Bacon burger fans will be rewarded with thick, crunchy and smoky slabs of peppery pigmeat on their Preston’s Classic when they order the Pastrami Bacon burger ($8.50, $11.50 for a double). If sweet-and-spicy notes from “sambal jam” playing off tangy pimento cheese sound good on a burger — and, believe me, they are — target the flavor-bomb called the Spicy Boi ($8.25, $11.25).
For a vegetarian extravaganza, try the massive Crispy Lion's Mane Mushroom Sandwich ($13). With its hefty, round pieces of cumin-and-honey-accented battered fungus — whose textures recalled fried okra — plus garnishes of lemon-thyme mayo, cabbage, pickles and onions, the distinct and flavorful sandwich was almost comically unwieldy. So use a knife and fork.
Preston’s skillfully fried dark-meat chicken nuggets ($6) and white-meat tenders ($6) likewise had cumin and honey accents. Both also featured crunchy-and-craggy exteriors encasing juicy chicken, and were sizable and superior versions of their respective types of chicken snacks.
I liked the twice-fried wings ($8.25) even more. That’s largely because Preston’s standout flappers had the kind of fantastically crackly shells I generally only associate with first-rate Korean-style fried chicken.
While exploring the rest of the menu, I encountered buttery, flaky and fairly heavy-duty biscuits (three for just $2); tart yet (at least with my serving) nearly dry vinegar slaw ($3); apparently discontinued and sorely missed mac-and-cheese that was among the best in town when I had it last winter; and soothing banana pudding ($5) with crushed vanilla wafers and a nifty caramel-like “banana jam.”
I also encountered great-sounding but temporarily unavailable items — like pimento cheese dumplings and chocolate pudding — that gave me a convenient reason to return (read: I’d be returning frequently anyway).
Preston's: A Burger Joint
59 Spruce St., North Market
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday thru Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday