Johnnie’s Tavern sits out on an edge of Columbus known as San Margherita. I suppose that’s why John included the “h” when he stretched his name and loaned it to his tavern in 1948. I don’t think this neighborhood has ever been much, hence the need for a tavern like Johnnie’s. Supposedly San Margherita is on the way to no longer being independent of the city – so this highly industrial, haven for massive faux-luxury apartment complexes, directly east of proper Hilliard, will eventually be sucked into Columbus. Then can we call Johnnie’s our own? I’ve driven this stretch of the city many times before. Maybe because I had a friend who used to allow us to jump into the reservoir in the middle of his faux-luxury complex back in the day, or maybe because the UPS hub was the only place to pick up your UPS shipped items? Granted, I’d been here before. Not Johnnie’s, but in a mindset that reflects the rough and worn environs of Johnnie’s. The Super Johnnie Burger was on the Burger GPS, so this was a little bit cheating, but also exploration. You have to drive to get what is now (sorry Thurman’s, size doesn’t matter) my favorite burger in Columbus. But that isn’t saying much, because while it was good, it doesn’t match the 4 burgers found in Western Ohio (full report coming soon, I promise).
Atmosphere: What can I say? I’m a sucker for the low-rent vibe that pervades Johnnie’s. Of course we were in Columbus but our party was looked at up and down like we just came from the ends of the Earth, or Brooklyn, or something. They only have fried items for food – besides the Super Johnnie – and Michelob on tap (the coldest beer in Columbus?) but it’s extremely cheap (your reward for finding the place) and the service was beyond friendly. One could easily waste an afternoon here and get that “stuck in a Roseanne episode” type of nostalgia. Then again, this arena for drink (and nothing else) can likely be found anywhere along the outskirts of the city.
Burger: Here’s where the points come in. Presentation wise, it was your standard large, single patty, accompanied by lettuce, tomato, onion, American cheese, and mayo on a sesame bun. Who can fuck that up? Apparently diner after diner after dive bar across the country. Everything here seemed built with care – the cheese perfectly melted and delivered (see picture) and the veg fresh. This is a big burger, but was cooked to another level of perfection – a nice medium, and spiced with the slightest amount of black pepper. It was an ingredient that was prominent but didn’t overwhelm and surprised all who took this journey. The pepper flavor is what took the Super Johnnie over the (average) top. There was no special sauce, no novelty condiment, no catch. Just a satisfying burger. And that’s something the Five Guys and Grafitti Burger (and even the Big Boy) do well, but never in this type of memorable way.
Hype: The Super Johnnie is worthy of being on the Motz’s Burger GPS and in his book. As stated (so far) this is the best burger I’ve had in Columbus. And adhering to my atmosphere score, there’s nothing off-putting about a visit there. That said, it’s hard to justify a jaunt down that way, even in the relatively small confines of the Columbus Metropolitan area. It eeks above the rest. And I’ve yet to try the Gahanna Grill, which may become a suitable foe to this West side establishment. It’s quintessentially a neighborhood haunt quite honestly, and going above that seems out of their league. A good burger overall, but not a requirement. I realize that is contradictory to my mission.