You know, sometimes I’ll have to admit that I just don’t know when to say when. Despite having four solid days of eating and drinking my way through Chicago on the Death March, and being mere days away from the planned Austin BBQ bender, events related to my travel schedule conspired to leave me with a few spare hours in Columbus, Ohio. While I rather enjoyed my visit to Tommy’s Diner the last time I found myself in this situation, I wanted to try something different, so I put out a call for recommendations on Facebook. Several people I know, most of whom live in or near Columbus, responded with the same place, the Thurman Cafe in Columbus’ German Village neighborhood.
For a place that your might otherwise classify as a “joint” in a quiet little historic neighborhood (that’s admittedly quite a nice example of urban preservation), Thurman Cafe has been on a lot of people’s radar. The primary reason for this is that it’s recently been showcased several times in both print and on television, ranging from a positive writeup in Geroge Motz’s Hamburger America to being featured on several Food Network programs. As I’ve seen in a few other places I’ve reviewed, there’s nothing like being on an episode of Man vs Food to increase a place’s traffic.
Inside, Thurman Cafe is basically your “joint” bar: slightly dark, lots of wood, and all sorts of random tschotchkes hung up everywhere. They’ve got a large waiting area, since apparently if you pick a time to visit that’s a little more busy than my 11am on Tuesday visit, the place can get really busy with long lines. They’ve got a decent selection of beer, too. But in any case, the Thurman Cafe is primarily famous for burgers. Rather large and substantial burgers, with their standard burger patty weighing in at three quarters of a pound, and their menu sports several variations on this theme. And, most importantly, Man vs Food made one particular burger famous: the Thurminator. The Thurminator (allegedly the preferred “bulk up” food of contestants in the local “Arnold Classic” weight competition) is a rather huge burger, having two of the 3/4 lb patties… along with around half a pound of ham, bacon, mozzarella and American cheeses, lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, sauteed onions, pickles, jalapeno peppers, mayo, and probably a few things I’m missing.
Here’s where I’ll have to confess, I didn’t get the Thurmanator. I just frankly didn’t have the stomach space (especially seeing that in the next week I had several pounds of BBQ to consume…), so I opted for what was the Thurman Cafe’s hallmark burger before Food Network made the Thurmanator so popular: the Thurman Burger. In short, the Thurman Burger is basically half a Thurmanator: one 3/4 lb patty, ham, mozzarella, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, sauteed onions, pickle, peppers, and mayo. It’s no Thurmanator, but it’s still a substantial amount of food… all for $9.79.
To be honest, the Thurman Burger was a mixed bag. I’ll start with the two things that worked well with the Thurman Burger. First, it’s not an easy task cooking really jumbo beef patties like this, especially if someone wants them done something other than “black and blue” or “burnt beyond recognition”. But Thurman did a good job here: I ordered my burger medium rare, and medium rare I got: a nice burger patty, the inside warm but still dark pink, but having a nice crisp sear around the outside of the burger. They obviously make enough of these to get some decent practice. The basic flavor combination works as well: the ham and toppings nicely complement the burger instead of completely burying it.
However, the sheer size of the thing is the downfall of the Thurman Burger (and even more so for the Thurmanator). There’s just so much stuff on this burger, you can’t really eat it as a burger: it’s a vertical construct that you can barely wrap your hands around, and that really isn’t capable of holding its form as you eat it. Basically, the technique is to grab onto it, take a few bites, and watch the entire thing start to fall apart, eventually picking at the remains with your fingers or a fork. At that point, it starts to lose a bit of the entire point of being a burger. I’ll be honest, give me two burgers half as big as the Thurman, and I’d probably be much happier.
Overall, however, it’s a good experience. They know how to cook a burger well, and have some nice toppings available. They also seem to do a good job with wings, from the sights and smells coming from the other tables. They’ve got a friendly staff and a good beer list, so I’m sure I’ll give Thurman another visit sometime. I just think they did get a little carried away with their burgers.