Enhanced ingredients and techniques of experienced chefs lend oomph to what’s often considered to be downscale fare
The healing power of a terrific burger and fries knocked back with a cold draft beer in a friendly dive bar shouldn't be underestimated, especially during turbulent times.
Obviously ripping into a feel-good meal in a get-away-from-it-all place isn't going to solve a lot of problems. Nonetheless, idling about in the Three Sheets tavern and inhaling indulgent food from Preston's: A Burger Joint (nee Ambrose & Eve) couldn't hurt — and could easily cheer you up, if only for a precious little while.
Three Sheets and Preston's are physically connected but separate businesses. The former is a big, old, roomy establishment in the Brewery District whose unassuming charms include vintage brick walls; high ceilings; a suitably irreverent “Star Wars” mural sure-handedly rendered in colored chalk; a large wooden bar; eight beers on tap, most Ohio-brewed; a super-accommodating staff; and late-running happy hour deals honored from 3 until 9 p.m. weekdays.
Preston's is the inspired alliance of chefs Catie Randazzo of the Challah food truck and Matt Heaggans, former chef at The Rossi, Flatiron Bar and Diner, and the Swoop food truck. In essence a second-story concession stand inside of Three Sheets, Preston's operates from a window up a long flight of stairs. Food must be ordered up there, but the crew will gladly ferry it down to you when it's ready.
Preston's limited menu reflects the food-truck backgrounds of its chefs and might be summarized as upgraded takes on what is often considered to be downscale grub. Its signature item is the addictive Ambrose & Eve Burger ($11), a juicy, two-patty cheeseburger made with wonderfully griddle-crusted, locally sourced beef from The Butcher & Grocer. House pickles, shaved red onion, shredded lettuce, a zippy mayo-based “secret sauce,” plus a toasted roll complete the robust assembly.
In a similar vein, the highly recommended MacCheek ($12) is a cheeky homage to McDonald's McRib sandwich. Instead of a prefab rib-shaped mass, though, you'll get a massive mound of pulled succulent pork-cheek meat sourced from The Butcher & Grocer. House pickles, onion and a sweet house “Cherry Coke barbecue sauce” ably aid the pig-out.
I'd wager that few people chomping through a Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich would say, “What this thing needs is ginger.” I'd also bet that few people sampling Preston's ginger-spiked Hot Chicken Sandwich ($12) would want to stop eating the messy creation. It stars a huge, tender and juicy (and likely brined) slab of breast meat with a light, crispy batter livened by a sweet-and-spicy chili paste.
Yes, you want fries with that — and anything else here. Preston's hefty Salt & Vinegar Fries ($4) are dark golden-brown, not oily and bear the tang of having been boiled in vinegar before being fried to a delightful crispness.
If the Vegan Two Way ($9) sounds like a relatively joyless item, know that it's nearly as easy to love as a chili dog and fries. That's because it's a bunch of fries (or fried tofu) lashed with mustard and drenched in a dense and “meaty,” coney-type sauce fragrant with Cincinnati chili-style spices and ingeniously made with minced tofu.
Funyuns ($6) — remember them? — get a scratch-cooked makeover, too. Although mine arrived oily, the discs and rings supplied a nifty crunch and an appealing natural sweetness. They're sided with a light, avocado-based Green Goddess dip.
Preston's Jalapeno Poppers (three whoppers for $6) — panko-breadcrumb-battered pickled chilies stuffed with tangy farmers cheese — are fun to munch on and pair nicely with the contrasting side of sweet pineapple sauce.
Like most items here, they're cleverly designed and carefully executed to generate placated smiles. Given the often worrisome world we live in these days, that is no small achievement.