Herb & Thelma’s Tavern – Burger Club 2

by Bryan on November 27, 2015

For our second stop in the Burger Club exploration we picked up two more attendees and headed over to Herb & Thelma’s Tavern in Covington. To say this was a change from our first stop would be an understatement. If you are looking for a wide selection of cheeses and creative toppings, this is not the place for you. To even describe this place as unpretentious seems a little too pretentious. This is a no-nonsense bar that serves hamburgers, but is it any good? Let’s Find out.

Herb & Thelma’s oozes history. It is an old building on Pike Street, and has been around since 1939. It was owned by one family until just a few years ago, and was recently sold for the second time in January. It is easy to miss on the curve on Pike Street, and I only know about because a friend told me about it years ago.

There is not a lot of presence on the street, and the door can be intimidating, but once you walk through you find a time capsule. You know those places that like to create that fake old look with lots of objects, kind of like Cracker Barrel. This is one of those places they are trying to imitate. The tavern has two rooms, and plenty of old beer signs and other mementos. A classic example was this group favorite, an old Schoenling sign with the Cincinnati skyline from the 70’s.

Not to mentions the cabinet with old bottles, cans and memorabilia.

You’ll notice the second room has a pinball machine and video game. But as fun as the ambiance is, we didn’t come her for the local color, we came for the burger.

Herb and Thelma's Burger Profile

Patty Stylethick patty, 1/4 pound
Bunbasic hamburger bun
Toppingsamerican cheese, pickles, sliced onion, mayonnaise.
Presentationpaper basket
Sideschips

Herb & Thelma’s menu is divided into 3 sections. Sandwiches include hamburger, cheeseburger, hot mett, brat, grilled cheese, fried bologna with cheese, and grilled Italian sausage. Soups include chili, bean soup, and vegetable beef soup (when available). Snacks include chips, pretzels, pork rinds and the like, as well as some candy bars.

The most expensive thing on the food menu is the $6 double cheeseburger, and they have a reasonable selection of beers. Not being a beer drinker, I will let others address that.

 

Mark ordered the Chili as we waited for our entire party to arrive. I soon realized that this place is likely not geared for volume, so encouraged the early attendees to place there order before the others arrived. Everyone had a hamburger, some opting for the double, while others settled for the single.

The burger is a simple 1/4 pound patty on a standard grocery store bun with the options of lettuce, pickle and mayonnaise. Here is the single served in a paper basket.

Single

For those with a larger appetite, there is the double.

Double

As far as sides, you are limited to a bag of chips, or other salty snack. I’ve already admitted that the sides are important for me, so this was definitely a negative, but I can appreciate the simplicity of what Herb and Thelma’s offers. To add a fryer for fries and/or onion rings would add a level of complexity that would take away from the place.

I didn’t ask, but it seems obvious that this is a fresh ground-beef burger. It is cooked on an ancient flat-top. This really is the star of the place for me.

Flat Top

As you can see, not a big place to cook. but man does it turn out a tasty burger.

I really like this burger. It reminds me of the simplicity of the Zip’s burger. I don’t know if it was just the luck of the draw that night, but the sliced white onion on the burger was awesome. I went with the single. and most who went for the double felt the burger/bun ratio did not work well. That didn’t stop Mark and Andy from splitting a single after eating their doubles, but I think if a single is not enough for you, you should consider just getting 2 singles rather than a double.

Sharon commented that “if they have served burgers like that since 1939, I don’t understand how McDonald’s ever took off. I don’t expect burgers that good to also be so inexpensive. I’m definitely going again.”

Anna loved it. She added ” The beef was high-quality and perfectly grilled. The beef/cheese/bread/pickle ratio was just right. Next time I would get a single cheeseburger rather than a double, so I would have room to stop for ice cream afterwards. Taking the kids there as soon as possible.”

Andy praised it as no-frills simple goodness. “Full-fat, hand-slapped patties, simple white bun, & generous white onion (which is surprisingly good… go onion even if you aren’t one to do onion on your burger).” He also added “For beer lovers, Abita Purple Haze, 2 Rhinegeist, Braxton, Bells, and others on are on tap, and several cans (local & national) are available, too. Very impressive brew selection and solid burgers at this high-end hole-in-the-wall. I want the Shoenling/Riverfront sign.”

Russell thought it was classic no-frills comfort food. “A burger the way my mom made them: Hand rolled and thick served with a simple grocery store bun. Fixings were simple – a whole slice of thick cut onion and pickles. I ordered the single cheeseburger and I thought the meat/bread/fixins ratio was spot on perfect.”

Mark concurred with Andy’s comment, adding “These burgers have the terroir of feedlot finished beef and require lots of napkins. Not so aware of this at first, I left with a well greased shirt.”

The Five R’s

So, my first review using the Five R’s. Here is how the group came down on Herb & Thelma’s:

Across the board this gets a Recommend. The only qualification was the observation from Mark that you should target small groups. There is not a lot of seating available, and the these are not fast food hamburgers.

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