Spiciest Dish in Columbus Series: The Thurman Cafe
Big beefy bois, some corn dogs and lots of BTUs (?)
A Columbus classic, we ventured to The Thurman Cafe to check out their massive burgers and their Extreme wing sauce.
Columbus is home to a few restaurants that seem to have cult-like followings. Mikey’s and Hot Chicken Takeover come to mind, but at the top of the list has to be The Thurman Cafe. Located in German Village, The Thurman Cafe has been around since 1942 and has one of the most unique atmospheres of any establishment we’ve been to. Dollar bills taped all over the walls, dim lights, tight quarters and gigantic burgers. Sporting 21 meat behemoths, The Thurman Cafe is most well known for two burgers, The Thurman Burger and The Thurmanator. Both were made (more) famous in Season 1 of Man vs. Food (2008) when Adam Richman presented the two 12-ounce patty burger to the world.
We’ve consumed The Thurman Burger a few times and have seen some smash it in sub-three minutes and have even seen some folks take down The Thurmanator in under ten. The Thurman Burger almost feels like a rite of passage in Columbus, so we definitely recommend heading there at some point. I’ve also pounded The Big Dawg, “A Thurman sized 1lb foot-long coney with mustard and onion served with creamy cole slaw and chips.” As expected it’s about the size of your forearm, so before going to The Thurman Cafe, make sure you’ve got an appetite.
The lady of the farm opted for The Big TC, “Our all beef patty, special sauce, lettuce, American cheese, pickle, onion, on Texas Toast.” As expected, it’s a hefty burger.
Massive slices of toast on either side of the burger, big ol slices of bacon and a three quarter pound patty. One of the things we appreciated with this burger was the amount of cheese involved. They are definitely not shy about adding it and coverage was good. Now, on to the important parts.
That’s right, the corn dogs. Oh, you thought we meant the spicy dish that exists? [Buzzer noise] We’ve converted this series into “Ron Eats Corn Dogs” and will resume regular programming below. As you found out a couple of weeks ago, I’m a big corn dog aficionado, so any chance we get to show off corn dogs in Columbus I’m going to do so. Be warned, I’ve not met a corn dog I didn’t like, so there won’t be much in the way of objective measurements. Nice little dog nuggets here with a honey mustard dipping sauce. Extra crispy on the outside and a fine dog center. Right above, you can see some of the hand cut fries, able to be acquired as ThurmaTeriGarlaYaki, ThurmaGoldiGarlaLina or loaded in a bunch of different ways. Alright, now back to the spiciness for which you came.
The Thurman Cafe offers two primary choices for chicken, coming as whole Jumbo Wings (12 for $20 or 6 for $11) and as Boneless Chicken Wings (8 for $6 or 12 for $9). As we’ve discussed before the boneless “wings” are really just chicken chunks, but much less messy because you can eat them with a fork. The Thurman Cafe offers 12 sauces in Mild (BBQ, Teriyaki, Carolina Gold); Medium (BuffaQ, Chinese, Cajun, Sweet Thai Chili); Hot (Cajun 151, Buffalo, Buffalo Garlic); Hotter (90,000 BTUs); Extreme (183,000 BTUs). Now, we’re going to get annoying for a minute so bear with us, but what is a BTU?! BTU stands for British Thermal Unit and is typically used as a unit of heat, typically used in reference to HVAC systems. We believe they mean SHU (Scoville Heat Unit), but even then no one truly knows the SHU of their sauces unless they’ve been sent away to be tested. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the 183,000 BTU Extreme sauce at The Thurman Cafe.
We went with the chunks of chicken because we were feeling dainty and wanted to use a fork (no judgements). As the chunks came out, we took a hefty whiff and while the others at the table didn’t get much, I remembered the smell. The hit of peppers I got reminded me of the wings at Mac’s Proper Pub and I got a bit nervous. I’d been so cocky because of the BTU/SHU thing that I’d overlooked the possibility of these actually being spicy.
I started working through the chunks and was pleased with the flavor. Heavy on peppers, but with the right vinegar mix to bring out the flavor without being overbearing. The heat kicked in on the second chunk and the mouth burn became pretty solid. I paused a moment to see what would happen and the heat was still building.
We’ve inquired about the peppers being used in this sauce, but so far haven’t heard anything back. The small seeds lead us to believe it is a smaller pepper like a Thai Chili, but hard to tell from seed alone. We found out from /u/I_SEE_YA_BUB, who worked there previously that The Thurman Cafe uses habanero peppers. Nose running, I worked through the rest of the bowl of the Extreme chicken chunks. It’s a thick sauce, which helps in coverage and I continued scooping on the leftover sauce to make sure I got the full experience. A bit of sweetness (explained by the habaneros) and some thick heat, I nodded in approval as I finished them off and sat back to let my mouth cool.
The Extreme sauce at The Thurman Cafe definitely surprised me. I was not expecting much and the level of heat stuck with me for a few moments after I had finished. This was much spicier than some of the wings we’d had and definitely above the spicy burgers we’ve posted about. The linger and the initial cause of nose run has us placing the 183,000 BTU Extreme wings at #10 on our list, just above Mac’s Proper Pub and their No Refund Wing and right below Woody’s Wing House and the Diablo-Q. I’m sure there’s some psychological experiment to run that if I had treated these as spicier going in, it might have skewed the results, but going in with no expectations this ended up being up there on the list. For what it’s worth the day after was slightly interesting, butt that’s all we’ll say about it.
Props to The Thurman Cafe for delivering the heat with this sauce, but a name change is definitely in order. You can find The Thurman Cafe at 183 Thurman Ave, Columbus, OH 43206. They don’t take reservations and can get pretty packed. We’d definitely advise eating in over delivery.
Look below for more in our spiciest dish in Columbus series and hit us up if you have any suggestions that are not already on our list!
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