A bit north of Liberty, across from Tucker’s on Vine, sits the old Stenger’s Cafe. Until just recently it had been empty, but Charlena Calloway and Michael Daniels have cleaned it up and reopened it as Stuffed on Vine, featuring gargantuan cheese-stuffed burgers and homestyle cooking, as well as a needed, affordably-priced option in Over-the-Rhine. Their tagline is, “The burger is stuffed and so are you”– and she’s not kidding.
Calloway, who goes by Cee, floats between the front and back of house on the two visits I’ve made so far. She talks to every table at least once, inquiring about the food to new visitors and about the goings-on of the neighborhood to those who’ve become regulars in the short amount of time they’ve been open. Aside from the burgers, she also features a Sunday Dinner, which is a homestyle special like fried or barbecued chicken, plus lots of different sides, as well as serving wings, salads, and sandwiches daily. There is no pork served at Stuffed, so no bacon cheeseburgers and her mixed greens (collards, turnip and kale) are flavored with smoked turkey wing tips. The atmosphere is bare bones, though they’ve kept Stenger’s gorgeous dark wood bar and back bar. Don’t mistake bare bones for unfriendly: Cee and her staff are genuinely friendly and helpful.
The first time we went in, we got burgers. I picked up the Tajo Taco burger, filled with pepper jack, seasoned with taco seasoning and served with a side of sour cream. It was interesting– not too spicy, with a good balance of cheese and meat and an excellent bun. Though it was good, the standout was Terry’s Big Lene (pronounced “lean” and named after Charlena), filled with green peppers, sport peppers and cheese, and topped with lettuce and mayonnaise. It was spicy, sure, but not too spicy– just enough to balance out the mayo and cheese. Their fries, though frozen, are crispy and battered. I managed to only eat about half of my burger and was, appropriately, stuffed.
Cee mentioned Sunday dinner to us, and we decided we had to go back. After hanging out with Katy most of Sunday, we walked over to Stuffed on Vine so she could try it out, and we could try the barbecued chicken that was mentioned on Facebook (where Cee posts all of their specials). Unfortunately, it had been rainy most of the day, so the chicken was fried instead of barbecued, but that wasn’t a problem. I ended up getting the Big Lene (so impressed the first time, I had to get it again), while Katy got the Philly Cheeseburger (which she enjoyed). We nearly wordlessly ate our burgers. When everyone is quiet, you know it’s good.
Terry got the special: fried chicken, baked beans, greens, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a piece of cornbread. He offered me bites of everything (so generous). The baked beans, which are something I rarely rave over, were some of the best I’ve had: a heavy dose of cinnamon and a lot of molasses really helped the flavor of an often overlooked side dish. The greens were nice as well (voted, according to Terry, better than his grandma’s, which is high praise) and the mashed potatoes and gravy were also better than Grandma’s, with just the right hit of garlic. The fried chicken, which Terry ordered spicy, was just spicy enough– not so hot to burn your mouth off– but had a lot of great flavor and was very crisp. A great, family-style dinner for $8. Can’t beat it.
I’m looking forward to finally trying the barbecued chicken, but even if I can’t, I’ll be more than happy to get stuffed with one of the best burgers I’ve had in a while. Cheesy, messy, gooey– it’s hard to just eat half. It’s really okay to go north of Liberty Street, and if you do, you’re in for a treat. Remember it’s cash-only, and that these handmade burgers take a little bit of time, and you’ll be happily stuffed, too.