The humble burger: It’s a mainstay of the American diet. Most people appreciate a great burger. So where can you go to get something better than the normal fast food offerings from Rally McHardee King and the rest of their brethren? What are the “destination” places that we will go out of our way to, just to get a burger fix we can’t get anywhere else?
Louisville does have independent burger joints still hanging on and doing what they do best. Several are located in and around Old Louisville. What makes these places so good? How do they compare with each other?
I wanted to check this out for myself. So I went on an Old Louisville “Burger Hop.”
First stop: Ollie’s Trolley (978 S. Third St., 583-5214), on the corner of Third and Kentucky.
The only remaining location of a once thriving chain, Ollie’s Trolley is always crowded come lunchtime. It offers only carryout — and I have closets bigger than the ordering area.
It helps to know the routine here. Stand in line and make your decision quickly! They also only accept cash — so plan accordingly.
I chose the “Ollieburger,” which promised a 1/3-pound burger cooked in “seasonings,” accompanied with “Olliesauce.”
I ordered mine dressed with cheese. It came with a couple of leaves of iceberg lettuce, tomato slice, dill pickles, white onion rings, mozzarella cheese and a healthy dose of the ubiquitous Olliesauce.
I got an extra order of the sauce on the side, just to see if I could figure out what it really is. It appears to be either mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together or Thousand Island dressing with the addition of that blend of “seasonings.” Either way, it’s addictive and makes for a darn tasty burger.
The burger itself was flat-grilled, well-seasoned and not too greasy. It seemed closer to a half-pound of meat. My only real complaint was that it could have used a bigger bun, as it made for quite a sloppy meal.
I also had a side of fries, legendary in their own right due to that blend of seasonings, which are liberally sprinkled.
My total came to $5.46. I could have easily spent as much at any fast food burger place and been nowhere as satisfied and pleased.
Right around the corner is another Louisville favorite, in operation since 1947: the Dizzy Whizz (217 W. St. Catherine, 583-3828). At any given time of day, you’ll likely find an interesting cast of characters patronizing the place.
Dizzy Whizz offers a wide variety of menu options including breakfast anytime, but the main draw is the “Whizzburger.”
At the counter, I ordered a regular Whizzburger (a half-pound version is also available). Two smallish flat-grilled patties (they appeared to be what we in the biz call a 10 to 1 size, 10 patties to a pound) came on a toasted double-decker bun with one slice of American cheese, a generous amount of shredded lettuce and a zippy dill tartar sauce.
This sloppy burger was just OK. The meat seemed overcooked to the point of almost being crunchy. If you are familiar with the Frisch’s Big Boy, this is a reasonable facsimile. My total came to $2.86, but I think I would have preferred the Big Boy.
Moving south down Third Street, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Granville Inn (1601 S. Third St., 635-6475) on the corner of Third and Gaulbert, an Old Louisville institution that also offers up a nice pizza, a stiff cocktail and a great neighborhood “joint” atmosphere, but whose burgers are truly something special.
At lunchtime, I grabbed a seat and was cheerfully and promptly waited on. From a short but nice choice of burger options, I settled on the signature Granville Burger. After a brief wait, I received a massive half-pound burger perfectly cooked to my requested medium. It came on a large toasted sesame seeded bun, fully dressed with fresh red leaf lettuce, tomato, onion, a couple slices of melted American cheese and an ample dose of mayo on the side. A serious portion of well-cooked, crispy crinkle-cut fries came with it.
The patty appeared to be hand-formed and was nicely char-grilled, juicy, with a nice pink center. And the bun did a nice job containing everything without becoming a sloppy mess. This is almost as good as it can get. The only small nit I had to pick is that the meat would have been even more enhanced by a simple dose of salt and pepper before grilling. Otherwise, it was near perfection.
My total with a glass of iced tea came to $7.85.
Still moving south, my last stop was the venerable Wagner’s Pharmacy (3113 S. Fourth St., 375-3800) at the corner of Fourth and Central, across from the Infield Gate to Churchill Downs.
Wagner’s offers great homemade soups and a true lunch counter experience that you have to work to find these days. And you never know who will be eating there: You seriously may run into the likes of D. Wayne Lukas or Bob Baffert enjoying a midday meal.
I grabbed a table and ordered a double cheeseburger fully dressed, with fries and a cup of bean soup. I enjoyed the soup while I had a short wait for my burger.
When it came, it was a behemoth: two perfectly seasoned, seared and juicy quarter-pound flat-grilled patties, crisp iceberg lettuce, tomato, mayo and an alarming amount of melted American cheese on a nicely toast bun. Pure sloppy burger pleasure. I can only imagine that this is what eating a burger in the 1950s must have been like. I mostly ignored the unremarkable limp fries that were not worth ordering. However, that didn’t diminish the fact that Wagner’s serves a fine burger.
My lunch at Wagner’s came to $11.13 with tax. It included a cup of bean soup, double cheeseburger dressed and an order of fries. The ambiance is free.
is a guest columnist for Robin Garr’s Louisville HotBytes.
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