Back in the late 1980s, I worked just a couple of blocks from an Ollie’s Trolley, those curious and quaint faux trolley cars that once speckled the Louisville landscape, serving secretly-spiced burgers, french fries and more. I took it for granted, stopping in only occasionally for a quick lunch.
And then, one day, it closed, to make way for some new development. I was disappointed, but didn’t even realize at the time I had taken it for granted, as several other Ollie’s Trolleys were still in operation.
It’s been more than seven years now since I wrote in this space about the last remaining Ollie’s Trolley at Third and Kentucky streets downtown, and the famed Ollie Burger and Ollie Fries that still taste exactly as they always did. In that time, based on research I’ve done, the number of the original fake trolley cars have dwindled to only two, including the one downtown.
Other Ollie’s Trolley locations still exist — there are a couple in Washington, D.C., for instance — but most of them now are fairly standard store fronts. Same food, but without the kitschy look. I decided to hit our local Ollie’s Trolley for lunch recently simply because, once again, I fear I am taking it for granted. Besides, I wanted to see if it is still the same after all these years.
I parked on the street about a block away on a cool, drizzly morning at about 11:30, thinking I might beat the lunch rush, if there still is such a thing at Ollie’s Trolley. Lo and behold, I was already too late, as two or three people were lined up outside. Brrr. But, still, I had faith it would be worth the wait.
The line was at a standstill, and the guy ahead of me turned and said, “They must be understaffed today.”
“Yeah,” I said, “it usually moves faster than this.”
I didn’t mention that it had been probably four or five years since I’d stood in said line. I could tell he was at least a semi-regular, and I was just a guy trying to clear his conscience of having neglected the small business.
Finally inside, I scanned the menu board and found mostly what I expected, even though the prices had gone up a bit. Still, I was able to walk out of that tiny space — you order at one window, then walk two steps to the next one to pick up your food — with an Ollie Burger and fries for around $5. And, as is tradition, I ate lunch in my car.
You can get the Ollie Burger dressed or regular, with or without cheese (mozzarella, no less). I hadn’t forgotten the delicious, seasoned special sauce, which is essentially thousand island dressing with the signature Ollie’s spice blend, which I’ve read includes 32 different spices. But what I had forgotten was just how thick an Ollie Burger is — like, close to three quarters of an inch thick, at least on this day. It wasn’t big in circumference, but it made for a sizable bite, even without pickles, lettuce and tomato.
Best of all, the freshness of the beef is no different than it ever was — it actually tastes like something you might make at home, not the weirdly salty stuff you’d get at a fast-food joint. It tasted real, and I relished the memories it brought back to my taste buds.
The fries also lived up to what was stored in my memory bank. I used to order the fries with extra seasoning, but this time I forgot — and it didn’t matter. By the time I got halfway through the bag, my fingers were coated in the delicious Ollie spices, and I noted there still was plenty of the mix in the bottom of the small bag for dipping.
The fries themselves, basic shoestring style, are nothing special on their own, but when those spices are added, they’re a unique treat — one that I should enjoy more often. I live maybe two miles from the last Louisville Ollie’s Trolley, and while I know that’s much farther than a couple of blocks, I still feel guilty for not going more. I feel like I’m taking it for granted. Again.
Here’s hoping the little trolley and its delicious burgers never go extinct.