Excerpt: ‘Unique Eats and Eateries of Louisville’

This is an excerpt from Insider Louisville contributor and author Kevin Gibson’s latest book, “Unique Eats and Eateries of Louisville,” which was published this week by Reedy Press.

The book will take you on a tasty tour of some of the city’s most distinctive, unusual and downright delicious places to fill your belly — from Vietnamese food to street tacos to Ethiopian fine dining to mom-and-pop diners and soul food restaurants.

The author is scheduled to appear at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave., for a reading and talk at 7  p.m. on Thursday, April 19; and at Hilltop Tavern, 1800 Frankfort Ave., at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 22.

Ollie’s Trolley: One of the last of its kind in America keeps on keeping on

Ollie’s Trolley was a mainstay in the Louisville area for many years, and while it was a chain that started in Miami and extended around the Midwest, it has a distinctive Kentucky connection.

The legendary recipe behind Ollie’s Trolley was created in Miami in the 1930s, and by the 1970s it was a national treasure of sorts. There once were at least a dozen of the distinctive trolleys in the Louisville area, and now there is only one — and it is one of just two left in the country.

Ollie’s Trolley | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The back story goes something like this: The late Ollie Gleichenhaus was a legendary grouch who was particular about his burgers, and he had a successful restaurant in Miami Beach that served the unique hamburger topped with a slice of mozzarella cheese, inside a bun slathered with a Thousand Island-based sauce.

The ground beef was seasoned with a special blend of Ollie’s design, and the burger was dubbed “The Ollie Burger.” Meanwhile, the signature french fries (Ollie Fries) had a spice blend of their own that had people clamoring for more.

It seems former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown, who had done quite well with his Kentucky Fried Chicken concept in the 1960s and made the late “Colonel” Harlan Sanders a legendary figure with his original recipe bird, caught wind of the burger and decided to replicate the KFC feat with Gleichenhaus’s burger.

The top-secret combo reportedly includes 32 ingredients, and Brown believed, perhaps rightly so, that it was the burger version of the Colonel’s chicken recipe.

Brown bought the Lum’s restaurant chain in Miami and also bought Ollie’s recipe (reportedly for $1 million, no less), and utilized Lum’s to make the burger better known. Soon, the mini-trolleys were brought into the fold, franchises spread far and wide, and it looked like it might just work — but as we now know, the story didn’t end quite the same for the Ollie’s franchises as it did for KFC.

The legendary Ollie Burger | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Still, a few of the Ollie’s Trollies locations have hung on, including the one in downtown Louisville, which still serves eager regulars frequently enough during lunchtime to continue operations. Locations in Washington, D.C., serve the same food but aren’t in the nearly extinct trolley cars.

The tiny burger stand truly looks like an old-time trolley car, similar to those that used to travel the streets of Louisville before automobiles became the preferred method of transportation.

Inside, there’s a menu hanging on the wall, a window where you order, and a window where you pick up your order. If there are more than three or four people in line, well, you’ll be waiting outside because the space is just that small. Like, almost phone-booth small. (Note: Ollie’s Trolley is cash only.)

There are a couple of picnic tables nearby, but most folks either take their brown bag of deliciousness to go or simply eat in their car. Regardless, it’s a reconnection to an Americana classic.

978 S. Third St.

Mike Linnig’s Restaurant: Louisville’s definitive fried fish destination is still going strong

It was 1925 when Mike Linnig and his wife Carrie began selling produce on a roadside on the far southwest side of Louisville. The roadside stand would soon move into a small building, and the newly anointed Mike’s Place turned into a popular local destination, thanks in part to its deli sandwiches, apple cider, candies, and other attractions for hungry and thirsty Louisvillians.

Mike Linnig’s is a Louisville staple. | Courtesy

Outdoor dining, curb service, and an outdoor dance floor were added, and more people flocked to Mike’s Place. A baseball diamond was later added, and sporting events such as wrestling and boxing were held on the dance floor, bringing even more crowds. And then the Great Flood of 1937 hit, wiping away almost all of it save the main building, which itself was damaged to the point that the restaurant was closed for a long while.

It reopened and operated until 1942, when World War II forced another closure until a second reopening in 1946. Mike’s sons Bill and Len took over in the 1950s, but in the mid-’60s, a fire to the main building once again forced a closure.

But that was the last time. Mike Linnig’s became known as the largest seafood destination in the city, and it remains a staple, with a huge outdoor dining area, access to a cozy spot on the Ohio River, and baskets of seafood that are piled high, be it whitefish, oysters, catfish, frog legs, or turtle soup(!).

The indoor décor | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Mike Linnig’s truly is a destination, and a Louisville classic, with plenty of charming quirks.

For instance, if you choose to dine inside, you’ll get table service, but if you want a to-go order or an order to eat outside at one of the many picnic tables, you order at a bar festooned with deer heads, beer signs, and other weird décor.

You can wait inside for your name to be called, or you can go outside and wait for your name to be announced over the warbly loudspeaker that sounds like it was made in 1968 and used by Charlie Brown’s teacher.

The restaurant is still owned and operated by the Linnig family, now in its third generation of ownership. Per tradition, they still take seafood seriously. Mike’s Fish Sandwich is the legend, but look no further than the massive Seafood Lovers Plate, which, at $26 and change, is enough to feed a small army. Do plan to share.

9308 Cane Run Road