When life recently handed me lemons, I decided to turn the tables and make lemonade. And in a strange serendipitous twist, it was delicious lemonade. I had decided to take a Friday off of work and when I checked my list of places "To Eat," I discovered an addition I had made some time ago: Mary's Pizza Shop in Lisbon, Ohio. Today being a lovely sunny and mid-sixties kind of day, I thought it would be the perfect time for a road trip out to eastern Ohio. By the time I had packed up my car and brought up GPS directions to Lisbon, it was nearly noon. Given that my estimated time of arrival was approximately 1:30 PM, I thought that this would be a perfect way to avoid the lunch crowds at what I can only imagine was a very popular restaurant.
Sadly, when I arrived at the quaint little pizza shop, I discovered a closed and locked door and nary a light on inside the place. Resigned to the fact that perhaps Mary's didn't have lunch hours, the fact that I was still hungry hadn't changed. Since I had driven this far, I decided to pull up my Google Maps application on my smartphone. In just a few moments, I gleefully discovered that less than two tenths of a mile away was a restaurant called the Steel Trolley Diner. While at first the name didn't jog any memories in my brain, I would later realize that I had been exposed to Steel Trolley Diner's food once prior at the 2009 National Hamburger Festival.
After finding a spot to park at a metered space on the street, I began rummaging around in my change cup to find several quarters for the meter. Much to my surprise, a single quarter actually bought me two hours' worth of time. I pocketed the rest and walked to the corner of Lincoln and Jefferson to discover the sign for the diner:
Technically, the diner was located at 140 East Lincoln Way, Lisbon, OH 44432 and can be reached at 330-424-3663. Upon turning the corner, I was presented with the front door:
Once inside the main door, I was completely taken aback to discover that the place was not only hopping at 1:45 PM on a Friday afternoon, but that it was completely packed. I stood by the door for a few minutes until I realized that there was a couple of empty stools at the opposite end of the counter, near the rear of the diner car. I took a seat and the incredibly friendly staff immediately welcomed me, rightly pegged me as an out-of-towner, and offered me a menu:
The breadth of the menu actually surprised me. This was a diner car, right?
In addition to the regular menu, a white board to my left also contained today's daily specials:
Since I hadn't had the opportunity to try one of Steel Trolley's burgers at the National Hamburger Festival, I decided to focus my search for sustenance on that part of the menu. When I saw the Hangover Burger, with its fried egg, I stopped right then and there. Burger? Check. Melted cheese? Double check. Fried egg? Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner! All the burgers were a meaty half pound of ground beef that started out as a frozen patty and were griddle-steamed on the flattop. What exactly does "griddle-steamed" mean?
The wonderful advantage of sitting at the counter was that I got to watch my lunch being made from beginning to end. When someone ordered a burger, the line cook went to the freezer, grabbed a frozen patty and threw it on top of the flattop. This was followed by a generous dousing of water and then a partial covering with a lid. Every so often, another patty was added and the process repeated. After flipping a patty, water was again applied to generate even more steam. While this ensured a properly cooked (meaning done) and steaming hot burger, the downside was that there was almost no caramelization on the outside of the finished burger.
I was also looking forward to the runny goodness from the egg yolk and when I saw that the egg that had been put onto a secondary flattop being used for breakfast items and hashed browns had its yolk broken, I was a little disheartened. Not wanting to make waves, I just decided to let my dreams of goldenrod gooey-ness dripping down my chin go the way of the Dodo.
With the final flourish of her spatula, the cook assembled my finished burger, rammed a serrated steak knife straight through its very heart, and slid the basket in front of me. Even before cutting the burger in twain, I noticed the oddly branded crown of my sandwich:
S ... T ... D ... oh, I get it! Steel Trolley Diner. That being said, one unfamiliar with this Lisbon legend might come to the same prurient conclusion as would most fourteen-year-old boys. I bisected the burger and took a shot of all the layers of my sandwich:
What I hadn't taken the time to bother reading while perusing the menu was that not only did the burger come with melted cheese and an egg, but also a sausage patty as well. This sucker must have been about two-thirds of a pound of meat in total. Overall the burger was quite tasty, although like I mentioned earlier, I didn't get the caramelization that would've made the burger even better. Other than that, it was nicely seasoned and you could taste each distinct flavor from the others.
Along with my burger, I decided to splurge and order a basket of the fried-from-frozen onion rings:
While the onion inside each ring easily detached from the crispy outer coating, I will have to concede that these rings were expertly fried: crispy on the outside without being greasy, seasoned nicely, and the onion had a bit of meat to it. They reminded me quite a bit of Jerry's Cafe in Orrville, Ohio. Did Steel Trolley Diner's version best Jerry's? They were pretty darn close, but I still think Jerry's has the edge on fried-from-frozen onion rings.
To accompany my rings, the same cook who had prepared my burger suggested I give some of their homemade horseradish mayonnaise a trip as a dip for the rings:
Just as with the spicy mayonnaise dip that Jerry's served, this was a welcome accompaniment to the onion rings, helpfully cutting through some of the fattiness. Honestly, I didn't think of it until after the fact, but the spicy mayonnaise would've made a great spread for my Hangover Burger as well. If horseradish is your thing and your server doesn't mention it, make sure you ask for it by name.
Normally, I wouldn't bother including a photograph of the check, but in today's case, my check came adorned with something I haven't seen in nearly thirty years and didn't even realize was still available:
Yes, that's right, gentle reader, that was a piece of Bazooka Joe bubble gum, complete with comic inside the wrapper. I hadn't seen this gum since I was a young boy living in Stow. I vividly remember riding my bike up to the local Lawson's on the corner of Fishcreek and Stow Road and plunking down my penny or nickel to pick up the grape or cherry treat. Ironically, it wasn't until I put the gum in my mouth and began to chew it that another memory popped into my head: we always used to buy so many pieces at a time because ten minutes in and the flavor had completely been leached from the gum. Ah well, the memory was nice while it lasted.
While I personally would've enjoyed my burger had it spent more time grilling and less time steaming, I immensely enjoyed my impromptu stop today at Steel Trolley Diner. The charming decor, the friendly people, and the diner style food make this little restaurant a must stop if you are traveling through or near Lisbon. Would I drive the hour it took me to get here for another meal? Given that I came across the very scenic Rt. 172 to get here, yes, I would. And as you'll see from my next blog entry on Mary's Pizza Shop, you might just want to stick around for that, too.