There were whispers of what I always loved at Trolley Steaks & Seafood: a new spin on one of my all-time favorite dishes, wonderfully made cocktails and a salad bar that never disappoints.
And though there were many missteps, it was those tried-and-true staples that kept my faith in the restaurant along Dupont Road remaining a north-side staple.
Though the Trolley Bucco, one of the best dishes I have ever enjoyed in the Summit City, remains an entrée, an appetizer version of it also proved worthy of having again.
The entrée features a slow-braised pork shank resting upon a pile of mashed potatoes topped with house gravy, but the Mini Trolley Bucco featured mini braised shanks with a mustard barbecue sauce.
The little drumsticks had a crispy exterior as if they had been flash fried like wings before being served. They were moist and tender inside, just like the entrée. The sauce was tasty, but the dish needed much more of it.
I was in the mood for a shrimp cocktail during one visit, but it was never served. It was not on my bill, thankfully, so my server must have just forgotten about it.
Adding to my disappointment was that I chose the clam chowder instead of the salad bar during that visit.
The chowder was a fine version – it had a rich, light brown base and tons of clams – but being able to make a couple of trips to the salad bar would have helped appease me with no appetizer to enjoy.
The Trolley's salad bar is worth more than one visit. It has a bevy of ingredients to choose from and some wonderful house-made salads – the seafood is tremendous – and don't forget to grab some Gummi Bears, which have always been a part of it.
When it came to the steaks at Trolley Steaks & Seafood, I was torn between the bone-in rib-eye – which had a crazy long description that even covered the animal's diet – and the bison rib-eye.
I asked my server which route was better and she was torn, too, as she thought highly of both. I went with the bison but had my decision made for me a few minutes later when the server told me the restaurant was out of the bison steaks.
“OK then I guess I will go with the rib-eye,” I told her.
I assumed she would bring me a bone-in steak given we had such an extended discussion about its merits versus the bison, but, to my dismay, she brought me the 14-ounce house rib-eye. It was at least a decent option.
It arrived a tad overcooked, but it was seasoned to perfection and I didn't even think of reaching for a shaker. It was a tad pricey given the quality, and it was not even the most impressive thing on the plate.
That was my side of risotto, which was tremendous.
The Trolley has an ever-changing risotto as a side option and my ginger-mushroom had the perfect rich and creamy consistency, the rice had been toasted properly so it had bite and there were a ton of mushrooms. It would hit me with a zing of ginger every so often, but the flavor was not ever present, which was nice.
I have never had much luck with risotto, even at well-respected Italian restaurants here, because many places use the term for any rice dish, most of which are sticky overcooked casserole-style messes.
The confusion was on my part – sort of – when I ordered the jambalaya at lunch. Listed in the pasta section, I was eager to try a plate of pasta with jumbo shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, Spanish onions and sweet peppers in a spicy tomato-chorizo creole sauce.
What I got was a big bowl of traditional jambalaya with rice – no pasta. It was a great version, just not a pasta dish. The shrimp were plump and sweet, the chicken and sausage were plentiful, the peppers still had snap, the rice was al dente and it was not too spicy, but I was able to increase the heat by dragging each bite through some of the Sriracha that spelled out the restaurant's name on the rim.
I had to have the salad bar this time but added a cup of lobster bisque, too, and found it to be as yummy as it always has been. It had a lot of finely chopped lobster in its orange base that also has a strong essence of the shellfish.
The Seafood Tower was a great representation of why seafood is part of the restaurant's name. It checked all of the boxes with a 4-ounce salmon fillet, a crab cake and two Cajun-seared scallops drizzled with lobster sauce and served with asparagus spears.
The seafood was cooked nicely, and the sauce accentuated it beautifully.
The almond walleye was not as favorable. The breading on this big slab of fish had a great flavor and it was just crisp enough, but it was very scant on almonds.
The fish inside was moist and flaky, but the jalapeño tartar sauce was awful. There were minuscule bits of pepper in it, but they were undetectable to the palate and it tasted like Miracle Whip, which is not what I wanted on my fish.
I passed on the standard restaurant service cakes and crème brûlée offered for dessert during my evening visit, not just because they were boring but because I dreaded how long it might take.
My server was missing in action much of the night and the main courses took far too long on a night when the place was not packed. The host who was on call during all of my visits was a real pro who thanked us for our visits, was charming and delightfully conversational.
One thing that hasn't changed at Trolley Steaks & Seafood that probably needs to change is the atmosphere. It is very dark with red lights adding to the somber feel and though it fit the bill as an upscale, old-school restaurant, it could use a modern makeover.
Restaurant: Trolley Steaks & Seafood
Address: 2898 E. Dupont Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Mini Trolley Buccos ($11), soup ($5 cup, $6 bowl; $6 and $7 for lobster bisque), salad bar ($12), rib-eye ($32), tower ($42), walleye ($25), jambalaya ($23)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 1/2 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Trolley Steaks & Seafood
Out of a possible five