The Trolley Stop Café: Back from Hell and Into Irrelevance

Back to Article
Back to Article

The Trolley Stop Café: Back from Hell and Into Irrelevance

Located at 1923 St. Charles Avenue, The Trolley Stop Café has long served as a fixture in the Lower Garden District since its’ conception in 1994. Open 24 hours a day, the café primarily caters to younger individuals who have recently spent a long night bar hopping and are looking for a quick bite before heading home in the wee hours of the morning. This established clientele base provides a seemingly perfect niche where the other options at this time of day primarily consist of a clinical meal from Taco Bell which is bound to leave you more displeased than before your arrival. However, for as long as I can remember the Trolley Stop Café has failed to capitalize on its’ unique position in the crowded New Orleans food scene. Beginning with the building which houses the restaurant. As a converted gas station, the physical plan of the building does not lend itself to an inviting restaurant. The entrance is placed behind a row of parked cars; while convenient, the parking situation separates the restaurant from the inspiration behind the café, the St. Charles Streetcar Line. This brings up another gripe with the restaurant: New Orleans has streetcars and not trolleys. Any true local knows that trolleys are reserved for San Francisco and streetcars for New Orleans. Then there is the food, which is actually why people come to the café in the first place.

The food at the Trolley Stop Café has always been known to be a subpar version of what one might find at The Camellia Grill on South Carrollton Avenue. However, recently The Trolley Stop Café was featured on the mildly popular Gordon Ramsay’s To Hell and Back, a reality television show which features critically acclaimed chef Gordon Ramsay infiltrating struggling restaurants in an effort to expose their flaws. He then gives himself 24 hours to revamp the restaurant’s menu and aesthetics. Viewers watching the first episode of the season which features the Trolley Stop Café paid witness to Gordon Ramsay beginning his journey by going undercover as a sheriff dining at the café. After exposing the disgusting flaws the restaurant, he managed to reopen the café just one day later and invited back all of the patrons who were dining with him the previous day.

The premise of the show is original, but the success of restaurants which appear on the program has been hit or miss. The Trolley Stop Café is the third establishment in the New Orleans area to be featured on the show and I don’t imagine it will be the last if the show continues. Many restaurants, including one from New Orleans, which were featured in past seasons have filed lawsuits against Gordon Ramsay and the entertainment company which produces the show. Gordon Ramsay visited The Trolley Stop Café back in October of 2018 and the show premiered in January 2019. Upon watching the show with family and an out-of-town guest, we made the brave decision to visit the establishment on the very next day.

Upon my arrival, it was pouring rain which did not give me time to appreciate the New Orleans-themed mural on the exterior of the building which Gordon Ramsay had commissioned. However, the mural definitely gives the building and its’ parking lot a presence which was lacking prior to the makeover.  Stepping inside, we were greeted by an awkward arrangement of various steps which patrons must navigate in order to reach the main dining area. The front features a makeshift bar, which I can’t imagine is used very often. Once we got to our table, the changes made by Gordon Ramsay were certainly evident. From the replica antique train station clocks to the new booths and tables, the changes made the floor plan more open and inviting.

Many of the servers were the same individuals featured during the show. Our party of four plus a service dog had no trouble getting a table within a few minutes of entering the door. When we arrived at our table, we were displeased to find the table was sticky from the previous patrons. After the table was wiped down, we ordered our food and in large part played it safe with our selections. No one dared order the deep-fried oysters or pork chop, which had been repeatedly served undercooked on the show. I personally ordered the pancakes which were certainly acceptable. They were filling and edible, but not altogether different from what you may expect from an IHOP and there lies my biggest problem with the café, even after its’ transformation. The entire establishment gives the impression of a sad and unoriginal restaurant.

If this were a New Orleans style café in the Dallas airport, then my tone may be different. However, since this restaurant exists in the heart of New Orleans, there is an obligation for the restaurant to do something different and be original. I return to my comparison between the café and The Camellia Grill; the Trolley Stop Café lacks the energy and excitement which a restaurant needs to be even mildly successful in New Orleans. For these reasons, I begrudgingly paid the bill because I knew that I could have received a comparable and probably far superior meal if I had stayed home. While I don’t anticipate returning to The Trolley Stop Café, I also expect it to continue scraping by with the help of people too drunk to cook their own meals after a long night out and by deceiving first-time tourists into thinking they are getting an original New Orleans meal.