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2014 Road Trip Photos #5: You Can’t Spell “Psychedelic” Without “Deli”

Ella's Deli!

You are about to enter another dimension — a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of food.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Each year from 2003 to 2013 my wife, my son, and your humble writer headed out on a long road trip to anywhere but here. Our 2014 road trip represented a milestone of sorts: our first vacation in over a decade without my son tagging along for the ride. At my wife’s prodding, I examined our vacation options and decided we ought to make this year a milestone in another way — our first sequel vacation. This year’s objective, then: a return to Wisconsin and Minnesota. In my mind, our 2006 road trip was a good start, but in some ways a surface-skimming of what each state has to offer. I wanted a do-over.

Our Day One drive through Wisconsin took us in the late afternoon from downtown Milwaukee to the state capital of Madison. We’d driven through Wisconsin in 2006 and 2009, but this was our first time detouring in Madison’s direction. If you’re only looking for roadside oddities, nearly everything on their to-do list is located along a five-mile stretch of Washington Avenue running diagonally southwest-to-northeast between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota. Our hotel was at the northeast end; the State Capitol was at the southwest end. Plotting directions was a cinch.

Between the two endpoints was our dinner destination, Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor, all decked out like a TGIFriday’s hoarding novelty antiques.


Ella's!

Gateway to bric-a-brac!

Once you get past the decor, the Ella’s menu is a twenty-page, square-bound catalog that requires a lot of time to examine to its fullest if you’ve never been there before — dozens and dozens of burgers, deli sandwiches, non-burger non-deli sandwiches (melts, franks, and blintzes merit a full page of selections each), salads, salad sandwiches, salad platters, veggie meals, deli platters, homestyle dinners, and more more more.

Deli Window!

I had an aunt who collected glassware like this. Aunts like that were all the rage back in the day.

But the decor slaps you in the eyes first. Even the tables are no mere slabs of wood. Each contains a glass-roofed diorama built into the tabletop, some with moving parts that keep rotating beneath your plates while you eat.

Zodiac Table!

Our table’s contents: the Zodiac.

Table Sun!

With celestial bodies this idiosyncratic staring at us, I half-expected tiny, frantic Monty Python knights running back and forth beneath my elbows.

Map Table!

Each table had a different theme. The one next to ours contained a map and several toy planes. Because.

While we waited for service, we took note of the larger-than-life personalities that had us surrounded.

EllaBot!

This robot may be a greeter now, but he’s only doing this to get by until his science-fiction screenwriting career takes off.

Banana!

We waited and waited for this banana to announce peanut-butter-and-jelly time. That moment never came.

Captain America!

If you know Captain America’s comics origin, then you know having him joy-riding a rocket like Slim Pickens is just about the saddest thing you can force him to do.

Mighty Mouse!

Meanwhile above, this motorized Mighty Mouse was suspended from wires and kept flying slowly over my head throughout our entire visit. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and forth AND BACK AND FORTH AND BACK AND FORTH AND BACK AND FORTH AND BA–

Carousel horsie!

The expression on my loving wife’s face says it all: “This was your idea.”

Also, there was food. Eventually.

It was Saturday night. Hungry crowds and service delays are to be expected. Waiting for a table wasn’t so bad. Waiting to order took a while. Waiting for our appetizer was another while. We ordered polenta, which was served in wedges and had the taste and consistency of solid, crisped cornbread. We’d never had polenta before and we have no idea if that was normal or not. Curiously, as of this evening, polenta is no longer listed on the online PDF copy of their menu.

Our main courses took yet another while. In case we thought we were imagining it, our waitress assured us otherwise, “Sorry. The kitchen is really slow.” We appreciated the candid reality check.

My wife ordered a reuben and had no complaints. I ordered a specialty called the Roundhouse Burger, which the menu described as a burger stuffed with pastrami and corned beef. How could I not crave a groundbreaking comfort-invention like meat jam-packed with two more meats as a delicious meaty center?

The meat patty on the sandwich I received, once I tore into it, appeared on the inside to contain only beef, beef coloring, beef texture, beef density, and, as far as I could tell, beef. No sign of deli meats rising above their station. At all. The patty was a quarter-pound at most and, you’ll note in the photo, was served on two bun tops and no bun bottom. (In the industry parlance, that’s two crowns and no heel. When I was a restaurant manager, we mocked 16-year-olds who did this whenever their attention strayed.)

Roundhouse Burger?

Served with potato salad and cole slaw. At least those items lived up to their descriptions.

Either the pastrami and corned beef self-destructed on the grill, or someone slapped the wrong kind of patty on my sandwich. By this time too many whiles had passed and I wasn’t in the mood to renegotiate and wait three more whiles for a substitute. I ate my undersized burger, my modest side dishes, and my wife’s leftovers. Curiously, as of this evening the Roundhouse Burger is also no longer listed on the online PDF copy of their menu. The reuben lives on, of course.

In front of Ella’s was the grandest knickknack of all: a working carousel! Whee!

Carousel!

Fun for the whole family! Probably! We didn’t try it but we’re assuming!

After our meal, we declined to check out their ice cream parlor and we bade them adieu. Ice cream is cool, and quasi-animatronics are keen to a point, but as an adult you learn that sometimes snacks and toys have no power over you and can’t make up for everything.

To be continued!

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading!]

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About Randall A. Golden
Hoosier since birth, geek since age 6, father at 22, Christian at 30; launched Midlife Crisis Crossover at 39. Full-time service rep; part-time internet contributor; former message board admin; inhabits Twitter as @RandallGolden. Views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of any other corporation, being, or party line.

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