Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dining at the Red Hill Royal Cafe April 3, 2014

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The Red Hill Royal Cafe sits along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Coloma.

The Red Hill Royal Cafe sits along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Coloma.

MY HUSBAND AND I EXCHANGE  glances as we enter the Red Hill Royal Cafe in Coloma, Wisconsin, around noon on a Friday.

The charming lunch counter. Three other customers arrive at the diner after us.

Dining at the charming lunch counter. Three other customers arrive at the diner after us.

Except for a couple seated in the main dining area and a man at the lunch counter, the place is empty. Usually not a good sign.

We may have turned around and walked out if not for my hunger and my desire to eat at a local restaurant rather than the chain across the street.

My Philly steak sandwich.

My Philly steak sandwich smothered in cheese.

So we stay. I order a Philly steak sandwich. Randy chooses a cheeseburger and fries.

The jukebox brings back memories.

The jukebox brings back memories.

As you would expect, lots of familiar oldies.

As you would expect, lots of familiar oldies.

If the jukebox had been working, I would have selected a song.

If the jukebox had been working, I would have selected a song.

While waiting, we reminisce over the non-functioning jukebox, 45 rpm records visible inside.

A photo of a photo showing The Royal as it once appeared.

A photo of a photo (shooting through glass, so excuse the quality) showing The Royal as it once appeared.

We also study historic photos and information on the wall. The Royal Cafe building was relocated to this hilltop spot from downtown in July 1987 after Wisconsin State Highway 21 was rebuilt on the edge of Coloma.

Quirky yard art outside the cafe.

Quirky yard art outside the cafe.

But on this Friday nearly three decades later, not even the location along this busy highway that cuts across central Wisconsin from Tomah to Oshkosh draws in diners.

Friday specials.

Friday specials.

Business has been slow all winter, the waitress tells us. And not just here, but everywhere. Been too cold, she explains. That I can understand after arriving here from cold, and much snowier, Minnesota.

A generous portion of fries served with a cheeseburger, which Randy termed good, but "a little greasy."

A generous portion of fries served with a cheeseburger, which Randy termed good, but “a little greasy.”

To our satisfaction, we find the Red Hill Royal Cafe’s food to our liking. I’m no food critic, but my tasty Philly steak arrives piping hot on a toasted bun. Ditto for Randy’s burger. He shares his generous portion of fries.

A tabletop scene.

A tabletop scene.

I limit my fry intake as I want  a slice of homemade pie. Rarely do I order dessert out, but I decide to treat myself.

That is not to be. Although pie is listed on the menu, it’s a seasonal item reserved for the busier warmer months when folks are drawn to the region’s lakes, the waitress shares.

I am disappointed.

But there’s always next time. And next time should be pie season.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling