Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dining at the Red Hill Royal Cafe April 3, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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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

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22 Responses to “Dining at the Red Hill Royal Cafe”

  1. Clyde of Mankato Says:

    Small town and back road Wisconsin is like no other place I have ever been. A step back in time these days but always was a step into a separate world. A step into other rules and relationships. People used to, and I hope still do, talk to each other in voices for others to hear and welcome in others.

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    I love these little local dinners. I fear the day when all that is left are chain restaurants grinding out food-product instead of genuine home-cooked meals. It isn’t even 7 a.m. and you have my mouth watering over that slightly greasy cheeseburger and fries – something I have not had in weeks.

    • I don’t even want to hear this, Dan, this predicted doom of local restaurants and small town cafes, etc. I know much truth lies in your fear.

      We very much avoid anything fast food chain or chain for the very reason you state. You won’t find me ordering burgers, though, anywhere. I rarely eat a hamburger; they are not one of my favorite foods.

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    Next time should definitely be pie season. Disappointing but another opportunity to stop and give them a go, right??

  4. Sweet Posy Deams Says:

    What a great diner vibe that place has. Too bad their business isn’t better.

    • I gathered from the waitress that business really slows in winter. And this winter, because of the extreme cold, people simply have not wanted to venture out.

      She made it sound like summer is really busy. That is good.

      I also read somewhere that the breads served in the cafe are made by the local Amish. However, I do not recall seeing that on the menu, which would be a strong selling point, I would think.

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    That jukebox and snippet of the table/chair next to it are awesome!!! So “retro” and perfect for the classic diner setting that’s goin’ on there. I can always go for a burger & fries (although, lately it’s been sweet potato fries I’m “hooked” on!!!). Unless time is a critical issue, we stay clear of the fast food chains, also. Great post…….so longing for the warm biking weather that allows us to seek out such places!!!

  6. Too bad there was no pie – poo! The eats look good though. Love checking out local places to eat instead of a chain:) Thanks so much for sharing – now I am hungry for pie and fries. Happy Thursday!

  7. Jackie Says:

    It’s always fun to try the “off the beaten path cafe’s”, you know I have a love for them as well. The food here looks yummy, it’s making me hungry. Sorry about the pie situation, I would have been disappointed too.

  8. hotlyspiced Says:

    Your winter has certainly been long and horrendous. I really don’t know how you’ve coped. I’m not surprised it has had an effect on business. Tonight we’re having horrific rain so we’ve bunkered down and for dinner, I ordered pizza. That certainly was a generous serving of fries and I love the old juke box xx

  9. ryanware Says:

    Always fun to run into a non chain place that has decent food. I ran into a place in Lake Lillian MN that is family run and is crowded at lunch time. The Food Garage. A play on words. It’s an old Ford dealership showroom that has been turned into a restaurant. A story about the restaurant. http://www.agrinews.com/jacobsons/remodel/former/ford/garage/into/popular/lake/lillian/cafe/story-5230.html


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