In the early 1960s, Ella Hirschfeld opened Ella’s as a small, kosher-style deli on downtown State Street. Today, Ella’s is undoubtedly the favorite restaurant of Madison’s kids and families.
In 1976, Ella’s opened a second location, with the aim of providing breezy entertainment as well as delicious foods. Later, Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor on East Washington Avenue became the preeminent (and only) Ella’s Deli.
Under the same ownership for more than 45 years, Ella’s offers down-home cooking in a fun-filled, zany, and carnivalesque atmosphere. Cheery, animated displays are ubiquitous, including jugglers, monkeys, flying supermen, sports heroes, castles, and wild decorations brushing back and forth on wires overheard, or jutting out of trap doors in the ceiling or walls. Many tables have glass tops with odd scenes below, or have moveable parts inside, which contain everything from model trains whizzing through miniscule villages to marble labyrinth races.
Sensory stimulation makes the place memorable, and children will be entranced by the spirited shows that crowd the restaurant’s atmosphere, from top to bottom, side to side, wall to wall. Outside, during the warmer times of the year, Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor operates one of fewer than 75 identified original carousels in the United States. First constructed in 1927 in Leavenworth, Kansas, the Parker Carousel was functioning in a park for 20 years in North Tonawanda, New York.
The food at Ella’s is decent diner fare, better than your average greasy spoon, closer to home cooking than unfriendly fast food. Kids eat free Monday and Tuesday nights, and the special two-page kids’ menu should keep them happy. Ella’s menu spans the traditional choices of cheeseburgers, roast beef plates, hot dogs, and ice cream sundaes.
In addition to being an amusing venue to take the children, Ella’s is also a fully-functioning, kosher-style deli. Named best deli and best malt shop by locals, the twenty-page deli menu boasts something for everyone. Patrons may begin with one of the many homemade soups, including matzo ball, sweet and sour cabbage, and chili. From a slender corned beef sandwich stacked high on tasty rye bread, to an enjoyable garden salad or a warm open faced melt soaked in melted Swiss cheese, the selection aims to ensure something for all. Much beloved city favorites include the corned beef Reuben, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and the vegetarian burger.
Diners should leave some space for dessert at Ella’s, which has a menu running twelve pages just of sundaes and splits. The ‘Number One Sundae’ mixes homemade pound cake with three scoops of Ella’s own vanilla custard, hearty fudge, and whipped cream. There are also seven distinct banana splits, twenty different tastes of ice cream, and a bevy of baked specialties.
In the spring, summer, and fall no outing to Ella’s Deli and Ice Cream Parlor would be complete without a journey on the 1927 Parker Carousel ($1 per ride, parents ride free). Vibrantly reconditioned and accompanied with organ music, the ride is a quirky treat kids won’t soon forget. Entertaining and edible, Ella’s is destination which shouldn’t be missed if you are in Madison.