Monday, February 2, 2009

Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Cafe

My wife and I have managed to hang out in motels for the better part of the last 5 months. I don't know if you've ever done such a thing, but it's weird...way weird. Instead of neighbors, you have guests. Instead of a bedroom, a living room, a dining room, a den, a patio, a have A room - one small, bedroom-sized room. Instead of privacy, you have serious/forced bonding. Instead of an address, you have a P.O. Box. Instead of a kitchen, you have nearby restaurants.

Speaking of restaurants, Ukiah, a small town of 15,000 in Northern California, hosts several unusual-in-a-good-way eating establishments. They each showcase their unique take on the world without apology...I like that. They are what they are. Among their one-of-a-kind offerings, Ukiah boasts the first certified organic brewpub, a bakery adjacent to the courthouse with tasty sandwiches including the ever popular "The Verdict" and the ever tasty "Grand Jury", and possibly the world's most market-challenged restaurant, Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Cafe.

If you're like me, and you probably aren't, your first guess at Ellie's specialization might be something like a vegetarian cafe that is dog or pet friendly...think Northern Colorado. Well, that would be a nice guess, but incorrect. Actually, Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Cafe (thank God for Copy-And-Paste functionality) supplies the locals with 2 very different and yet delicious items - hot dogs and vegetarian sandwiches. Yes, I'm serious. Really, I mean it. I am not kidding, not pulling your leg, not tugging on Superman's cape, not spittin...sorry, wrong list. Ellie's specializes in the areas best hot dogs and vegetarian dishes.

Work with me here. Imagine this: you wake up after a good night's rest, wipe the sleep from your eyes, stretch out a bit, mix in a few yawns, and then the light goes on. "I've got it! I'm going to start a new restaurant that will make the most amazing hot dogs (with or without chili and cheese) and...hmmm...what else...that won't be enough to make a living from...if only I could...wait, another dogs and vegetarian sandwiches and meals...IT'S PERFECT!!!!!"

But wait, there's more: "All that's left is to come up with a name...something that demands their attention and makes their salivary glands run like the Mississippi River...but that's too much to can I, a small town girl named Ellie come up with the perfect name for such a perfect's impossible...unless...unless...I've got it: Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Restaurant!!!!! It's perfect! They will line up to get in!"

And they do! They line up to get in! How does that happen? How did that happen? Furthermore, how does anyone encounter such a place and not believe in God? Come on! I love Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian Cafe. Their hotdogs are pretty darn good and their vegetarian offerings are even better, in my opinion. They also serve some delightful and "healthy" pancakes identified on the menu as Johnny Cakes. My wife and I frequent the place, not only for the food but also for the steady stream of local personalities that make a habit of hanging out at Ellie's.

A couple of days ago, my wife and I grabbed one of the 2-person tables at Ellie's Mutt Hut & Vegetarian cafe. We ordered a couple of Johnny Cakes and 2 scrambled eggs to split between us. Quick aside: after splitting meals for many years, we've discovered that you don't tell the waiter you're splitting, because they charge you a split fee, knowing that only a professional should attempt such a feat. So, we're finishing up our meal and the couple seated at the table directly behind my wife stood up to leave. Their 3-year-old (I'm guessing the age) daughter sporting blondish-brown curls stood up as well. We waved at her and she waved back. In support, her parents instructed her to say goodbye. Wearing a serious expression, as if tasked with a national security mission, she took their orders to heart and began her task.

Surveying the field, she started with those who are closest, and said "goodbye" to my wife and me, followed by a sort-of-wave-kind-of-a-thing. Riding on the waves of her initial success, she began making the rounds. She worked her way up to the front of the restaurant tossing her goodbyes and waves to each and every person, including the ones behind the counter working at the restaurant. Her confidence and panache grew with each successful attempt. Finishing up, a smile of satisfaction and accomplishment glowing from her tiny face, she headed toward the exit where her parents waited patiently and proudly. In a matter of 2 minutes she had affected or infected everyone there with her fearless and focused exit performance. I hadn’t seen that many smiles in one place in a long, long time. Out of the corner of her eye she spied the one last and quite oblivious couple seated in the far corner near the other exit. Still heading toward her parents across the way, she added a final, well-projected goodbye aimed straight toward the preoccupied couple.

Here’s where it gets funny. They completely ignore her. From where I sat, it looked like they were discussing something of great interest to both of them and they simply didn’t notice her, at all.

So the little girl set her feet and tried it again. This time a little louder. “Goodbye!”

No response.

Leaning forward up on her toes, she shouted one more time. “GOODBYE!”


Now, at this point, I’m thinking of getting out of my chair and interrupting the couple in the corner. I’d become emotionally attached to this little girl and her goodbye mission. I wanted 100% success for her. An A+. A perfect score. And then she surprises me. She turns on her heels, nods her head slightly, and marches toward her parents. The 3 of them exit together, happy as clams. The only thing that disturbed more than her not making her last conquest was the realization that I had been out-matured (just made that up) by a 3-year-old. Without flinching she gave it her best shot. When she finished, she walked away, satisfied with her efforts, and never looked back. Dang! If only life were that simple…

Anyway, “cheers” to Ellie’s Mutt Hut & Vegetarian CafĂ© for doing the impossible – terrible marketing name plus the most ridiculous combination of food specializations imaginable, and yet succeeding in a big way. And “cheers” to the 3-year-old girl who taught me more about life in 2 minutes than I’d learned in many a day.


P.S. On a couple of my visits to Ellie’s fine eatery, I noticed a few people eating carrot cake for breakfast…or dessert of breakfast. I wonder how the What is Breakfast Committee would rule on that dish.

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