It takes a special person - someone selfless, really - to sample a lot of sundaes for the benefit of the community. But enough about me. Readers of Isthmus, I ask you: What better way can there be to give thanks for this wondrous dairyland we live in than to enjoy a sundae on a hot summer afternoon? Here are five of Madison's greatest.
1.Viva Las Vegas, Michael's Frozen Custard
The Viva is no longer on the menu at Michael's, but all you have to do is ask. Vanilla custard is dressed up with dollops of creamy peanut butter (hat tip to Elvis), hot fudge and slices of banana. Even the largest version of this sundae is not big enough. When scooping it into my face I sometimes remember that this sundae is not a nod to the skinny, leather-pants-clad Elvis, and try to slow down.
2.Turtle Sundae, Culver's
In my book, no matter how good the rest of the ingredients, you can't have a great turtle without whipped cream (Michael's, I'm looking at you). The ideal turtle also requires hot fudge, warm caramel and salty pecans. The Culver's turtle fulfills all of these expectations. The sauces are fairly sugary, which makes the well-salted, crunchy pecans that much yummier. It will completely satisfy your turtle yen.
3. Caramel Pretzel Sundae, Monona Bait and Ice Cream
This mom-and-pop shop across from Schluter Beach serves Babcock ice cream. If you love caramel as much as I do, this is your sundae. Salty pretzels + rich caramel = heaven. A tip: ask for a metal spoon so you can really dig in. Plastic won't cut it with a sundae this serious. And don't forget to pick up dillyworms on the way out.
4. Affogato, Paciugo
Purists will call me out on this one since it's not exactly a sundae. Affogato means "drowned" in Italian. At Paciugo, you choose your gelato flavors, and steamy espresso is poured over the top. I chose piccante (spicy chocolate), gianduja (chocolate hazelnut, a.k.a. the flavor of Nutella) and pannacotta (a creamy vanilla); all were excellent. The pleasantly bitter espresso balanced the creamy gelato beautifully.
5. Humpty Dumpty, Ella's Deli
I've loved the Humpty Dumpty since childhood. Ella's has many notable sundaes (the 32-scoop "Sparkled Kazoo" among them), but this petite dish is my favorite. A simple scoop of vanilla, adorned with M&M eyes and nose, rests in a pool of hot fudge, wearing an upturned sugar cone for a hat. Being meant for children, it's a modest amount of ice cream, but something so delicious and charmingly presented can't help but make anyone smile. Call it nostalgia cuisine, but everyone knows that the food you grew up with is the best food there is. After eating sundaes simple and fancy all around town, this one tastes, as Goldilocks would have said, "just right."