In this food-loving city full of food-fascinated folks, there must be a thousand food bloggers, freelancers and journalists. My friend Dana is one, and she does it well. So I was truly honored when Dana asked if I’d help mentor her 12-year-old cousin, Amber, visiting from Michigan, who wants to be a food writer, too.
How could I say no? I was delighted for a chance to help guide this bright, eager tween toward the fascinating world of eating, drinking and telling people about it.
Why not take Amber to lunch, talk about the tricks of the food-scribe’s trade, and invite her to help write a review?
Amber thought that was a great idea, so we blasted off for Toonerville Deli, where proprietor, Dan Borsch, had recently written to let me know that his place is serving fine sandwiches. Borsch hope I’d check it out, and that sounded good to me! I love me some good sandwiches, and I admired Dan’s adoption of a classic old Louisville meme. Fontaine Fox’s cartoon, Toonerville Trolley, which ran in the Louisville newspapers a century ago, and later inspired the the faux trolleys on tires that run in the Trolley Hops.
Toonerville Deli’s Old Louisville storefront offers straightforward deli fare, mostly sandwiches, priced from $6 to $13, plus soup and salad options. Around midday it segues from deli to pizzeria, fully transforming into the Old Louisville Pizza Co. by dinner time.
Hey! Let’s let Amber tell us about it. She wrote her review on a tight deadline on her own tablet within an hour after lunch:
Today I went to Toonerville Deli with my cousin, Dana McMahan, and food critic, Robin Garr. It was a great experience to meet a food critic since I want to be one when I grow up. Also it was nice to come to Kentucky for a week and try a new deli.
I thought the deli itself was extremely interesting. I loved the walls with their menu in chalk styled writing. I also liked the marble tables. They didn’t rock back and forth like other places I’ve been to. Their wooden chairs were very simple, and comfortable at the same time. And the temperature in ToonerVille Deli wasn’t too cold, but not as hot as it was outside. It was a nice temperature to get out of the humidity. I noticed the customers were very casual, which I liked as well.
I don’t think I could have said it any better myself. Good work, Amber!
We placed our orders and chatted for a while. Dana and I tried to answer her thoughtful questions, and offered her a few suggestions about the food-scribe’s trade: Pay attention to everything — looks, sounds, smells, tastes, even how you feel. Soak it up and save it.
Ask questions. Always ask why. Why does this taste good? Why don’t I like that? Is there something wrong with this dish, or is it just something that I don’t like? This matters. You don’t want to slam a place for offering tofu just because you don’t like tofu. (Yes, a real food critic did that once.)
Nurture your natural talent to think creatively and express yourself clearly in interesting stories. Try not to leave out anything important. It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Or not?
Pretty soon our food came, and things got quiet while we were busy eating. Dana’s “That Dan” sandwich, chicken salad with cheese, mayo, lettuce and tomato on Texas toast ($9) was good, although she thought the generous mayo made it mighty rich.
I went to the breakfast menu for a well-made scrambled egg-and-provolone on sesame bagel ($5) and was pleased, although as a sometimes New Yorker who discovered bagels out in the Borscht Belt back in the day, I’m a bit of a bagel snob. I’ll rate Toonerville’s house-made bagels as very good bagel-style rolls, but they don’t quite make it for Gothamesque authenticity.
Amber? She followed the grown-ups’ suggestions to the letter and wrote this stunning review of her lunch. I’m not even going to edit it; there’s no need for the editor’s deadening hand on this exuberant youthful prose.
I got the Grilled Cheese with Tomato soup ($6). The grilled cheese was delicious! It was crunchy to perfection and the cheese was absolutely amazing, I really enjoyed it. The tomato soup wasn’t as good as I expected it to be, though. It didn’t taste like tomato in my opinion, I thought it was more on the herbal side with a taste of cheese. And to be honest, I like the rich tomato taste in my soup with crackers. No crackers either.
Toonerville Deli made me feel easygoing and comfortable. It almost felt like a nice café with a great atmosphere to just relax, and eat of course! I recommend it to people who just want to get out of the heat and eat a nice meal.
But maybe not the tomato soup, if you’re like me.
You go, Amber! We’ll all be reading your reviews one of these years. And go, Toonerville. We all liked what you’re doing, too.
1201 S. First St.
Robin Garr’s rating: 82 points