** Blue Moon Diner & *** Deli
Today let us study the "diner" and the "deli," two forms of restaurant life that find their natural home in the Northeastern U.S. but exist, if at all, only as exotic imports in our latitudes.
Here's my cynical opinion, based on a four-year stay in New York City a while back: A deli ("DELL-ie"), short for the German "delicatessen," specializes in cold cuts and sliced cheese (unless it's a kosher deli, where meat and dairy don't mix), dill pickles and sarcastic service. A diner ("DYE-nuhr") is a sit-down version of a deli, with bland but hearty fare, a lunch counter and booths; the originals were housed in long, narrow buildings made to look like railroad dining cars. They specialize in home-style cooking and surly service.
Happily, Louisville's new Blue Moon Diner & Deli isn't a real diner or deli. Operated by the same good folks who run the estimable J. Harrod's in the large St. Matthews venue that was once home to the defunct Rick's, it's more of a diner-and-deli "concept," with some of the advantages of both and, I'm pleased to say, not many of the disadvantages.
The renovated building is now divided into separate parts: The deli, a smaller room at the back, is open only for lunch. It offers deli-style fare and service: Order from the counter, sit down and wait for them to call your name. It closes at 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, whereupon the dining room, er, diner and the large bar open for dinner at 4:30 p.m.
We've checked out both departments since they opened in mid-August, and find the deli much more enjoyable than its New York counterpart, and the diner at least somewhat more so.
Since Blue Moon is really two restaurants in one, let's break this review into two parts:
*** Blue Moon Deli
As noted, the deli is a smaller room, a corner cut out of the larger space that houses the diner. It's decorated in a bright combination of sunny earth tones: mustard-colored walls with bright green tile floors with highlights of bright yellow and blue, picked up by similar colors in attractive framed prints. The tables and chairs are flat black; you pick up your own plastic utensils and paper napkins at the serving bar.
The ordering system is a bit unusual: You stand in one line to place your order, checking out the blackboard menu while you wait. They fill out a slip, which you must then take through another line to pay for your meal. This line trudges past a glass-fronted deli case where you can admire the goodies within, from a "cornbread salad" that looks very much like a mound of, well, cornbread, to pasta salads and yummy-looking Greek baklava.
One way you can tell it's not a NYC deli is that there's no pastrami. They have rice bowls, though, a $4.50 item that features rice covered with a topping that changes daily. The Beef Burgundy of the day didn't ring our chimes, but I marked this option down for future reference.
The deli menu includes soups ($1.95 and $2.50 for soup of the day, $2.25 and $2.95 for Kentucky burgoo), salads ($2.25 for garden salad to $5.50 for "The Big Easy," described as "A classic Cajun chef salad" with Cajun chicken), and more than a dozen "cosmic" and "earthbound" deli sandwiches and specialties, from such non-traditional items as a Rio Grande Taco ($2.25) to more customary deli fare like hot corned beef ($5.25 for a sandwich) or a Reuben ($5.75 for corned beef or turkey).
Sandwiches are served on wax-paper squares in rectangular green plastic baskets. The Classic Club sandwich ($5.25) was built a bit off the usual specifications despite the name, lacking the familiar middle slice of toast; it was really more like a straightforward (but untoasted) BLT with turkey. It was good, though, a generous portion of thin-sliced deli turkey with crisp bacon and good looking fresh tomatoes and lettuce on healthy slices of store-bought rye bread. A perfectly serviceable club.
The Reuben ($5.75) was serviceable, too, with a healthy ration of salty, savory corned beef; my wife passed on the usual dressing.
Sandwiches and deli