The Perfect Storm of Hunger

The Cookie Lady Café and Bakery

7596 Fay Avenue, La Jolla

The ocean shines like a giant blue puddle at the bottom of each side street we pass. Must be getting near La Jolla.

I get off the number 30 bus at Pearl near Fay. Just gotta have something to eat. Four in the afternoon and all I've downed is one slurp from Carla's coffee as I headed out the door. I walk down Fay. This could be difficult. Pass Bernini's Bistro, with its blue-canopied deck and torches -- definitely beyond my pocket. Taco Man's cheaper, but I've been taco'd out recently. Tapenade. Ha! About as high-end as they come. I see waiters getting ready for the night, adjusting ankle-length white aprons and black bow ties, when I notice this little sandwich board. "The Cookie Lady."

Maybe that'd tide me over.

A sign points to a walkway called "Shingle Lane." I follow it past gray wood shingle-clad buildings into, oh wow. A sunny brick patio with mosaic tables, trees, plants, and the Cookie Lady's shop, abuzz with chatter. A chalkboard menu lists soups and sandwiches as well as cookies.

It's painted cream and brown inside. A woman sits chatting with friends. The Cookie Lady herself, Joan. You know straight off that this gal is one fun cookie.

"Are you still doing lunch?" I ask.

"Oh yes," says Joan. "Would you like soup? A sandwich?"

"This is breakfast and lunch for me," I say. "Guess I need a coffee and time to think." I see they have Café Moto, $1.25, with refills. Hmm. There's also a large plate filled with broken-up cookies. Chocolate chip, gingerbread, macaroons, peanut butter...

"Samples," Joan says. "Take as many as you like."

Great. I go get my coffee and come back to grab some, then head out to one of the tables. Oh man, it's warm, sunny, and so quiet you hear footfalls, light planes overhead, people talking, gulls on the roofs cawing, but no traffic. You say hello to folks passing by. Carla would love it. I sit slurping and nibbling, soaking it all in.

That board menu offers $6 soups, like split pea and ham, lentil, chicken tortilla, or Italian wedding, with chips or crackers.

Sandwiches are roast turkey, BLT (both $8, with chips and a dessert, like a brownie or cupcake), or a roast turkey club sandwich with bacon ($8). Then there's a veggie sandwich ($8) and "PB&J" -- peanut butter and jam -- $5. A chef's salad costs $8, too.

I've more or less decided on the roast turkey club when I get back to Joan at the counter.

"I do a half-and-half for $8, if you like," she says. "Soup and sandwich?"

"Will that be, like, enough food?"

"Absolutely," Joan says. "So which soup?"

'Course I dance around, trying to make up my mind. "An Italian wedding or lentil," I say. "D'aagh..."

"How's about Italian wedding with a splash of lentil?"

Hmm. Lentil's salty pea flavor goes with pretty much everything. "Uh, fine."

"And which sandwich? Our turkey is real roasted turkey. None of that disgusting, watery pressed stuff."

"In that case, the turkey club with bacon."



"Provolone or cheddar."



Wow. "I guess."

"Sunflower or honey white?"

That's the bread. "Sunflower."

"Great. Take some more cookie samples and I'll be out in a minute."

Man, is La Jolla always this generous?

Pretty soon, Joan's husband Chris brings it all out. A steaming bowl of soup in a large white china soup cup. It's roiling with lentils and beans and meatballs and arrives with a packet of Poore Brothers' chips. Another plate comes loaded with a half-sandwich so high it'd take Mick Jagger to get a mouth around it.

That soup is rich and delicious, and, oh Lordy. Once I do my python trick of detaching the lower jaw, I lunge my molars into, I swear, the most dee-licious sandwich in the world. Really. It's the combo of the bacon and the hummus and lettuce and tomato with the turkey -- and the munchy sunflower seeds. Damn, it's good. Guess you could call this the perfect storm of hunger, taste, and ambience.

Two-thirds through and I'm struggling to finish. And this is just a half-sandwich. There's also the soup.

"Don't forget you get a cupcake too," says Joan. "Part of the deal."

Wow. I struggle back to the counter, to the pile of cupcakes and brownies. I narrow it down to the lemon or the vanilla cupcake. And these suckers are as big as your fist, not the dainty little two-inchers you mostly see. I refill my cawfee and go for the vanilla cupcake, mainly because of the coconut icing. And, oh mama. Rich, lightly sweet, coconutty. This could ruin my waistline for a week.

"I had one customer fly two of my lemon cupcakes to his girlfriend over in Paris. Paris!" says Joan. She has come a long way. When she and Chris migrated to La Jolla from Cape Cod, 15 years ago, she started by selling her cookies door to door. "I did that for 5 years. That's how I got my name. They all just called me 'the Cookie Lady.' I was thrilled to find a spot here. This is a happy place."

By the time I'm back on Fay, it's getting dark. The flames from the torches outside Bernini's Bistro send wavy lights across the avenue. But I don't feel tempted. Hey, I've just had the best sandwich in the world.

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