Matz says he knew he was on to something as he watched Eli carefully contemplate the various grilled-cheese sandwiches — some of which were chef-made and quite sophisticated.
The Knauers — mom Cheryl, dad Jason and Eli, along with his kid brother Owen, who's 6, and his 2-year-old sister Olivia — typically eat out once a week. Eli busies himself at Cub Scout camp, voraciously devouring Harry Potter books and playing Pokemon — even though he tells a journalist that his best friend told him that if he didn't give that up, he'd never get a girlfriend.
When he eats, he does it with gusto and curiosity. He'll want to know what sauteing means. And how a croissant is different from a regular roll. He's a boy with opinions, not afraid to call them as he sees them.
He declares his father's kebabs one of the worst things he's ever eaten. Lobster bisque at Phillips is "too spicy."
Hampden's Holy Frijoles made the mistake of putting lettuce on Eli's taco after he asked for lettuce-free.
So what did he do?
"I didn't do anything," he laments. "My dad said, 'Peel it off.'"
Then he went home and awarded the restaurant a stinging one star for food.
His sign-off of choice: "Well, that's all. Bye!"
As for S'ghetti Eddie's, Eli's impressed with the restaurant's kid-friendliness. The restaurant lost a point or two by not having a separate kid's menu, but he gave his spaghetti and meatballs dinner high marks, praising in particular the "big punch of flavor" in the sauce. As he bites into a breaded mozzarella stick, the gooey cheese trailing several inches from his mouth, he gestures with a triumphant upright thumb.
If Eli could dream up a meal, he'd tell you it would start with oozy cheese sticks just like that — "his favorite appetizer like ever." The entree, without hesitation, would be three-cheese bacon pizza with crisp bacon and a smooth sauce unadulterated by any "blah" tomato pieces.
Before he'd wake up, he'd work his way through a big bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
It annoys Eli's dad when people say — as they often do — that a 10-year-old's got no business reviewing restaurants geared for an adult palate. Considering his son didn't even speak until he was nearly 4 years old, he values Eli's words and his right to express himself.
"They'll start with something like, 'No insult to the little guy, but …'" Knauer says, getting ever-so-slightly worked up. "But he doesn't pretend to be a serious foodie. He's a kid. And that doesn't mean he can't like what he likes."
Adds Eli's mom: "He still has an opinion."
When the Knauers hit Clementine recently, for dad's birthday — and of course for an Eli review — owner Cristin Dadant immediately recognized the celebrity in her midst. As a restaurateur and a mom, she loves Adventures of a Koodie.
She was proud to later read Eli's enthusiastic assessment of Clementine's toy-stuffed playroom and its French toast casserole. "[G]uess what? It had whipped cream on top (not to mention the sugar on the plate!) ! It was delicious!" he wrote. "It was soggy (the good type of soggy [It was soggy from the maple syrup, which is also good])"
"I like reading about what kids like about restaurants, which is quite different than what adults like about restaurants," Dadant says, adding that Eli's stream-of-consciousness prose and his E.E. Cummings-esque creativity with grammar only add to the charm. "He's very from the heart. It's sweet."
Though he's been reviewing for nearly a year now, there's no sense that it's getting old for Eli. Sure it wasn't long ago that he was telling everyone he wanted to be Indiana Jones, but these days he's seeing a future filled with entree possibilities — probably more mozzarella sticks and maybe even free dessert.
He's hungry for more.
"There are plenty of restaurants," he says. "All around the world."