Friday, January 22, 2021

David Hagerty on Dining Out, Chicago Style

DEBORAH CROMBIE: If there is anything I love more than mysteries, it's mysteries that introduce me to food and restaurants! Make that food and restaurants in places I'd like to visit, or know better. Now, thanks to author David Hagerty, I've got a visit to Chicago on my sometime-in-the-future travel agenda.


Here's David Hagerty to tell us about his new novel, THEY TELL ME YOU ARE WICKED, and about DINING OUT, CHICAGO STYLE:

Every author has written a scene in a restaurant. A character’s choice of food or drink should tell the reader something. Is he a scotch man or a beer guy? Does she prefer sushi or salad?

Plus, food gives your characters something to do—a drink to lift, bread to chew on—and it adds ambiance, even sensuality. You can describe the tastes and smells and even the textures, enlivening an otherwise mundane conversation.

For my mystery series, I like to use real places, including restaurants. Whether it’s high brow hofbrau or high cal hot dogs, real places give fiction authenticity, the sense that locals will know you’re one of them.

My hero, Duncan Cochrane, made his fortune in meat processing, so he can't resist a good hot dog, Chicago style, which is to say "drug through the garden,” with every condiment imaginable, except ketchup. 

He also has a weakness for Italian beef, which is one of my fetishes as well. For those who don't know it (and only locals do), it's a bit like a Philly cheesesteak, except instead of the cheese, it's layered with grilled onions, green papers and a light sauce. My favorite purveyor was Al's, who had a stand next to my high school, where I stopped everyday on the way home.

In the first book in the series, They Tell Me You Are Wicked, Duncan decides he’s tired of the slaughterhouse and tries his hand at politics. He quickly learns it's every bit as bloody. Yet it allowed me to introduce a whole other style of dining, the kind of locales that lend themselves to backroom deals and tense negotiations. For those, I sought out diners, bars, and private rooms.

Naturally, I research these spots before I wrote about them. These aren't the ones that get written up in Chicago magazine or win James Beard awards. They're the kind where you can get a table without a reservation, but you can't escape without reliving some civic history.

Some of my favorites, all of which I’ve used in my work, are:

              the Billy Goat Tavern, which was once parodied by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi on Saturday Night Live with "Cheeseburga, Cheeseburga, Cheeseburga"

              Manny's Deli, a high end diner that's a favorite hangout for local politicians

              John Barleycorn, a reputed speakeasy

              The Berghoff, which holds the first liquor license issued following Prohibition

              Walker Bros. on the North Shore, famous for its German and apple cinnamon pancakes

              The Walnut Room at Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s), with its signature chicken pot pie

 

Like most writers, I adhere to the maxim that if your characters love their meal, you can use a real place, but if someone dies there, make it up. So far no one has objected, but none of my characters has come down with food poisoning either.  

What about you? If you were to write a scene in a restaurant, which one would you choose, and why?

If you’d like a free ebook of They Tell Me You Are Wicked, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a copy. I promise not to spam you or sell your name. Instead, once a month, you’ll get an update on my work. Go to my website https://davidhagerty.net or shoot me an email at davidhagertyauthor@gmail.com.

DEBS: I agree with David about using restaurants in books! I'll use real restaurants in a positive way, but I'd never commit a fictional murder in a real place. I love David's tidbits about these Chicago locals.

READERS, do you enjoy reading about real restaurants in novels? Any favorites?

 


David Hagerty is the author of the Duncan Cochrane mystery series, which chronicles crime and dirty politics in Chicago during his childhood. Real events inspired all four novels, including the murder of a politician’s daughter six weeks before election day (They Tell Me You Are Wicked), a series of sniper killings in the city’s most notorious housing project (They Tell Me You Are Crooked), the Tylenol poisonings (They Tell Me You Are Brutal), and the false convictions of ten men on Illinois’ death row (They Tell Me You Are Cunning). Like all his books, David is inspired by efforts to right criminal injustice.

 

61 comments:

  1. I have to be agree, Debs . . . a visit-the-restaurants trip to Chicago sounds like a marvelous idea!

    David, I had to laugh when you said Duncan quickly learns that politics is every bit as bloody . . . I’m looking forward to reading the story to see how Duncan manages . . . .

    I always enjoy the restaurant scenes, be they in a real or in an imagined eatery . . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading, Joan. I too look forward to another trip to Chicago, but until that's possible, we have fiction.

      Delete
  2. It's always fun when real places pop up in fiction. Although usually I don't know if they are real or not unless I know the area where the book is set very well.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love restaurant, diner, outdoor eating venue scenes. The ones you mention for Chicago, David, sound so interesting. I enjoy a little history with my meals. And, I absolutely remember the parody Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi did of The Billy Goat Tavern. I can still hear Dan’s voice. So, I agree with Debs that a trip to Chicago is in order (one of these days). I will also be signing up for your newsletter for your generous offer of the book.

    There are many reasons that Lucy’s Key West series is a favorite for me, and one of those reasons is the food. Because I’ve been to Key West multiple times, I get a special thrill when a restaurant known to me, one I’ve eaten at, is included. And, Lucy hits all kinds of eateries.

    I’m always excited to find a little out-of-the-way eatery that has amazing food. Although many people know about the shrimp trucks or buses (converted school buses) on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, not all tourists know to seek them out. The best are away from Honolulu, with my favorite being on the North Shore. I’d like to see that in a book I’m reading.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh thank you Kathy for the kind words! Now I'm ready to head to Oahu:)

      Delete
    2. LUCY and KATHY: Several mystery writers have books set in O'ahu and the other Hawaiian islands: Neil Plakcy, Toby Neal, Terry Ambrose, Chip Hughes etc. I LOVED eating at the North Shore shrimp trucks, too.

      Delete
    3. We have great memories of fabulous meals we ate on our two trips to Hawaii. On the first trip Jonathan was just 20, studying in Japan for his junior year abroad and we met in Hawaii for 2 weeks during his winter break. Every day we hiked somewhere and on Kauai we had a sweaty day in the Waimea Canyon. We showed up without reservations at Roy's at about 4:45 wearing our hiking clothes and looking like tramps. They seated us anyway and we ate the most extraordinary seafood dinner ever. I love Hawaii.

      Delete
    4. Kathy, I'm glad that you also recall the SNL skit. I hesitated about putting it in the piece for fear its time had passed. I guess good comedy, like good food, never goes out of style.

      Delete
  4. I have visited Chicago several types and I love eating there because of the diverse food scene.
    Italian beef and a Portillo's Chicago-style hot dog are among my fave quick eats. I liked eating at some of Rick Bayless' restaurants. And Garrett's Chicago Mix popcorn is addictive!

    And to no surprise, as a foodie, culinary mysteries are among my fave type of mysteries to read.
    There are so many authors that I read.

    One of my go-to mystery blogs is Mystery Lovers Kitchen.
    Fellow Red LUCY BURDETTE and frequent commenter EDITH MAXWELL (aka MADDIE DAY) are among the authors on the site:
    Http://mysteryloverskitchen.com

    I enjoy reading books where the location has a diverse food scene and when the book takes me to a varied bunch of eateries. Or books that focus on working in a restaurant/diner/bakery by Ellie Alexander, Leslie Karst, Tina Kashian and Maddie Day. Or mystery books with a catering theme such as those written by Shawn Reilly Simmons, Amy Patricia Meade and Diane Mott Davidson. And there are lots of mysteries set in coffee/tea shops such as those by Laura Childs, Cleo Coyle and Karen Rose Smith.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Grace. I present my Inauguration crab cakes recipe today over at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen!

      Delete
    2. Edith, yum I LOVE crab cakes. I will check out your recipe!

      Delete
    3. those crabcakes looked delicious Edith! We had them too, from our wonderful local fish place, Eaton Street Seafood Market

      Delete
    4. Yum, Edith! Will check those out!

      Delete
    5. Thanks, Grace. I actually created a page on Pinterest with some of my favorite spots. I'll plan to add those your recommended

      Delete
  5. Congratulations on the new book, David. I completely agree about restricting mayhem in restaurants to the fictional ones.

    I was in Chicago for a weekend (for Murder and Mayhem in Chicago) two years ago. Alas, because of the conf. schedule, I didn't really get to investigate restaurants, fancy or otherwise. My sister and I were also squeezing in as much touristing as we could get, and the deep-dish pizza place our walking tour guide recommended was less than stellar. I clearly need to go back!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And actually, the light dinner we had Friday night at the Palmer House bar was quite good.

      Delete
    2. The Palmer House is excellent and figures in the first scene of my first book. I also attend M&M Chicago in 2019 and missed some of my favorite food stops as well. Maybe in 2021...

      Delete
    3. I heard that it had closed last year. So too bad - such a gorgeous hotel.

      Delete
  6. I'm not sure that I've read anything about real restaurants being used in fictional stories. I probably have but I would hazard a guess that it didn't really make an impression on me at the time I read it.

    I've found that when a story features a fictional restaurant, the imagination of the author lends such a life to the eatery that I would kill to have a meal there. Places like Pans 'N Pancakes or The Lyme House come to life in the books that feature them and have me salivating over the thought of having a meal there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jay. I want to eat in Pans 'N Pancakes, too - and I (as Maddie Day) invented it!

      Delete
  7. Welcome to Jungle Reds! I have already popped over and signed up for your newsletter. And because I did, I got to see the Carl Sandburg poem that inspired your first few titles. I LOVED that!

    I think it is always fun to run into real restaurants or other local treasures in a book if it is a city I know well enough to recognize them. My childhood best friend went to Northwestern and stayed in the Chicago area for at least a decade after she graduated, and one of my first thoughts as I read about your series was that I ought to bring them to her attention, as she would probably thoroughly enjoy the real Chicago setting. I think so even more strongly now that I see the era your books are set in, as she would have still been at Northwestern for the first one, and working in Chicago for most or all of the rest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My mother still lives in Evanston, and it appears in the series, as does Northwestern, where my hero Duncan went for undergrad (as well as my mother).

      Delete
  8. I like real - and made-up - restaurants, especially when the descriptions make me want to call for a reservation. Like most, I'll only use real restaurants in a positive way. Although I once thought I made up a place only to find out it really exists!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I love learning about new foods! I admit, I've never heard of the "Italian beef" but I love Philly cheese steaks. I had my first authentic one in my 40s. Your series sounds intriguing (and yummy!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Few people outside Chicago have tried one. It's another good excuse to visit, as it's the only place I've found an authentic version.

      Delete
  10. Welcome to JRW, David, and congratulations on your series. I will pop over there this morning to sign up. Your series sounds like something that I will really enjoy and I believe that my husband will like it, too. We read a lot of the same books.

    I love it if I recognize a restaurant of even a location in a book. The next time I go to Key West, Hayley Snow will be my dining guide. But even made up places like Miller's Kill become familiar over the course of a few books. What I really enjoy is the eating scenes themselves, the rapport between the characters, their choices on the menu, who orders the food, who cooks the food. All of the JRW authors have wonderful cooking and dining scenes, from Lucy's restaurant reviewer and her creations, to Jenn's Cup Cake bakers, to Deb's Kit making the family dinner, to Rhys's Georgie, struggling to make tea and toast. That reminds me of one of my very favorite dining scenes, the first time that Darcy takes Georgie out for dinner and she drinks a little bit too much. Dining scenes and cooking scenes reveal so much about the people and their relationships.

    It's intriguing that you have included real Chicago mysteries in your books. I look forward to reading your series.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Judy, my book-in-progress has quite a few scenes set in my fictional Notting Hill cafe, Otto's.

      Delete
    2. I love Otto's. I want to find my own Otto's.

      Delete
    3. I love Otto's, too, and I know exactly where it is:-)

      Delete
    4. Hope you enjoy the book, Judy, and that it inspires you to visit my home town.

      Delete
  11. When I am reading fiction and a restaurant is described I often wonder if it is real or not. I like to think that most of the great ones I read about are real and since I seldom go anywhere I'll never find out differently.

    I've signed up for the newsletter and look forward to finding out more about Duncan and his adventures..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to count you as a subscriber, Judi. I'll get your book out shortly.

      Delete
  12. Congratulations on your latest release! We were in Chicago several years ago for St Patrick's Day weekend and Murder and Mayhem. We found a great deep dish pizza place near the Loop and splurged on a steak house after admiring the green river. My husband grew up in Hyde Park but had never attended the parade, which he adored.

    I like a good diner scene and put several in my WIP. Three cheese grilled cheese and tomato basil soup, sweet potato fries, and the Wednesday meatloaf and mashed potato blue plate special.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Who doesn't like reading about food? It's like armchair travel, only with eating, a vicarious sensual pleasure. And I never thought of it before, but you can really say a lot about a character in such a scene. Table manners, pickiness or meek acquiescence, what quality of food that person is willing to settle for (a la the recent occupant in the White House, with his fast food/big chocolate cake preferences, vs. a true gourmand).

    I just finished reading Millicent Glenn's Last Wish by Tori Whitaker, which takes place in Cincinnati, beginning during WWII. This is a city I know well, having lived here for over 50 years, and it was great fun to revisit a lot of the locales in the story. Especially a scene that takes place in the Hyde Park Square Graeter's, an ice cream parlor I've been to 100 times.

    There are many great places for characters to dine: either of the two Cajun restaurants within four miles of our home (we know the owners of both), the local dive bar that has been there since my husband's childhood--still with the same linoleum floors, the diner where I worked in high school, the Golden Lamb an hour north of here (bonus, it is a century-old inn, and might be haunted). And then there's the ultra-chic bar downtown where a girlfriend and I had a great time, drinking overpriced cocktails, chatting up the cute barkeeper, and listening and watching a local, extremely underdressed performer belting her heart out to a nearly empty room. Wouldn't that make a great scene?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. David, I meant to say that I LOVE Chicago hot dogs! Especially the part about no ketchup. I think I had my first one at the Rosemont from a local vendor cart.

      Looking forward to meeting Duncan. Thank you!

      Delete
    2. Karen, now I want to tour Cincinnati with you!

      Delete
    3. I have to agree about hot dogs - mustard, not ketchup!

      Delete
    4. Thank you, Karen, and I'm pleased to hear that in Ohio they know how to properly dress a good dog.

      Delete
  14. Congratulations on your new book, David. I think restaurants, real or fictional, add cultural context to a story, and introduce you to the unique blend of immigrants who built a particular city.

    For myself, although I enjoy fine dining, I find I am also drawn to dives that stay open late, and 24-hour truck stop restaurants. You not only get interesting food, you tend to get a real slice of a community. Is it the all-night pancake place that feeds the folks who get off the late shift at the nearby hospital and starving actors, after the show closes? The barbecue joint that has been there for fifty years and has the grease and smoke accumulation to prove it? The neighborhood taqueria? These are the places where plain people and politicians sit down at adjoining tables. Who knows what intrigue may ensue?

    But, seriously, my adopted current city, where can a woman get midnight biscuits and gravy around here? We have gentrified and plasticized this town so much that I can only think of one local dive, and your 24-hour options are either IHOP or Whataburger. What does that say about my city's soul? Nothing good, I fear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gigi, we should try Bill's diner sometime.

      Delete
    2. We should, but are we brave enough? Isn't it about due for another kitchen fire?

      Delete
    3. I feel for you, Gigi. Although my current residence is surrounded by good food (sushi, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Greek), I still miss my hometown favorites.

      Delete
  15. David Hagerty, welcome to Jungle Reds!

    Have you had deep dish pizza in Chicago? I remember when I was in high school, visiting my cousins in Chicago one summer, we went to a pizza restaurant where they served pizza right out of the pan and it was deep dish pizza. It was so yummy!

    On my last visit to Chicago, I went to this excellent vegan restaurant in Evanston called the Farmstead ? and the food was wonderful!

    I'll have to try Chicago hot dog the next time I visit Chicago.

    Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could not call myself a Chicagoan if I did not appreciate a good stuffed crust. My favorite comes from Giordano's, which has a branch in Evanston.

      Delete
    2. Oh, now I am absolutely swooning for pizza.

      Delete
  16. Okay, David, just finished breakfast and now I want a hot dog.

    I've only been to Chicago once and that was for dinner. I can't remember the restaurant, but it was spectacular. Hubs always talks about Lowery's Steak House and how he wants to go back. I love reading about real restaurants in novels. I write about South Florida and the Keys, I usually fictionalize the venues. Not because of ensuing mayhem, but because most come and go so frequently.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chicago is fortunate to have so many old, traditional places. However, it takes some research for me to find the menu in 1982 or the decor in 1979, as I'm sure you can appreciate...

      Delete
  17. I remember being pulled out of school in 5th grade to go “into the City” with my mom and her friend. First visit to Marshall Fields and eating lunch in the Walnut Room by the Christmas Tree was a highlight!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember the tree as well. Huge! And the candy store on the floors above...

      Delete
    2. Yes! I lived in Chicago, I was born there in fact, until I was about five. I absolutely remember Marshall Fields!

      Delete
  18. The best part about traveling, whether to scattered friends and family or on vacation, is being taken to local eateries or finding them on your own. Meals are among some of my fondest memories--not just the food, but the people sharing them with me and the ambience of the place. I'm normally not a big-city person, but I love Chicago--great memories there of meals! And like Kait, I've just had my breakfast, but now a want a hot dog!!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Food and travel - two of my most favorite things. I need to spend much more time in Chicago as I've only been there for book signings and conferences and haven't gotten to do a deep dive into the city. Your books will definitely help! Congrats on your latest, David, Looking forward to reading it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jenn, and I hope I've inspired you to book a trip.

      Delete
  20. I enjoy reading a book set in a city I'm familiar with and revisiting restaurants on the pages. I'm afraid Chicago has always been a drive-through or fly-through city for us. I have tasted the famous Chicago dog though. Chicago friends who lived here in Houston for a few years shipped in all the fixings for a 4th of July feast. That's been quite a few years now. I can't remember what all we had but each dish had how-to instructions.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I have to say, I've been to Chicago several times for book-related events (Bouchercon, ALA, book tour) and I've always had AMAZING food there. I once heard Chicago compared to Boston - it's freezing, it's on the water, and it's mobbed up but no one has ever tried to say Beantown's cuisine is as good as the Windy City's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not even people for Boston could make such a claim, although they make a fine chowder..

      Delete
  22. Sigh, I know! Bostón does have a good food… Even great food… But there is something about Chicago!

    ReplyDelete
  23. Looking forward to your latest, David. It sounds terrific!

    My heroine, Sam Barnes, spends a lot of her time in restaurants (because, duh, she reviews them for a living)and I have to admit, those are the scenes I like writing best. First of all because food. But also because, as in real life, a great meal (not necessarily fancy, just really good) inspires great conversation. Somehow the dialogue just flows...

    ReplyDelete