When I started the Q.C. Davis Mystery series I wasn't thinking about restaurants. But they quickly became key to the books. Why?
First, because I love dining out. Second, and more important to readers, is that sleuths need to interview a lot of people, and scenes with just questions and answers start to feel repetitive. One way to vary those types of scenes is to set them in places readers might enjoy visiting or to feature food or drinks they want to try.
Now the question readers ask me most often isn't what type of murder my female detective will solve next but which Chicago restaurants she'll go to.
And The Real Chicago Restaurants Are…
The second most-asked question I get is which restaurants are real.
So here are just a few of them. In the first novel, The Worried Man, lawyer/sleuth Quille C. Davis visits the very real restaurant Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! (Yes, the exclamation point is in the official name.) Which also happens to be the first small plates, or tapas, restaurant I ever went to. I even tried the escargots and learned that made by the right chef (and baked with butter and garlic) snails taste fantastic.
Another real place Quille and her friends often visit is Sociale, also a small plates restaurant. It stands on the corner of Clark and Polk Streets on what was a cracked parking lot when I moved into the Printers Row neighborhood.
Sociale features great wine, wonderful outdoor spaces, and a coffeeshop attached to it that's named Café Press. The restaurant is in every Q.C. Davis Mystery novel, and one short story ends in the coffeeshop.
The Troubled Man begins and ends at a real restaurant, Niche, in the Chicago suburb of Geneva. I used a question I saw on a blackboard in the Women's Restroom there to start the novel: What's the one thing you want to do before you die?
This was pre-pandemic, and it struck me as a wonderful first line for a mystery. Also, the food at Niche is wonderful. (Try the steak frites.)
In my new release, The Hidden Man, Quille meets a suspect (the murdered attorney's long-time girlfriend, a psychologist) at my favorite Chicago seafood restaurant, RPM Seafood. Fantastic salmon and Parker House rolls with rosemary Nordic butter. And a beautiful view of the Chicago River and River Walk.
Quille also gets information from her Gram about the death of her sister (an old family mystery), while at Front Bar. It's a real bar attached to Steppenwolf Theatre. I discovered it right before Chicago closed restaurants and bars during the pandemic. It was (and I hope is again, though I haven't visited yet) a lovely, quiet place to have a glass of wine and catch up with a friend.
Classic Chicago Restaurants
Quille also questions witnesses in the latest book at both the bar and grille Miller's Pub and the classic diner Lou Mitchell's. Before writing The Hidden Man, I knew the restaurants had long histories in Chicago. But I didn't know both were founded by Greek families. I also learned some other interesting details.
For example, when you walk into Lou Mitchell‘s the owner or a host might hand you a small box of Milk Duds or let you choose from a basket of freshly baked donut holes. I had experienced that, but I didn't know why. It's because it's a Greek tradition: a way of welcoming female guests to a home.
Train Car Restaurants And Cheese
The Hidden Man also includes a fictional restaurant, The Train Car, that two real restaurants inspired.
The Silver Palm was inside an old dining car built for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. There also was an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood, Tutto Italiano, that combined a train car with a brick building. The dining car featured tables with an elegant white tablecloth and a tiny lamp on each.
Finally, in one of the books Quille gets wine and several types of cheese at a cheese shop called Pastoral. One reader (who must love cheese as much as I do) specifically asked about that.
It was a real shop downtown near Michigan Avenue and used to have a branch with a sit down restaurant as well. Sadly, both closed. An employee there told me shortly before the end that there simply wasn't enough business to sustain either location, particularly once Whole Foods with its cheese section (which is very good) came to Chicago. And that was before any pandemic-related shutdowns.
As I write, the city is in the midst of reopening. Some restaurants I loved closed. Other new ones have opened, and I can't wait to try them. And you can be sure Quille will as well!
Haven't read the Q.C. Davis Mysteries yet? Start with the first one.