If you've lived in the same Chicago community some time, you might already know about the favorite cop hangouts in your 'hood. But do you know the stories behind them? In their recently released book, The Beat Cop's Guide to Chicago Eats, Chicago Police Sgt. David J. Haynes and writer Christopher Garlington provide an insider's look at these no-frills cop spots, complete with tasty tips and hilarious stories. We chatted with Garlington earlier this week to find out more about where beat cops like to hang out and how they selected the spots for their book.
CB: Since you're not a cop yourself, how did you get involved with writing this book?
CG: Dave and I were doing a live show for WJJG at Three Counties Pub. We had Ursula Bielski as a guest and her publisher, Sharon Woodhouse, was there. We were getting everyone to laugh a lot (not hard, as it was full of drunks) and the publisher liked what we were doing. Sharon tapped Dave to do an update for The Streets and San Man's Guide to Chicago Eats, which she had put out in 2004. Dave said sure, turned to me and said, "You'll help me, right?" I was already a fan of the original book from my previous life as a bookstore manager so I jumped in feet first.
The types of food spots that the cops visit vary by district. What do you think these choices say about the neighborhoods and how beat cops form relationship with those communities?
Neighborhoods identify in a lot of ways but food is prominent. Always. Food crosses generations far more easily than music, literature, or fashion. Your grandpa dresses like a vaudeville clown, listens to nothing but ragtime banjo music, and thinks D.J. Shadow is a medical condition. But you both will swoon over a bowl of [insert your primary ethnic dish here]. A good beat cop visits the businesses in his district and a really good cop knows that the best place to learn about people from the 'hood is to eat with them. A restaurant is an ecumenical nexus of information, even more than a barbershop or a hair salon. If you know the local taco joints and Italian beef shops, you know the neighborhood. Plus, everybody eats. At some places in our book, you're just as likely to sit down next to a gangbanger as a priest. Cops know this. I'd love to see stats on how many cops catch a guy with a warrant when he's ordering lunch. It's a lesson you can take on the road. Doesn't matter if you're in Prague or Peoria: you want to get the local lowdown, just hit a rinky-dink sandwich shop.
There's a lot of coverage about the upscale restaurants in town, but this book highlights more of the "blue collar" eateries that many people have never heard of. Did you feel like you were uncovering some of the best hidden gems in the city while working on it?
Absolutely. Dave and I have always maintained that the real taste of Chicago is street level food. I love upper level gastronomy and trust me, I've eaten at the best restaurants in the city. But the ecclesiastic foaming at the mouth effusive gastroeuphoria I experience after eating at Blackbird, Fork, or after having the (Jesus mother of God I surrender) truffle-enfused polenta at the Stained Glass Winebar in Evanston, is no different and no more passionate than when I have the ribs at Uncle John's or a fresh donut at Old Fashioned. I reject the idea that blue collar food is less important than stuffed-shirt food. And these gems in our book--Rainbow Cone, Hero's, Tony's--they aren't hidden from anyone except the people who think good food is supposed to set you back three bills. That's bullshit. I was at an event at the Sofitel last week and their genius executive Chef, Greg Biggers, comes out with a tray of fresh Kumamotu oysters with a champagne and cracked pepper topping that made my knees weak and caused me to briefly lose the power of coherent speech. I love that insanely rare level of culinary genius and thank God Chicago has people like Biggers and Graham Elliot and Rick Bayless. But I bet you I could take Bayless out for chorizo tacos at Los Comales or pupusas at Pupuseria el Salvador and he'd love it. What Dave and I feel like we did is give voice to what 90 percent of Chicagoans already know: their favorite neighborhood cook matters as much as Charlie Trotter any day of the week.
Old Fashioned Donuts
Did you have a favorite meal that you tried during your "research?"
Smoked salmon from Hagen's Fish Market. First of all, you're talking about a fish shop that smokes on premises--there's only two in the city--and has been doing it every day for more than sixty years. So the smell in that place has been developing for longer than most of us have been alive. It's incredible. It fills some weird socket in your hindbrain and makes you feel like everything is just fine. Second: Jesus they know what they're doing. Just go there.
Hagen's Fish Market
Any favorite stories or anecdotes from the book?
I actually love the anecdotes we get after the fact. I was talking to a guy who ate at Uncle John's one time and a gang fight broke out while he was at the window. He says, "I was kind of worried because I thought they night pull out guns, but my ribs were coming out next so I couldn't run back to my car." That guy risked getting shot because the ribs there are that good. The stories cops told us that we just couldn't put in the book because they were . . . well, they involved death or putrefaction or hookers so they might put someone off their meal. And the endless, ENDLESS arguments from cops and Chicagoans at every book signing. I love it. I can't tell you how many times some cop starts a sentence with "I love your book, but, Ricobene's are you frickin' kidding me?" Again, this is where the real passion about Chicago food lives and breathes. How many people get in your face about which molecular gastronomy house is best? It just doesn't happen. But people in Chicago will yell at each other about who makes the best Italian Beef.
Other than the great stories about what it's like to be a Chicago beat cop, what do you think Chicagoans will love most about the book?
Dave's voice. Dave is a true blue working Chicago cop. There's no affectation in his reviews, no bullshit. Dave hates that kind of thing. He tells it like it is.
9233 S. Western Ave.; 773-238-7075
Photo by Zol87, Flickr
Old Fashioned Donuts
11248 S. Michigan Ave.; 773-995-7420
Photo by Zol87, Flickr
1141 S. Jefferson St.; 773-939-2855
Photo by Seth Anderson, flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/swanksalot/3061964957/)
Book cover and author photos courtesy of Lake Claremont Press