Reservations for Two by Jennifer Lohmann It's getting hotter in the kitchen Tilly Milek almost has it all. She's opened her own Chicago restaurant, the way she'd always dreamed, and it's this close to being a ...
Tilly Milek almost has it all. She’s opened her own Chicago restaurant, the way she’d always dreamed, and it’s this close to being a success. Even better, she’s met Dan Meier-a gorgeous man who loves food as much as she does. He isn’t put off by her demanding job, which only makes her want to spend more time with him.
But a scathing review by an anonymous local critic puts everything in jeopardy. Worse, her steamy new man turns out to be the one who wrote it! Tilly doesn’t see how she can ever forgive Dan, but she can’t stop thinking about him either. In print he’s her enemy. In person? He’s as tempting as a perfectly prepared meal…and Tilly’s appetite just might get the best of her.
Reservations for Two is my love song to Chicago, my favorite city. I went to college there and I can’t think of the city without getting teary-eyed. This novel allowed me to return to many of my favorite Chicago locations and events. Should you get the chance to visit Chicago and walk where Dan and Tilly walk, here is your guide.
Mrs. Milek’s restaurant, Healthy Food, is based on a restaurant in the Polish Downtown neighborhood called the Red Apple Buffet (www.redapplebuffet.com). The name Healthy Food comes from a now-closed Lithuanian restaurant in Bridgeport, a neighborhood on the south side. Keeping on the subject of food, a Chicago dog is as I described it and is delicious. The Vienna Beef sign above a storefront is always a good sign. Get the hot dog with everything, including the pickle. Should you want a cinnamon roll the size of your head, Ann Sather’s (www.annsather.com) is the place.
Winters in Chicago are a cold, windy mess. The wonderful (and hot and humid) summers make up for spending so many months inside. While I enjoyed the Taste of Chicago, Ravinia (www.ravinia.org) was always a favorite. Tickets to Chicago Symphony Orchestra were free with a college ID, which meant we went a lot. You could spend an entire evening sitting on the lawn with friends and a picnic. And don’t think picnic like you take to the park. Ravinia picnics range from sacks of fast food to extravagant affairs like something out of a Regency romance novel.
The last reference I want to share with you is about the magazine Tilly is reading at the end of the novel, Lucky Peach (www.mcsweeneys.net/luckypeach). In their 5th issue, they have an acknowledgement that says, “people to whom we owe a beer.” Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, so here are people to whom I owe a beer:
Please don’t all collect your beer at once; I’m a cheap drunk.
“You have goose bumps on your arms.”
“Pardon?” Dan looked down. Little bumps covered his arms, but he didn’t feel cold. Warmth came off Tilly, a light from the way she embraced life.
“We should get out of the fridge. I’m sure you want to go home, shower, go to bed and get some sleep.”
Shower? Yes. Bed? Yes. Sleep? No, he didn’t want to sleep. He wanted to take Tilly home with him, to bring color into his stark, white house. Instead, Tilly walked past him out of the fridge. The moment was broken.
She was packing takeout food containers into a paper bag when he found her again.
“Here.” She thrust the bag at him.
“What is this?”
“Leftovers for your lunch tomorrow. There’s even dessert.”
He took the bulging brown bag. “Thank you. You didn’t have to.”
“You didn’t have to fix my sink, and you did.”
“It was my pleasure.”
The brown paper crinkled as he tightened his grip. He’d never noticed what a chiding noise paper made when clutched in nervous desperation.
They faced each other awkwardly. Tilly shifted her weight from one foot to another while Dan wished he had kissed her in his townhouse. Or in the walk-in fridge, before his conscience reminded him that she didn’t know he had written the review.
If he wanted to kiss her, if he wanted to see her again, he had to tell her who he was. She would be hurt, understandably, but he could make her see that they could get past all of this. He could make her see that the review was business, but their relationship could be pleasure. She was interested. He’d seen the heat in her eyes and he hadn’t been mistaken about what it meant.
Pans clanked together and someone in the kitchen cursed. There was no audience in the fridge. You should’ve kissed her there.
Tilly was staring at his lips and Dan cursed his alter ego.
“I should walk you to the front door,” she said. “I’ll need to lock up behind you.”
He followed her out of the kitchen, past Candace wiping down the bar with smooth, even strokes. In the dimness of the closing restaurant, the bartender’s dark eyes disappeared into damning, empty holes. Which was ridiculous. When he blinked, she turned back into the polished bartender of earlier that night.
At Babka’s front door the bag crinkled again, scolding him. He had to tell Tilly the truth. Even if their relationship went no further than this front door, he couldn’t let her look at him so openly, pack him lunch for God’s sake, without knowing what he’d done.
“Tilly—” he put his tool kit on the floor and rested his hand on her shoulder “—I have something I have to confess to you.”
“Yes?” She cocked her head in response, her eyes wide and her expression unguarded. He needed to enjoy that unsuspecting look on her now, as he might never see it again.
“I’m Dan Meier, the food writer, as you may have guessed…. No, don’t interrupt,” he said when she opened her mouth. “I also write reviews for CarpeChicago under the name ‘The Eater.’”
She slapped him.