Six Feet Deep Dish by Mindy Quigley: Cover Reveal & Excerpt
By Crime HQFebruary 7, 2022
A Note from Author Mindy Quigley
I am not known for my cooking. Or maybe I am, but not in a good way. When my girlfriends and I used to have regular potlucks, I got put in charge of bringing the salad. Then I was demoted to buying the bread. Finally, I was told that there was no need to bring anything that might actually be ingested–my sparkling company would suffice.
So naturally, I am now writing a mystery series set in a restaurant, featuring a protagonist who is an incredible cook. When the opportunity to create the Deep-Dish Mysteries came my way, I thought to myself, “You’ve written stories about murders without ever killing anyone, surely you can write about cooking without really knowing a choux from a roux.” I could already describe basic techniques, having been a Food Network obsessive since Emeril’s first Bam! So I took a deep dive into research about cooking, culinary school, and becoming a chef. I hit up friends for stories about working in restaurants, and got behind-the-scenes tours of working kitchens. I inhabited the headspace of a chef, and tried to capture in words what the world looked like lit up in a technicolor of scent and flavor.
Then the series editor casually mentioned that I would need to write original recipes related to dishes described in the book. Suffice it to say, my family has been eating a lot of deep-dish pizza this year. There were notable highs, like when I finally hit upon a crust recipe that reliably rises or when I had the profound epiphany that there really is no limit to the amount of cheese a deep-dish pizza can contain.
There were also, however, many, many lows, like the time I set out to make a bratwurst and cheddar pretzel crust pizza and instead produced a cardboard bowl containing a greasy orange slurry.
All that kitchen time has heightened my understanding of my characters. I now really know that yeast is a mysterious little beast of an organism whose vicissitudes can make or break your whole day. I know with painful clarity that finding the perfect balance of salt and spice in a sauce can be damn tricky. I inhabit these people in a way I could not have if I hadn’t been forced to do their work. Makes me wonder if I should try to pull off a couple of murders as research? JK, future law enforcement folks!
Writing this book in the early stages of the pandemic was a godsend. Recipes became my getaway car. And every time I sat in front of my computer, my brain packed its bags, headed to one of my favorite vacation spots, and plunked itself down in Delilah O’Leary’s lakeside pizzeria to eat her delicious food. I hope you’ll enjoy pulling up a chair sinking your teeth into this delicious little escape.
The problem with perfection is that it doesn’t exist. Somewhere, deep down, I knew this. But in the high-end hotel kitchens and Michelin-starred restaurants where I honed my cooking skills, the name of the game was churning out perfection on a plate. Dish after dish, night after night. No mistakes. Ever.
I opened the doors of my new top-of-the-line Everest three-door commercial fridge and allowed the chilly blast of air to wash over me.
“It’s all there, Delilah. Nobody’s touched anything since the last time you checked an hour ago.”
I jumped at the sound of my sous chef’s voice. “Oh, hi, Sonya,” I began. “I just needed to get—”
“What? A life?” Sonya Dokter nudged past me with her hip.
She pointed to different sections of the refrigerator as she spoke. “Fresh organic spinach. Check. Locally grown red and white onions. Check. Metric tons of the finest quality Italian sausage from pigs whose lives were more pampered than a Kardashian’s. Check. Parmesan, pepperoni, provolone, peppers, prosciutto, pepperoncini, and pineapple. All present and accounted for. Cheese so fresh it’ll slap your backside and call you ‘Sweetie.’ Check-er-oo.” Sonya put her arm around my shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze as she pulled me away from the fridge. She gently pried my hand from the handle and shut the door. “Relax. We’re ready.”
Part of me knew she was right. I’d tested the new appliances dozens of times. I’d spent the previous day polishing the stainless steel worktops until they sparkled and scrubbing the floors until I could practically hear them begging for mercy. But a bigger part of me wanted to make one last practice pizza before the guests arrived for my new restaurant’s soft opening.
I reached for one of the huge bowls where that night’s already-risen pizza dough was resting. Sonya slapped my hand away. “No more dough for you. Tonight is for you and Sam to enjoy. No pressure. Let the rest of us worry about the execution. A soft opening should be a celebration. I, for one, am ready to get this pizza party poppin’.”
Sonya shimmied her hips and twirled in her vintage rockabilly polka-dot dress. Her hair—chopped into a midnight black bob with high-cut bangs—swished as she spun.
Pizza making is a floury, saucy business, and Sonya and I usually sported matching chef’s whites and hairnets while we worked. For tonight, though, I’d wrestled my wilderness of coppery chestnut hair into a sleek up-do. I had opted for a low-cut wrap dress, which I hoped accentuated some of my curves and camouflaged others, while Sonya rocked her plus-sized pin-up model look.
“You’re a walking party,” I said, smiling at her. “Just add champagne.”
“Or better yet, bourbon,” she replied, striking her best Bettie Page pose and blowing me a red-lipped smooch.
I walked through the kitchen again, ticking off items from my mental checklist for tonight’s party and tomorrow’s grand opening, while Sonya threw on an apron and began mustering little battalions of red and green peppers to chop. Bins of semolina and flour, industrial-sized cans of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and jars of oil-cured Spanish olives lined the shelves. Garlic-infused tomato sauce gently burbled on the stove. I dipped a tasting spoon into the sauce and brought it to my lips—balanced, comforting, rich. The same adjectives could probably be used to describe my fiancé and business partner, Sam Van Meter. I tasted it again. Something was keeping it from being one hundred percent right, but I couldn’t quite identify the flaw. Alas, the same thing could probably be said about my relationship with Sam.
Moving to Geneva Bay, Wisconsin, and opening a restaurant was more my dream than Sam’s. The resort town was only about an hour and a half north of Chicago, but it felt worlds away. I’d spent most childhood summers next to the lake’s inviting blue depths, sunbathing and gobbling down titanic-sized pistachio sundaes during our annual family vacations. Whenever I was overwhelmed by the constant din, clanging pots, and expletive-laced tirades of the Chicago restaurant kitchens where I’d worked, my mind traveled to Geneva Bay. Living here full time was a wish come true.
On those childhood trips, my family always stayed at my great-aunt Biz’s quaint waterfront cottage. Small houses like hers were increasingly rare, many of them razed to make way for the lake houses of the nouveau riche or dwarfed by the legions of imposing, turn-of-the-century estates that ringed the lake. Those older mansions had been built as summer getaways for the biggest names in Chicago business: Wrigley, Schwinn, Vicks. In Geneva Bay, the names were attached to fabulous homes instead of well-known products. As a kid, I’d fantasized about living in one of the breathtaking mansions, and now that dream, too, was coming true. Sam and I were midway through remodeling a hulking Queen Anne mansion built during Prohibition by one of the many Chicago tough guys who’d minted a fortune running illegal booze from the Canadian border to the Windy City via Wisconsin.
Sam knew how much Geneva Bay meant to me, and he’d been the one to offer to bankroll our move and invest in my restaurant. As a sophomore in college, Sam had created an app to allow users to access baseball stats in real time, which apparently is (1) a thing some people feel the need to do, and (2) very lucrative. He sold the majority stake in his company, Third Base Analytics, for a small fortune when he was twenty-six, allowing him to devote the last decade to spending some of the money he’d amassed.
After sprinkling a smidgen more crushed red pepper into the tomato sauce, I tasted it again. A smidgen closer to that ever-elusive goal . . . perfection. My fingers brushed the smooth stacks of three-inch-deep round steel pans that would hold our new restaurant’s signature menu item: Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. My twist was to draw on my years in top restaurants to create innovative recipes using top-notch ingredients, rather than the typical sausage, peppers, and cheese pies churned out by Chicago’s old guard deep-dish establishments.
I checked the sauce again. Good. Very good. But . . .
“Stop with the sauce already. We’re not going to have any left for the pizzas if you keep taste-testing it,” Sonya said, giving me a not-too-gentle shove toward the door that led out to the dining room. “Why don’t you check the setup out front?”
With one last wistful look at the pizza dough, I walked into the thirty-seat dining space. The windows facing the lake seemed almost like gigantic landscape paintings, revealing a dazzling palette of watery blues and arboreal greens. Every time I saw this view, I had to pause for a moment to let my eyes take a deep, long drink of it.
No one would guess that a few short months ago, this building had been derelict, in danger of demolition. It had fallen into disrepair years before, after the Feds raided the previous tenant’s business—a pizza-place-cum-mob front called Rocco’s. The eponymous Rocco, Rocco Guanciale, was now serving time instead of pizza, twenty-five to life at a federal prison upstate for crimes that included running an illegal gambling ring, extortion, and fencing stolen goods, with the odd bit of pimping and drug dealing thrown in just for kicks. He ran his criminal operation from the small apartment over the restaurant, an apartment Sam, Butterball—our oversized butterscotch tabby cat—and I were temporarily living in while our new house was being remodeled.
The restaurant was slightly removed from downtown Geneva Bay, fronting a narrow inlet and a modest pier—convenient for criminals, but also perfect for diners seeking serenity. While other potential buyers had been deterred by the building’s unsavory connections, I’d thought of it as a selling point. Growing up on the rough-and-tumble South Side of Chicago, my sister Shea and I had been raised on our father’s stories of wise guys and beat cops. Chicago had its fair share of big-city problems and unsavory history, but no one had more affection for the grit, ingenuity, and openheartedness of the place than our father did. When he’d passed away the previous year, I’d decided that opening a restaurant with a Chicago theme and a unique spin on the city’s signature dish would be my way of honoring him.
As I made my final inspection of the dining room, Daniel, my old friend and newly hired bartender, glided into view outside the windows, rowing his kayak toward shore. Even from a distance, I recognized his athletic frame and neon green boat. Like many Geneva Bay dwellers, during the warmer months, Daniel commuted around the large lake by watercraft. Unlike the well-heeled residents who tootled back and forth in deluxe powerboats, though, our ultra-fit bartender paddled in a sleek kayak, which he stored at the small dock just on the other side of the tree-lined parking lot from the restaurant.
Banished from the kitchen, I continued to busy myself with restraightening and recleaning the dining area for a few minutes until Daniel strode in, unzipping the top of his wetsuit to reveal his bronzed pectoral muscles. He removed his Ray-Bans and blinked the late afternoon sunshine out of his eyes. As his eyes adjusted, he stopped and stared at the canvases that hung from the ceiling.
“Cool, huh?” I said, gesturing at the artwork. “They went up this morning.”
He raised an eyebrow and ran his hands through his close-cropped black faux-hawk haircut. “It’s a statement. I’ll give you that.”
The interior space had finally been finished earlier that day. Shiny gunmetal gray wallpaper and gleaming honey beige wood floors formed a subdued backdrop for the funky, mismatched bubble-gum pinks and maraschino reds of the dining chairs. A warm, beech wood bar paralleled the back wall, while seductively lit bottles of alcohol perched on the shelves behind it. Huge, vivid portraits suspended from the high ceiling added a sense of drama.
I’d commissioned the new artwork for the dining room from an up-and-coming student painter at Chicago’s Art Institute. I’d asked for something that would “put Chicago’s past and present in perspective,” instructions the artist took quite literally. The canvases depicted famous Chicagoans, with a twist. One featured Oprah Winfrey and Harry Caray in vivid colors, pushing a miniature sepia-tone Al Capone in a baby carriage. Another had Michael Jordan and Jane Addams holding hands with a tiny, pigtailed Bugs Moran. The city’s old-time gangsters were made into children—smaller than life—while its more reputable citizens were rendered as towering adults.
“You don’t like it?” I asked.
“You got Capone up there with a pacifier and Pampers. Maybe you’re playing with fire a little.” Daniel wobbled his hand back and forth. “People can be touchy.”
“It’s art,” I huffed. “I moved here to escape the grind of the city, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still love Chicago. Besides, who’s going to defend the reputations of a bunch of crooks from a hundred years ago?”
Just then, Melody, our hostess, ducked through the vestibule and slipped past Daniel.
“Ready for the big day, chef?” Melody chirped in her cheery Upper Midwest accent. “I’m having, like, an excitement heart attack right now.” Sometimes Melody’s nonstop optimism grated on me, but I had to admit that my heart was feeling a little fluttery, too. She looked up at the newly installed artwork. “Cripes! Baby Face Nelson as an actual baby. Too funny,” she squealed.
I raised my eyebrows at Daniel in a silent “I told you so.”
Copyright © 2022 by Mindy Quigley. All rights reserved.
About Six Feet Deep Dish by Mindy Quigley:
Delilah O’Leary can’t wait to open her new gourmet deep-dish pizzeria in Geneva Bay, Wisconsin―a charming resort town with a long history as a mobsters’ hideaway, millionaires’ playground, and vacation mecca. Engaged to a hunk with a hefty trust fund, Delilah is poised to begin a life that’s just about as delicious as one of her cheesy creations.
Just before opening night, though, Delilah’s plans for pizza perfection hit the skids when her fiancé dumps her and leaves her with a very large memento from their relationship―Butterball, their spoiled, plus-sized tabby cat.
Delilah’s trouble deepens when she discovers a dead body and finds her elderly aunt holding the murder weapon. Handsome local police detective Calvin Capone, great grandson of the legendary gangster, opens an investigation, threatening to sink Delilah’s pie-in-the-sky ambitions before they can even get off the ground. To save her aunt and get her pizza place generating some dough, Delilah must deliver the real killer.