The research for Salad Days filled Karin Horgan Sullivan’s fridge. “This was a great story to do because people handed me fresh produce all the time,” she says. In the story, she profiles three thriving urban gardens that prove that large quantities of food can come out of very little yard space—or even none, as in the case of Russ Cheatham’s rooftop garden. “I really hope people read these stories and feel inspired to grow their own food,” she says. Even as an expert gardener herself—she completed the master gardener course at the University of Illinois—she expanded her vegetable garden from her usual basil and tomatoes to add sugar snap peas and lettuce.

Echoes of our clanking economy pop up in this year’s Best New Restaurants. “No surprise—they kind of reflect the times,” says Dennis Ray Wheaton, Chicago’s chief dining critic. “A lot more restaurants are aiming toward forms of comfort food, but it’s comfort food with a very modern turn toward localism.” “Local” doesn’t mean vegetables, though—“a lot of the food [this year] is a symphony in pig,” Wheaton says. Two restaurants profiled this year, Mado and The Publican, even butcher in-house. “If you are going to eat meat, at least do it as locally as you can,” he says. “Maybe hear it squealing in the back.”

Taking the photos for Salad Days allowed Andreas Larsson to meet passionate people, a key perk of his profession. “That is the best part,” he says. “I love taking the photos, but I love the interaction and the opportunity of meeting all these people. I get so much back from that.” Their passion lit his fire, even if gardening itself doesn’t. “I’m a pretty restless soul. I need to move and groove,” he says. “I would start [growing plants] and forget to water for three weeks. That would not be a good formula.”

“Most Mob stories tend to either glamorize the life or, as with The Sopranos, try to humanize people who at the end of the day are thugs and murderers,” says Bryan Smith, a writer-at-large for Chicago. In contrast, Smith’s story In the Name of the Father focuses on two sons of a victim of a Mob-related murder—one of the crimes prosecuted in the Family Secrets trial. “What struck me about Daniel Seifert’s murder, and his sons’ quest for justice, is that it offered a chance to tell a story that often seems to get ignored in Mob tales: the devastating impact of a hit on the victim’s family,” Smith says.”

When she had done only one public reading (for only two minutes), Elizabeth Crane met Joe Meno on a panel at the Printers Row Book Fair. “I was a little intimidated,” she says. “Thisbe Nissen was also on the panel, and they both could not have been sweeter.” Now well established in the Chicago literary community, Crane interviews Meno in “Over the Inkwell” in Arena this month about his new novel, The Great Perhaps, in which she spotted her husband’s name on a character who brings bad news. It was unintentional, but “he said to watch out or he’d make him a pirate next time,” Crane says. She has published three short-story collections, the latest of which is You Must Be This Happy to Enter.


Photography: (Sullivan) Katrina Wittkamp, (Larsson) Courtesy of Andreas Larsson, (Crane) Ben Brandt