Can readers of your novel taste the setting?
by Andy Scheer
A breakfast burrito at a deli? Why is a place called the East Coast Restaurant & Delicatessen advertising burritos?
It’s not unusual when you consider this “New York-style deli” is located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Across Colorado, burritos appear on nearly every menu.
I still remember my first encounter with one — in the late 1960s. My parents had driven the family to a camp on Lookout Mountain, west of Golden, Colorado. There we discovered something not found in northwest Ohio: a Tex-Mex restaurant.
My parents convinced me to try something exotic: a burrito. And with it a soda pop not sold in the Midwest: something tasting vaguely like prune juice called Dr. Pepper.
These days, most restaurants seem homogenized. It takes work to find authentic regional cuisines — the distinctive touches a writer can use to insert local flavor into a piece of fiction.
Were I writing from a visitor’s perspective about Kansas City, I’d find a reason to risk polarizing readers by include a scene at Gates Bar-B-Q rather than Arthur Bryant’s. Or I might take them for a breakfast of burnt end hash at RJ’s Bob-Be-Que in Mission.
Writing about Florida’s Space Coast, I’d let readers sample the corn fritters and rock shrimp at Dixie Crossroads — with a special mention of the aquatic-themed murals. Love those manatees!
And if I wanted to evoke the old steel town of Pueblo, Colorado, I’d take readers to Gray’s for a “slopper”— an open-face cheeseburger served in a soup bowl and drenched with freshly made green chile sauce. Nothing quite like it.
If you were writing a scene in a restaurant nearby, what menu specialty would give your readers a true local flavor?