Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite
In The Value of X, Poppy Z. Brite shifted away from her usual horror turf, and introduced Rickey and G-Man, two New Orleans teenagers crazy in love with each other and with cooking.
In Liquor, the Lower Ninth Ward boys are all grown up, but still working as lowly line cooks in tourist traps and old man bars until they run into Lenny Duveteaux, a thinly veiled Emeril-type who wants to give them a shot. Rickey wants to start a restaurant where everything on the menu contains alcohol, a perfect fit for NoLa diners, and Lenny smells profit.
Improbable as it may be, watching Rickey and G-Man work up their menu, lease a space, and fool around in the test kitchen is addictive reading and a foodie's fantasy. Brite throws in a few side plots involving a gangland killing, a vengeful ex-boss, and a curmudgeon trying to stop the restaurant, but honestly, a few more pages spent the describing the prosciutto-wrapped figs marinated in Calvados would have been okay by me.
There is one big problem with Liquor, the problem being that Rickey and G-Man seem more like very good friends than lovers. Sure, they've been together for ten years and a life in the restaurant business doesn't exactly lend itself to quiet evenings snuggling on the sofa, but their relationship is virtually passionless. Even the Dewey subject heading in the book's library catalog record reads "Male Friendship - Fiction."
Brite has written two more books in this series, Prime and Soul Kitchen, the latter having been completed the night before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I'm looking forward to catching up in time for the next installment, and hope that I pick up Prime to find that the restaurant has done really well, and that Rickey and G-Man saved up some money and run off to Cabo for a couple weeks to rediscover their love.
If you like...: novels about New Orleans, liquor, and food, this book is for you. Total no-brainer.