Looking Back in Travel and Books: Chasing Elliot Ness — for Sex and Thrills! He was “Untouchable” — to a Point

They said he was “untouchable” — but it only went so far.

Elliot Ness, the Treasury agent who went after Al Capone in the bad old days in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s couldn’t be bribed with money or booze or any other gangster goody around back then. He and the men he worked earned the name “untouchable”.

Turns out, though, according to author Michelle Regan, who has written a romantic thriller, calledChasing Elliot Ness, that Ness was a hands on type of guy when it came to the ladies.

Regan says it’s not so much that Ness was on the prowl, but that the ladies saw something in the aggressive lawman that made them swoon. “He was never lacking for female company,” Regan said.

Regan’s book takes you back to the Chicago of the Great Depression and, along with her heroine, Grace, we get a tour of the city and surrounding areas.

I’m a sucker for things about Chicago back then, and I had a lot of fun picking out the named landmarks and the unnamed ones.

Some are still around today.

Though gone but not forgotten, we get to shop a little at Marshall Fields, where Grace worked for awhile in the book. Fields is still there, but the name has been changed to Macy’s insult the memory.

We get a meal at the Berghoff, in the Loop, which is the city’s oldest continually operating restaurants. I could imagine some schnitzel and brats and a liter stein of dark beer while Grace narrated her struggle to survive in those desperate and hungry times.

There is a tour of the Field Museum, which, in Chasing Elliot Ness, is a date with Grace and her –shall we say– boyfriend. This is the same era of another fictional character, Indiana Jones, so I can imagine a figure dodging between the mummies and a whip cracking now and then.

Another mention in the book is the “Century of Progress” World’s Fair, which took place in 1933. Millions attended, as did a character in the book.

Regan’s Grace is an innocent girl from the sticks. The sticks in those days are the suburbs today, but Regan strips away the eighty years of progress and takes the reader back to an old road house called, in the book, “The Gardens”. This is really code for a place that is well known to those who dwell on the south side and south burbs of Chicago. A hint… this now respectable restaurant and steakhouse was a favorite chow place of Mayor Daley da First.

Yes, it is Jack Gibbons Restaurant! This former roadhouse is a country mile or so from Grace’s childhood home town, and a million miles from the innocence that she left.

If you go there today you will see it pretty much as Grace and her dubious boyfriend saw it back when cars as much metal as today’s tanks.

It’s not an easy task to go back in time and have it ring true. Regan does a “swell” job in recreating the times.

Everything is accurate to me, a casual buff of the times, including the two now Hilton Hotels that enjoy their place in the pages. We tour the Palmer House in the Loop and then wander over to the old Stevenson Hotel, overlooking Grant Park, which at the time, and for along time, was the biggest hotel in the world, room wise.

The hotel where Grace is being kept (yes, “kept”, but you’ll have to read the book) is the old Capone hangout, the Lexington Hotel. Not too many people got inside the hotel back in the day, but thanks to Regan we get to lounge around in the property and scuff up the furniture. This is the only way you’ll see the Lexington, too, so don’t go looking for it. It was “curtains” for the Lexington a long time ago. I’m not sure, but there is probably a parking lot or a 7-Eleven where it used to stand.

I’ve digressed a bit. Elliot Ness, who is always in the background, and in the thoughts and imaginings of Grace, is interwoven throughout the book. He is a knight on the white horse that is always going to swoop in and take care of Grace. And he… well, I won’t tell you. Read the book, pal.

Ness was untouchable, but that didn’t mean he didn’t get a nice hug or more in real life and in the book.

Take a time trip. Get a little love. Read Chasing Elliot Ness. I found on Amazon. And Barns and Noble.

This book is jake as far as I’m concerned, and written by a swell dame.

Eliot Ness kept the flame of justice alive in Chicago
Eliot Ness kept the flame of justice alive in Chicago

Hungarian Dining in the Chicago Area — You Didn’t Go Away Hungry from This Hidden Gem of a Restaurant

Looking back at traveling and eats….

Gone but not forgotten….

Are you hungry for Hungarian?

If so, The Epicurean Hungarian Restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Hillside can take you through food, atmosphere and hospitality to Hungry. Very little imagination is needed to picture that you are seated in Budapest rather than a western suburb of Chicago.

Your transportation to Hungry begins when you walk in. Dark, rich wood and comfortable furniture recreate the experience of waiting in a friend’s study in the Old World. A grandfather clock ticks away the time while you wait for a combination of food that can take you back to a simpler, less rushed time.

My journey to Hungry via Hillside was in consideration for the moving of a painting. I was happy to accept, and it was a good thing that we ate at Epicurean before the painting was moved — as I can explain later.

We were seated quickly in a booth that had the same rich coloring and themes as the foyer. It was decided that a nice ethnic beer would go a long way towards complimenting the expected rich selection of food, but we were disappointed to learn that as of the first of 2009, The Epicurean no longer served alcohol. We were informed that we could have brought our own drinks, but we of course didn’t know ahead of time. The Epicurean web site still pictures a very nice bar an wine selection, so beware — B.Y.O.B.

Our service was prompt, but a little forgetful, in that we ordered soup which didn’t get delivered until the entree was served. I had ordered a fish soup, Halászlé, which wasn’t available after all, and settled for Bogrács Gulyás (beef vegetable), which was worth the wait.

I was going with a beef theme here, and I picked Marhapörkölt (beef goulash). It came with a generous helping of tender and seasoned beef and a type of golden fried “Hungarian” potatoes. Now that I think about it, the sauteed zucchini or tökfõzelék was missing without explanation.

We all make errors. The soup was late, the zucchini lost, but the biggest mistake was yet to come –made by me.

CP, the owner of the painting, had Sajtos-Sonkás Borjú Szelet (Veal Cordon Bleu), which had a crispy outer shell and the identical Hungarian potatoes with spinach. It was described as “lightly breaded”, but then maybe bread is much heavier in Hungry. It didn’t stop CP from eating every last bit, nor me wolfing down my sample.

Though alcohol was no longer being served, I asked about a special mix of some type of home brew Hungarian spirits that used to be kept hidden away in the cellar, and our server sadly stated that even that was no longer on premise.

Epicurean is moderatly priced and has a full menu of appetizers, soups, salads and entrees that include choices for the vegetarian and meat eaters of any type. There are many specialties and side dishes as well.

There is a popular lunch buffet, Monday – Saturday, and an dinner buffet, Wednesday-Friday. Sunday brunch is served buffet 11am-4pm.

When the bill was settled and we stood to leave I observed some paintings on the wall and was reminded of the purpose of this meal. I had a painting to move.

Just as the Epicurean made some errors in service, so did I with my Masterpiece Moving Service. I managed to poke a hole in the painting.

Because I accepted my Marhapörkölt as a forward payment, the only thing I can do is revisit the Epicurean after the painting is repaired, and treat.

You don’t need to be moving a painting to visit –or even waiting until a death to visit– (Epicurean is located near a number of cemeteries). Go anytime and relax with the good food, comfortable setting and even music, which is live on occasion and playing softly in the background at other times.

The The Epicurean Hungarian Restaurant, 4431 W. Roosevelt Road, Hillside, IL 60162. Phone – 708-449-1000; Fax-708-449-0907; email- info@thehungarianrestaurant.com


Author’s update: The Epicurean is long gone: anybody know of a good Hungarian Restaurant in Chicago?  Or Detroit?  Or Kansas City?  Or St. Louis?  Indy? Or Cleveland, Columbus or Cincinnati?   How about Minneapolis?  Or any points in-between? 

Looking Back in Travel: Tragic Death Finishes Author of “100 Things to Do Before You Die”

Dave Freeman, 47, author of “100 Things to Do Before You Die”, died August 17 at his home in Venice. He had fallen and hit his head.

According to a Los Angeles Times account, he had done about 50 of the 100 things on his list.

Among those things, was a visit to a tiny pacific island, Vanuatu, where tribesmen dive off of towers attached to cords, in what is probably the first and original bungee location. They called it “land diving”. Why a guys on a pacific island surrounded by water would want to dive off some rickety tower on to hard ground is a mystery, and I imagine part of the draw for Freeman going. In addition, Freeman attended Australia’s Nude Night Surfing Contest. The report does not say if Freeman placed or showed anything on the surf board. He also did some more common things, like run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, a familiar bull versus man story made famous by a great bull artist himself, Ernest Hemingway.

The important thing about Dave Freeman is that he died.

He wrote the “100 Things to Do Before You Die” in 1999. Some of the things in the book are physically adventurous, but others look into experiencing the adventure of the human spirit.

I’ve never read Freeman’s book, but it set off a chain of copy cat books, with 100 and 1000 in the titles. I even copied Freeman in my recent article, “1001 Reasons to Die Before Visiting Detroit”. Freeman won’t go down in history as one of the great travel writers or people, but he should. Shortly after he wrote the book, he witnessed the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York close up and personal. This prompted his move back to Los Angeles to be closer to his family. So Freeman saw that it is both distance and experience and home and hearth that makes the man.

In the Los Angeles Times article, Freeman’s father is quoted as saying that one of Dave Freeman’s favorite sayings was, “We’re going into the future. Want to come along?”

We are all going into that future. Some faster than others. Freeman’s dying serves to illustrate that. He only had his own list half completed, before dying a death that is usually reserved for people twice his age.

Fitting that his name is “Freeman”. I guess he is now. Come to think of it, most of us are “free men and free women”, even though we may never be able to jump off a tower on a small island. Many of us never even allow ourselves the freedom to think we can. Let those thoughts and possibilities in — and life can change.

I think about my own short list of undone things. It’s easier said than done sometimes. The future is waiting, and it is what we make of it.

Right, Dave?

M.A. Kleen

Writer & Traveler with a passion for history, photography & the unusual

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