Best Served Hot

Best Served Hot

by Amanda Elliot
Best Served Hot

Best Served Hot

by Amanda Elliot


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Two restaurant critics learn their opposing tastes might make for a five-star relationship in the next foodie romantic comedy from the author of Sadie on a Plate.

By day, Julie Zimmerman works as an executive assistant. After hours, she’s @JulieZeeEatsNYC, a social media restaurant reviewer with over fifty thousand followers. As much as she loves her self-employed side gig, what Julie really wants is to be a critic at a major newspaper, like the New York Scroll. The only thing worse than the Scroll’s rejection of her application is the fact that smarmy, social-media-averse society boy Bennett Richard Macalester Wright snagged her dream job.
While at the Central Park Food Festival, Julie confronts the annoyingly handsome Bennett about his outdated opinions on social media and posts the resulting video footage. Julie's follower count soars—and so does the Scroll’s. Julie and Bennett grudgingly agree to partner up for a few reviews to further their buzz. Online buzz, obviously.
Over tapas, burgers, and more, Julie and Bennett connect over their shared love of food. But when the competitive fire between them turns extra spicy, they'll have to decide how much heat their relationship can take.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593335734
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/21/2023
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 68,645
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Amanda Elliot lives with her husband in New York City, where she collects way too many cookbooks for her tiny kitchen, runs in Central Park, and writes for teens and kids under the name Amanda Panitch.

Read an Excerpt


Running down a Midtown Manhattan sidewalk during rush hour might as well be running an obstacle course. Leap the pile of garbage spilling out from glossy black bags. Dodge the woman weaving from side to side, eyes fixed on her phone. Zero in on the tiny opening between a row of businessmen spread out about as wide as they can go, blocking almost the whole pathway. Try not to sweat through your silk work blouse.

I jerked to a stop, panting, in front of the address. I didn't even need to confirm the restaurant name etched on the great glass window because Alice Wong was standing in front of it. Frowning at me. "You're late."

"I've had a day." I drew in a great deep breath. "I woke up to a text from my bank saying that my account had been overdrafted, and then there was a troll in my DMs and comments who wasn't even creative with his dick metaphors-come on, sausages have been overdone-and then Mr. Decker was grouchy all day because it's tax season, and with New York raising its tax brackets on the ultrarich, he keeps saying he might have to sell one of his yachts-"

"My God." Alice pressed the back of her hand against the blunt black bangs cutting across her forehead. "The poor man." She turned to go inside the restaurant, but I stopped her with a touch to the shoulder.

"One second. Let me make sure BiggerBoi69 hasn't popped back up under another name." I grabbed my phone and flicked open the app. My profile, JulieZeeEatsNYC, scrolled across the screen, little shots of restaurant meals I'd reviewed and video stills of me biting into things, which, no matter how I timed them, always looked awkward. My last few comment sections were clear. Well, mostly. A small-time troll was arguing with my commenters about the optimal doneness of steak, but I could deal with that later.

I sighed. Such were the trials and tribulations of someone who ran their own restaurant reviews on social media instead of doing it for real in a newspaper or other well-known blog. They had a support staff for this kind of thing so that their reviewers could focus on the food.

Though I knew better than to complain aloud. I knew exactly what Alice would say. Not because I was psychic or anything, but because she'd said it all before. You are a real reviewer, babe. You review restaurants, and you have a pretty big following, too. That makes you no less real than the others and their fancy papers.

Alice cleared her throat. I looked up to find her staring at me, her slash of red lipstick pressed tight in a way that meant I'm starving.

"Alice," I told her. "You're a genius."

The frown smoothed out. "I know. But how so?"

My phone dinged with an email notification, and my heart skipped a beat as my head ducked back down. I couldn't help holding my breath as I opened it up. I'd been doing that for days now, hoping for one specific email asking me in for an interview. Dreading the email that would start with We regret to inform you that . . . or Thank you very much for your application, but . . .

It was my bank offering me more overdraft'protect'on. I sighed again. It was a little too late for that. "I'm ready. Let's go in."

The restaurant was dark, narrow, and cluttered, the tables set so close together I'd have no problem leaning over and taking a bite off my neighbor's plate. The walls were hung with kitschy representations of boats and lobsters, the ceiling strung with garlands of twinkling white lights. The tacky decor was, fortunately, not a reflection of the food. I'd learned that on my two previous visits.

I didn't answer Alice's question until we were seated, glasses of tepid water before us. I preferred it tepid. Too cold and it was a shock to the system, numbing the taste buds. "You were giving me a pep talk in my head. That's why you're a genius."

"Unfortunately, I haven't mastered telepathy yet, so that pep talk was all you talking to you," said Alice. "Let me guess: 'I' was telling you that you're real and valid in what you do?"

I didn't have to nod. She knew what it meant when my eyes ducked down and stared intently at the starched white tablecloth.

"I was indeed right," Alice said. "I love saying that. It doesn't matter if you don't have a byline or a salary. You're out there doing the work, and you have a devoted following for it."

I'd heard this before, from her and from my parents and even from one of my three older brothers, which was a surprise coming from someone whose preferred mode of communication with his younger sister had always been belching the ABC's in her face.

So what if I couldn't quite bring myself to believe it? I snuck another glance at my phone. If the thing I couldn't even think about or risk jinxing came true, I wouldn't have to worry about it anymore anyway. I'd have the respect I craved. Even someone like my boss, Mr. Decker, would listen to me then.

This wasn't the time to argue with Alice, though. "How's the coding going?"

Alice's face brightened. "Fabulously. For real. My team just hired another girl! Now there are two of us."

"Compared to how many dudes?"


"Progress." I lifted my water glass in a toast. "To very, very slowly getting to equality!" By the time we clinked, drank, and set our glasses back down, the waiter had arrived with our menus. I didn't even have to page through mine. "I'm ready to order, please."

As I listed off everything I wanted to feature in my post, I did my best not to cringe at the prices. If I reviewed restaurants for a real outlet, whether it was a prestigious paper like the New York Times or the New York Scroll or a blog like Eater, I'd have an expense account to cover these checks. But alas, all I had was a small advertising revenue. I mostly broke even, or sometimes just went broke. Hence the overdraft fee.

"So hey," Alice said as the waiter walked away, scribbling on his pad. "How's Greg?"

I tried not to grimace. I'd gone on three dates with Greg, a thirtysomething marketing guy and surprise taxidermy enthusiast. Despite the weirdness of being watched as I slept by eight pairs of beady black fake squirrel eyes, I'd still texted him the next day. And had not heard back in the two days since. "Pretty sure he's ghosting me."

Alice swiped the back of her hand dramatically over her brow as if wicking away a nervous sweat. "Oh, thank God. I was kind of afraid you'd end up with your head mounted on his wall."

"Whatever." I shrugged like I didn't care. To be honest, I didn't care that much. It was the rejection that stung more than anything. If I'd been the one to ignore him, I probably wouldn't even be thinking about it. "There are plenty of fish in the sea."

"I've never understood that metaphor," said Alice. "Are we fish, too, in this scenario? Or are we fishing for the guys, as it implies, and then killing and eating them?"

I was saved from having to answer by the arrival of the food. If I was indeed seeking a mate by fishing for him and then eating him, I hoped he'd be the lobster in the fried lobster and waffles. Anything fried well always looked delicious-light brown, glistening slightly with oil-and these chunks of lobster in their coating of crispy batter couldn't have looked more appealing atop the delicate squares of golden waffle smeared with a sunset of sweet potato butter. "Let's take our pictures and then set up the phone to film me for a quick teaser as I eat."

Every time I had to stand up on my chair in order to snap a good angle of a plate, I said a silent prayer in thanks to my fellow millennials, who were also out there taking pictures of their food. Nobody so much as spared me a funny glance. Not that I would notice; I was too busy focusing on keeping my balance on the slick wooden chair while making the food look beautiful on my phone.

My mouth watered. The lobster and waffles was extremely delicious, but I also loved the fancy toast topped with snow crab and avocado (rich, sweet, and texturally balanced, given nice contrast by a zing of black pepper on top). And the soft-shell crab BLT, where the sweet, earthy tomato met the crisp, watery crunch of the iceberg lettuce and thick, chewy smoke of bacon, and then the sweet, crispy crackles of the soft-shell crab. And Chef Stephanie's version of New England clam chowder, which was rich with cream, but not heavy, and delicately spiced; the clams were big and briny, and the bits of bacon throughout somehow still crispy. It would have qualified as an excellent but not all that memorable clam chowder if not for the salsify root, which had the texture of a parsnip but the taste, almost, of an oyster or a clam. It made for a marvelously interesting bite. Unfortunately, it looked like a bowl of white sludge, which meant I couldn't feature-

My phone buzzed with a push notification. My eyes flicked to it quickly in case BiggerBoi69 was back, and I caught, New York Scroll names new rest-

I slipped. "Eeeek!"

One of the reasons Alice is my best friend: she always catches me when I'm down, both figuratively and literally. She slipped out of her seat and caught me neatly before any soft-shell crab or salsify root could go flying onto the table next to us. "Maybe let's get our photos from a less vertical angle going forward," she told me once I was safely back on solid ground.

But my heart was thudding, and not just because I'd almost broken destiny's choice of bones. The thing I'd been dreading was staring at me from my notification list, and it had the nerve to not even be in personal email form. A breaking news story. New York Scroll names new restaurant critic, Bennett Richard Macalester Wright.

Suddenly, none of the food looked all that appetizing anymore.

"What is it?" asked Alice.

I sat back down with a thump. "I didn't get it," I said dully. And it wasn't like I'd expected them to read my passionate cover letter and résumé and social media stats and immediately roll out the heirloom tomato-red carpet. But they hadn't even bothered sending me a rejection email. Or any kind of acknowledgment at all. Maybe my application had been one of a million, even though the job hadn't been listed online for the general peasantry to apply for. (I'd been tipped off about the opening through an email my boss had gotten and I'd read.)

Or maybe they hadn't taken my résumé seriously. Laughed about it in the office. Who does this girl think she is? She thinks some followers and some videos make her suited for us? The New York Scroll had never hired a critic who wasn't a white dude over fifty. They had social media, of course, but they still published trend pieces where they gaped at it and how it worked like it was a zoo exhibit. And over here we have people-wait for it-actually getting their news on their phones. Thank goodness the'protect've bars are here, or they might attack us.

Not unlike my boss, come to think of it. I was pretty sure he didn't know about my second "job," but I'd heard the way he snorted as he watched his daughters take selfies or the older one herd her kids into the perfect light for a family snap.

Alice made a sympathetic mmm in response. "Who'd they name? Is it at least someone good?"

The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I was already frantically googling to learn more, leaving the food to cool before us. "He went to Dartmouth," I reported. Which, if I judged by the alumni I knew-my boss and his daughters-was stereotypically rich and fratty. "And he played on the squash team." Which was basically code for "has an enormous trust fund." I scowled down at my screen. "Hobbies include boating and collecting ancient coins."

Bennett Richard Macalester Wright had almost certainly never misbudgeted and run out of food money his freshman year of college and had to subsist on ramen and scrounged-up free pizza from various club meetings to get by.

"And then it looks like he was a food reporter at the Times for the last five years," I said. I scrolled through a few of his past headlines. A profile on a chef semi-famous for his cooking and very famous for his string of ever-younger actress wives. A report on why high-end restaurants were trending toward smaller but more expensive wine lists. A few reviews of pricey restaurants-it looked like he'd filled in for their regular critic while she was out on maternity leave.

"At least he seems like he's qualified," Alice said.

I scowled at her. I didn't want to hear that he was qualified. I wanted to hear that he sucked and that they should've hired me. But I didn't say that. I continued my googling but turned up nothing except dead ends. Like most major food reviewers, he'd clearly done his best to take down as much as he possibly could about himself, especially photographs. No serious food reviewer wanted to tip off a restaurant that they were there since that might lead the owner or the kitchen to offer them special treatment that would bias their review. It was why I never made a reservation under my own name, though I couldn't do much about my face. Sometimes, if I got recognized on one visit, I'd go back with a wig or glasses the next time.

"Excuse me, ladies?" Our waiter smiled down on us. "How are we doing?"

"Not great, but the food is delicious," I told him.

His smile wavered, not quite sure what to do with that. "Would you like anything more to drink? We have some lovely wines on offer tonight."

"No thanks," Alice said. "She doesn't like wine."

"Alice!" I hissed. Which was always fun. Alice had a particularly hissable name.

The waiter nodded and went off to bring our check. Alice turned to me, blinking. "What?"

"We've had this discussion before," I said. "Don't tell anyone I don't like wine."

"But you don't like wine," Alice said.

It was true. Wine tasted like literal sour grapes to me, whether it was the cheap boxed stuff our roommates used to bring home in college or the ultra-fancy kind my boss gave me last year for the holidays. It made my lips pucker and my cheeks suck in. I'd never been able to understand why people actually enjoyed drinking it.

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