Day in and day out, Metra’s northwest train pulls into the Des Plaines stop, just opposite of Pop O Licious Popcorn. A brick building on the corner, the shop brandishes a bright blue and yellow sign with promises of fresh-made, gourmet popcorn. The family of popcorn pioneers creates more than 60 varieties of classic and flavored kernels each and every day, from staples such as butter, kettle corn, and caramel corn to innovative flavors including creamy dill, hot cinnamon, and even fruity tutty. For casual snacking, the shop owners can scoop the fresh-popped kernels into bags that come in four sizes, while gift-givers and musicians in need of a new drum can order their snack in a decorative tub. Beyond popcorn, Pop O Licious purveys Maurice Lenell cookies and handmade milk chocolates.
Tucked inside the sprawling Japanese emporium that is Mitsuwa Marketplace, Pastry House Hippo serves up more than 150 types of baked goods every day. From sweet chocolate-filled buns in the shape of turtles to savory steamed pork buns in the shape of buns, this pastry shop replenishes the display cases with fresh baked goodies throughout the day.
In French eclairs, German streudel, and Polish kolaczi, the bakers at Sugar Hills Bakery let their European inspiration show. Regardless of whether a recipe comes from across the Atlantic?the staff also makes cupcakes, cake pops, cookies, and wedding cakes?all of Sugar Hills? baked goods are all made with fresh, high-quality ingredients.
In 1988, Auntie Anne's founders Anne and Jonas Beiler purchased a Pennsylvania farmers'-market stand, where they experimented with dough until they created a pretzel that seemed to strike the perfect chord with their customers. Today, at their more than 1,350 locations worldwide, the pretzel makers still hand roll the original recipe but have added to the menu with inventive options such as the eight signature dipping sauces. The team constantly explores new uses for the pretzel dough, such as wrapping it around hot dogs and slicing it into bite-size nuggets. To transform the snack into a meal, they accompany it with specialty drinks, including frozen-lemonade desserts.
When not twisting dough, Auntie Anne's team partners with the national charitable organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises funds to fight childhood cancer. Auntie Anne's also reaches out to the community through fundraising opportunities.
Juice Rx founder Dean Kasal had a two-fold vision for his wellness-promoting juices: great taste and great health. Kasal's infatuation with all-natural health comes from a very personal place. Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and reacting poorly to the pills his doctor prescribed, he began his own path to well-being after by making his own juices. The concoctions required little more than organic fruits and vegetables and a homemade liquifier ray, but the benefits were staggering. His digestive troubles vanished, and by the age of 29, he was able to retire from corporate life and start pursuing his true calling: helping folks get healthy with 100% organic, raw, unprocessed juices.
A good portion of his success has to do with his juicing methods. Rather than using traditional juicers?whose motor heat saps vital nutrients from the fruits and veggies?he deploys an awe-inspiring hydraulic press. The contraption's cold-press method deploys 5,000 pounds of pressure to squeeze a bounty of vitamins from the organic fruits and veggies.
Pulp-free and nutrient-rich, those juices include a metabolism-stimulating spicy lemonade with green apple, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper; a tropical green blend of pineapple and kale that alkalinizes the body and floods cells with a potent mixture of vitamins and minerals; and an antioxidant-packed citrus blend with succulent pomegranate called Liquid Love. Besides customized juice-packs, Juice Rx also supplies expert-built cleanses that range from the fruit-filled Regular Cleanse to the low-sugar Extreme Green Cleanse.
La Blondina Bakery's confection-crafting owner, Agnieszka Klepacki, pleases palates of all persuasions with café-style lunches and delectable desserts. Tarts tickle tongue buds with a choice of blueberry, pear, or almond filling ($14 for 8”; $16 for 9”; $18 for 10”), and chocolate-chip cookies ($1.50) and cupcakes ($1.50) furnish guests with bite-sized snacks for bribing hyperactive children or bosses. In addition to sweets, the expert bakers handcraft artisan breads from scratch, filling the store with the alluring scent of french bread ($2.49) and beer bread ($2.49). Sandwiches quell more substantial appetites with toothsome toppings such as roasted veggies, turkey, and italian meats ($4.95).