Pockets' health-conscious chefs have stuffed stomachs with fresh, all-natural ingredients for more than 20 years, creating low-fat, high-protein combinations of vegetables, fine cheese, and lean meats. Within freshly baked multigrain bread, selections such as spinach, salami, turkey, and tuna combine with edamame beans, crunchy noodles, dried cranberries, and a splash from one of more than 10 dressings, creating a snack more portable than a bicycle made of chocolate. Menu pages also brim with eight healthy salads, seven hearty calzones, and a kids' menu with pint-size portions and sides of magic. Not content with just challenging fast-food ideals, the locally owned Pockets furthers change in its community by regularly donating up to 50% of its profit to charities such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Fox Valley Heart Foundation.
In 1996, brothers Mario and Tom Soto capitalized on their passion for barbecue by opening Gemato's Wood Pit BBQ, a welcoming family restaurant that specializes in fall-off-the-bone ribs, tender beef brisket, and charbroiled burgers. Chefs split logs in the restaurant's backyard to fuel grills that burn all day long, infusing each meaty morsel with smoky flavor. Guests chow down morsels of barbecue pork and chicken with traditional fixings, or sup on Greek- and Italian-American sandwich shop classics such as gyros or Italian beef. Meanwhile, Western-themed décor accents each hearty meal with with rodeo posters, wooden wagon wheels, and stuffed handlebar mustaches caught in the wild.
Hawthorne's Backyard's culinary architects animate the American fare, such as burgers, ribs, and roasts, depicted on the menu. An appetizer of loaded chili cheese fries, which swim in green onions and sour cream ($5.99), can prep palates for an appointment with a hearty entree. Momma's pot-roast sandwich, a pulled-pork tenderloin cooked in homemade barbecue sauce and set inside a hoagie bun, frolics across taste-bud territory ($8.50), and the backyard double cheeseburger dually satiates meat and dairy yearnings ($10.50). A full slab of signature baby-back ribs comes to tables drenched in barbecue sauce and, like a subpoena from a grandmother, is served with cinnamon apples and sweet-potato fries ($18.99).
To make really good barbecue, you have to take your time. For the grillmasters at Baby Back Blues, that means slow smoking slabs on ribs over hickory food for four hours, at which point, they emerge juicy, smoky, and fall-off-the-bone tender. But that's a blink-of-an-eye compared to the time it takes to make the shop's pulled pork. The dry-rubbed pork butts get a dry rub before luxuriating in the smoker for 16 hours before being pulled apart, slathered with sauce, piled onto pillowy buns, and paired with sides such as mac n cheese or the house fresh-cut fries.
Baby Back Blues can also package up its juicy barbecued meats by the pound, or create family packs that pair the chosen meats with home-style sides. For big celebrations, they can even bring the smoker to guests' homes for a backyard pig roast that can feed 50 to 100 guests or two dinosaurs meeting for a light lunch.
When they describe their pulled pork as slow-smoked, the pit masters at South Moon BBQ aren’t kidding around. The dry-rubbed meats are smoked over a combination of woods for a full 15 hours before they’re deemed fit to be heaped onto a sandwich, piled into a homemade taco, or sprinkled atop homemade nachos. Beef brisket and full- and half-slabs of ribs receive similar treatment before cooks slather them in homemade sauces, including a thin, tangy, vinegar-based variety and a sweet St. Louis-style sauce. The barbecue experts also pile a combination of pulled pork and brisket onto the “Cliff Combo”, a sandwich named after a regular customer, and add a fresh bratwurst to the mix to create “The Steve” or a hat with an arrow through it to create “The Steve Martin”.