The dough wizards at Papa John's hand toss circular masterpieces with original and thin crusts made from high-protein flour to support warm bouquets of toppings. Hand-cut produce crowns all of Papa John's pizzas, mingling with the sun-soaked sweetness of sauce made from fresh, California-grown tomatoes. By adhering to its brand promise of "better ingredients, better pizza," Papa John's grew from a back-tavern pizzeria into more than 3,500 restaurants within three decades' time, or the amount of time it takes to grow a single pizzeria from a small seed.
Located three miles from Six Flags, The People's Choice Family Fun Center's canary-yellow, 43,000-square-foot arena buzzes with the thrill of friendly competition across 150 arcade games and the 18-hole Rocky's Fun House Miniature Golf course. Styled to mimic a circus, the venue features statues of carnival barkers who challenge guests to step right up to skee-ball and air hockey. Players gather loot at the redemption center, where they can exchange spools of tickets won at arcade games for the more than 1,000 prizes, from candy and stuffed animals to electronics and a lifetime of self-satisfaction. Servers at the food court dish out festival eats including cotton candy and pizza, and vendors at Hershey's Ice Cream Shoppe fill cones, cups, and top hats with frosty treats. The center also plays host to holiday events and private parties throughout the year. Beyond the hustle and bustle of the carnival resides an 18-hole miniature golf course known as Rocky's Fun House Miniature Golf. Here, putters tiptoe through a darkened wonderland of glow-in-the-dark circus shapes. A phosphorescent replication of trapeze artists, elephants, and escaped monkeys running amok greets putt-putt posses in the circus-themed segment, challenging their ability to focus on deviously placed holes. A moving ferris wheel towers over players as they size up the unique challenges of each hole and read the grain of the AstroTurf; fun-house mirrors bend beams of light into goofy, distorted reflections. At the final hole, which is guarded by a strongman bell ringer, those who sink a hole in one win a free round of golf for two and the lifelong friendship of Rocky, the triceratops mascot.
Stuffed deer antlers, a large canoe suspended from the ceiling, and carvings of bears surround diners at Bill's Pizza & Pub. The northwoods seeps indoors at the venerable pizza place, which exhibits the idiosyncratic decor of a lodge. The wood-grained eatery first established its novel dining room more than 50 years ago, when its founder and namesake converted a garage into a roadside pizza joint. There, Bill and his wife, Pat, devised the double-decker pizza that still emerges piping hot from the kitchens at two locations. Both locales exhibit the same relaxed setting, in which families can scarf double-decker slices and freely toss peanut shells to the floor or out windows at mounted policemen.
In 1966, taxi drivers Sam Levine and Fred Bartoli finally became fed up with their stop-and-go lives full of honking horns and rush-hour traffic. So they shut off their engines, handed in their keys, and took root. Along with pal George Loverde, they invested in property just off the bustling Magnificent Mile, but then didn’t know what to do with it. According to a 2004 profile in the Chicago Tribune, they got their direction when someone finally said, “Put pizza in it.”
Though the rest is history, it wasn’t quite easy. Bartoli and Loverde came from Italian and Sicilian backgrounds, but neither knew the key to a good pizza. It wasn’t until they hired Alice Mae Redmond, the woman responsible for the dough at Pizzeria Uno, that the Gino's East Chicagoans know and love was truly born. Although Alice Mae retired back in 1989, the recipe for her flaky, golden deep-dish pizza crust lives on.
Today, Gino’s still stands at its original spot on Michigan and Superior but has also stretched to 10 other city and suburban locations. Whether dining downtown or in St. Charles, customers find Alice Mae’s signature crust piled with mounds of cheese, sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes, and plenty of fresh toppings—from sausage and pepperoni to jalapeños and ground beef. Hot from the oven, pizzas arrive at tables snuggled inside seasoned deep-dish pans, ready to welcome a fork and knife. Thin-crust varieties are also available for those who don’t know how to work silverware, as is a bounty of sandwiches.
Carried out by pie fans or delivered to their doors, fresh toppings and sauces parade out of Donati's Pizza on discs of the kitchen's signature dough, alongside a menu's worth of casual Italian fare. Spinach-cheese bread primes palates as a melty, crusty starter ($4.99), and the artichoke salad's hearts recite sonnets to the cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers from their romaine-lettuce nest ($6.99). Diners may blueprint their own pizzas, choosing from six sizes and more than 20 toppings to fashion a bespoke feast. Scatter canadian bacon and hot giardiniera across a large pizza ($15.50) or personalize a pie by inviting italian beef, enviously green olives, and mushrooms home for dinner ($7.99). Specialty pizzas leave the design to the professionals, such as the Southside ($14+), whose bacon slices splay across a grid of sausage and onion. A choice of italian, farm-fresh ranch, or metaphysical dressing paints sandwiches ($5.99), such as the provolone-graced barbecue chicken, which arrives hot or cold on focaccia or french bread.
Park Street's candlelit, brick-walled interior plays host to a menu of artfully presented, upscale pasta dishes, steaks, and daily fish specials, and an extensive wine list and specialty cocktail menu. A half-dozen charbroiled oysters can be dipped in parmesan garlic butter ($12.95), and juicy tomatoes and cool cucumbers complement crunchy bruschetta ($8.95) for pre-meal noshes. Signature dishes, such as the 8oz. cracked black pepper crusted filet, basking comfortably in a portabella veal sauce ($29.95), and pretzel crusted chicken in a dijon butter sauce ($18.95), occupy the majority of stomach city. Complete a meal with a lavish, homemade dessert, such as death by chocolate, a rich fudge-cake dingy perched atop a lake of raspberry sauce.
Checkered tablecloths and vintage black-and-white photos from the 1940s evoke small-town Tuscany at Lauretta's Italian Bake Shop & Cafe, whose chefs have assembled authentic Sicilian-style cuisine for more than 30 years. Homemade pomodoro sauce mingles with the porcini mushrooms and caramelized onions that fleck risotto, and fresh baby clams or mussels frolic through linguine entrees. To create paninis, chefs crown toasted ciabatta bread with such accoutrement as jarlsberg swiss cheese, yellowfin tuna imported from Italy, and childhood memories of revered measuring cups. Diners complement bites with Italian beers and wines, including a crisp, fruity prosecco and a medium-bodied chianti, whose tart red-fruit and chocolate flavors pair well with spinach ravioli and still-life paintings of Hershey's bars.A family-owned Chicago bakery furnishes the eatery's fleet of traditional italian pastries, such as cannoli and more than 30 kinds of italian cookies. Lauretta's Italian Bake Shop & Cafe also proffers comprehensive catering spreads, dishing up pans of lasagna, ravioli, and chicken marsala that can feed 15 partygoers or more, or custom orders that can sate finicky flatware.