As they enter under the hanging wood sign bearing a carving of grapes and shuffle past the gray stone and golden stucco façade, patrons at Kozani Restaurant & Bar find themselves transported to the warm kitchens and rolling vineyards of the Mediterranean. Aromas from spices imported from Italy, Greece, Israel, and Lebanon waft through the dining room, signaling the arrival of Mediterranean dishes, including recipes from head chef Tim Robinson's favored region of Emilia Romagna. While he focuses on Northern Italian dishes, the chef also consistently snares an eclectic blend of local ingredients, such as produce and seafood, and crafts gluten-free versions of every dish on the menu. He often appears on the floor to meet clientele, roaming the dining room to chat with diners and make sure their forks have the proper number of prongs. To compliment his dishes, the serving staff often pairs meals with more than 80 wines hailing from Europe, South and North America, and Australia.
Bucky’s BBQ owner Wayne Preston honed his craft at a young age, spending boyhood afternoons in his father’s meat-packing plant and Wednesday nights preparing suppers for his local church. Word about Wayne’s saucy ribs and pulled pork spread shortly after he founded his own roadside barbecue stand, forcing him—like the barbecue-sauce barons of years past—to expand his operations to new frontiers. Today, each of Bucky’s four locations fashions heaping plates of never-frozen Boston butt, tender chicken, and St. Louis–style ribs in the traditional country style: hand-rubbed with secret seasonings and slow-cooked over a smoky fire of hickory chips. Five house-made sauces garnish slices of juicy meat served alongside traditional sides of baked beans, coleslaw, and sweet potatoes. When they aren’t dishing out meals in the restaurant, Bucky’s tireless staff serves parties, formal events, weddings, and flash mobs as large as 1,500 people with fully catered barbecue feasts.
Armed with just a single, generations-old cookie recipe, Great American Cookies opened its first store in 1977, and the rest is history. Today, the franchise boasts locations in malls across the country and nabbed a coveted spot on Entrepreneur magazine’s 2012 list of Top 500 Franchises in the baked-goods category. The shop’s reputation grew, and so did its menu as chefs churned out a mouthwatering roster of gourmet-cookie recipes, each created and carefully tested in Atlanta. The tempting options now include snickerdoodle, peanut butter with M&M’s, and chewy pecan supreme, as well as freshly baked fudge and cheesecake brownies and cookie sandwiches stuffed with frosting. The real showstoppers, however, are the giant chocolate-chip cookie cakes, which can be customized with sweet, celebratory messages or shopping lists penned in colorful icing.
At Peppino's Pizzeria’s four locations, crafty chefs toss, embellish, and accessorize a menu's worth of pizza pies to quash appetites. Diners can pop sodas or quaff brews as large chicken caesar salads sate taste buds or a quartet of antipasto ham, capicola, mortadella, and salami serenades old-world yens. Svelte neapolitan rounds and biana disks pit handmade tomato sauce against a tripled strata of ricotta, parmigiana, and mozzarella, each armed with 18 inches of meatballs, fresh garlic, green olives, or 1 of 13 other toppings (add additional toppings for $1.95 each). Alternatively, homebound bon vivants can transport two extra-large slabs off the premises for private pie-chart comparisons. Peppino’s Pizzeria fires up its fragrant ovens seven days a week; hours vary by location.
The multitalented chefs at Sakura Japanese Steakhouse emphasize quality ingredients and artful presentation in each and every dish. The traditional Japanese dining room features a central hibachi grill that sears vegetables, steak, and seafood in an inferno of sizzling oils and bright yellow flames. Sakura’s more coolheaded sushi chefs swirl hand and specialty rolls—crafted from shrimp tempura, softshell crab, and salmon—behind chilled cases of fresh fish. Indecisive diners can request omakase meals, assortments of seasonal dishes handpicked by the chef to showcase culinary skill and an ability to match meals to wallpaper swatches.
The notion of “fast and casual” isn't new—most chain restaurants adhere to the concept, as do many conversations with abandoned sock puppets. However, at Brioso Fresh Pasta, efficient service merges with local and organic ingredients to bump "fast and casual" into the glow of a new spotlight. Italian dishes range from house-made pasta to fork-free paninis, all of which arrive at tables on the arms of friendly servers. Brioso’s culinary team also respects special dietary needs with gluten-free pastas and vegan menu options.