Gene Estes suspects that growing up in the 'dry' precinct of Abilene, Texas may have inspired his alcohol-based ingenuity; he crafted his first batch of wine from Concord grape juice when he was just 23. Years later, after holding various pharmaceutical jobs and putting to use his Masters in Microbiology, Estes' interest in wine re-emerged with a full and passionate force. Today, as the president and vintner of Lost Oak Winery, Gene works alongside resident winemaker Jim Evans to craft a host of award-winning wines. Among them is the 2012 Viognier, which scored a double gold in the renowned San Francisco Chronicle International Wine competition—meaning all five judges awarded the varietal with top scores before gilding the bottle twice in molten gold.
The winery itself offers both guided and self-guided tours, offering visitors a glimpse into the wine-making process complete with samples straight from oak barrels. Additionally, special events draw guests to the lush grounds for live music, wine club events, and the pre-Christmas holiday open house, where they can place preemptive wine orders with Santa.
The Marble Slab Creamery sensory experience begins by just walking past the storefront, where the buttery scent of fresh-baked waffle cones drifts out into the air. Once inside, cans of gourmet ice cream, crafted on site from Marble Slab’s original French recipe, entice the eyes with a rainbow of colors. Once clients have made a flavor selection, they choose from a smorgasbord of mix-ins, from fresh fruit to nuts to candy and crumbled cookies, which an ice cream chef then hand-folds in atop a frosty marble slab before packing the finished custom-designed flavor masterpiece into a house-made waffle cone.
In addition to procuring hand-held treats, Marble Slab Creamery can send creations home in a variety of other formats, such as ice cream cakes, cupcakes, and hand-packed quarts, or in the capable hands of a catering team that arrives at events with portable marble slabs or sundae bars in tow.
When designing their menu of freshly made pizzas, the chefs at Gambino's Pizza were determined to include all five food groups. The crunchy crusts would represent the grains, the pure mozzarella and provolone cheeses would deliver the dairy—even fruits would appear in the form of savory olives, tangy pineapple slices, and their sweet and spicy homestyle tomato sauce. After mastering the recipes of more than 10 specialty pizzas, the chefs turned their creativity and ambition to hearty, Italian-inspired pastas and subs.
Clad in cheerful green T-shirts, servers bear freshly baked pies to the dining room, where families gather at tabletops and booths beneath a colorful mural adorning the back wall. If guests are lucky, they might even run into the restaurant's pizza mascot, whose giant foam costume delights children and helps impede those who confuse it for an edible pizza.
Roma’s Italian Restaurant compiles a roster of traditional, Italian-style dishes with pizza built on dough they make fresh daily. Pasta dishes drape eggplant, artichoke hearts, ricotta-stuffed tortellini, and fresh tomatoes with rich sauces ranging from zesty marinara to creamy alfredo. The pizza gurus scatter or stuff crusts with specialty combinations including the supreme, with four types of meat and green peppers, and the white pizza, which pairs ricotta with fresh tomatoes and garlic. For a meatier meal, patrons can bite into classic Italian entrees, such as chicken piccata dressed with a lemon-butter sauce, seafood marinara with shrimp and crabmeat, or tender veal parmigiana. Hunting parties track down their circular prey in a dining room where tan curtains admit rays of sunlight and framed pictures hang on crimson walls.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
For the majority of the '70s, according to local folklore, bassist Ferocious Ambush toured America with his southern rock band, Country Thunder. In 1978, he hung up his bass in pursuit of a more "honest living." He shied away from the public eye until 1980, when he kicked off a North Texan tour with the Ferocious Ambush Chili Cookers. Instead of music, however, the Chili Cookers served up hearty bowls of red during regional and international cook-offs, winning over the crowds as much for their simmering spices as their singing and dancing.
Twenty-four years later, the Chili Cookers found a permanent home for their two loves—music and good food—when they opened Ambush Grill and Bar. Their chefs marry old-fashioned southern eats with southwestern and Mexican flavors, serving up a hearty menu that keeps the Chili Cooker's legendary recipes alive. The famous chili flows into bowls, over burgers, and beneath corn chips in chili pie. A Li'l Pardner's menu is also available to fill kid-sized stomachs and lonesome thimbles with smaller portions of pub fare.