Sky-blue walls frame floor-to-ceiling windows and accents of red brick as friends and couples savor Mediterranean flavors atop white tablecloths. Vespa Ristorante's menus flaunt a combination of culinary creativity and a mastery of Italian cuisine in a cast of unique dishes— such as apricot-stuffed pork loin wrapped in prosciutto and dressed with a fig and port sauce—while still honoring tradition with homemade lasagna and veal scaloppini. The artfully plated entrées pair exquisitely with a selection of Italian, international, and intergalactic wines. Vespa Ristorante also caters to private parties with customizable menus that offer tastes of the restaurant's most popular dishes, desserts, and wines.
The pies at Tomato Jake’s Pizzeria have whimsical names that play off of pop-culture mafiosos and hint at fistfuls of grilled italian sausage, pepperoni, and crumbled meatballs. Fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, and other toppings further cement ties to Italy, and forks twirl in plates of pasta and fresh garlic. In the kitchen, cooks prep party platters of subs, and the shop’s calzones brim with baby spinach, roma tomatoes, and virgin olive oil like the briefcase of a fake lawyer.
The Loop Pizza Grill’s founders, Mike and Terry Schneider, can credit a failed restaurant for the success of their current franchise. Though their first eatery, Applejacks, successfully drew crowds in Jacksonville, Florida, the couple hit a speed bump when they decided to open a second location. Unable to attract a following, it quickly closed, leaving them with restaurant equipment, debt, and a surplus of anxiety. Rather than accept defeat, the Schneiders instead thought of a new business plan, and with it, a new restaurant. Soon after, they opened The Loop Pizza Grill, a casual but upscale restaurant where customers could enjoy the convenience of fast food but with quality service—and absolutely no paper plates or plastic utensils. Named in honor of Chicago’s financial district—and Terry’s hometown—The Loop quickly expanded into new locations, and now has 20 restaurants across three different states. The Schneiders credit their continued success to a different way of thinking. Says Mike: “The key was that we simply asked, ‘What kind of restaurant would we like to take our family to?’ We wanted a place where hungry kids and discriminating gourmets would both leave happy.”
The same love for pizza and beer that fueled three college students in 1974 transformed their lives as they expanded their business from one rundown building in Atlanta to 100 Mellow Mushroom restaurants across 15 states today. Each eatery owes its individual style to each location's being locally owned and operated, much like impressionist painters owed their individual style to their number of ears. In the kitchens, chefs assemble grilled and deli-style hoagies and bake calzones and pizzas in stone hearths using dough made with natural spring water. Though many of the restaurant's dishes have remained on the menu since its inception, the culinary crew frequently devises new, often gluten-free, dishes to keep senior-ranking pepperonis from becoming too powerful. Servers pair dishes with their location's own set of local brews, which fit into a collection of at least 50 microbrewed and imported beers on tap and in bottles. Brewers such as Bell's, Abita, and Dogfish Head are also featured in regular beer events.
Mike and Terry Schneider already knew what it took to run a restaurant when they opened The Loop Pizza Grill more than 20 years ago. Previously the owners of Jacksonville?s neighborhood hangout Applejacks, the Schneiders wanted to create a pizza place that was both elegant and laid-back, just like the Queen of England in a tracksuit. At each of their locations, they and their kitchen staff whip up a menu of specialty pizzas, fire-grilled burgers, and verdant salads with fresh, handpicked ingredients, serving each carefully crafted selection on real china.