After spending years working for Dominos Pizza, Vince Schmuhl decided that he could do a better job of preparing and delivering quality pies to people's homes. He challenged the nationwide chain's dominance in the region by founding the first Blackjack Pizza on June 29, 1983.
Although delivering oven-fresh pies within 30 minutes was still a major goal for Schmuhl, he emphasized the importance of quality ingredients using sauce made from freshly packed tomatoes as well as hand-tossed dough that never sees the inside of a freezer or cryogenic chamber. This dedication to quality and speedy service allowed Blackjack Pizza to not only survive, but also thrive over the decades. The chain now includes more than 40 stores operating in four different states.
In addition to offering seven signature pies, Blackjack Pizza also allows customers to build their own order from crust to toppings. A choice of up to four savory, tangy, and piquant sauces form the base, topped with any of the 3 available cheeses, 7 meats, and 10 freshly diced vegetables. Regardless of the toppings, Blackjack Pizza respects the potential danger of food allergies by ensuring that none of its pies ever contain traces of MSG, peanuts, or peanut oil.
Like clockwork, Stephen's Bakery’s bakers arrive at 5 a.m. six days a week to begin mixing dough for fresh bread, pastries, and their signature rounded kolacky pastries. They fill the kolacky, an Eastern European specialty dating to the 1700s, with a traditional fruit filling as well as more modern flavors, such as barbecue chicken, bacon-wrapped jalapeños, and sautéed microchips. Customers can smother morning hunger with other sweet treats including donuts, cinnamon rolls, danishes, and muffins, whereas at lunchtime, the bakery serves up Nathan’s all-beef hot dogs inside of pillowy housemade buns.
When owner Michael moved from his home in upstate New York to Colorado Springs, he brought along his most valued possessions, including his family's recipe for New York–style pizza. In 1997, Michael capitalized on his delicious knowledge and opened Back East Pizza & Wings, and the kitchen crew has been tossing savory pies since then.
Of course, the centerpiece of the eatery’s menu is the traditional New York pizza—a chewy thin-crust masterpiece that folds in just the right spot. Along with the pizzas, which come with red or white sauce, the kitchen also fires up wings tumbled in sauces ranging in heat from medium to dragon fire, and stopping just short of spontaneously combustive. Sandwiches complete the hand-held options, making it easy to clap with your free hand as live music from local bands fills the room on weekends.
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.
The NYPD menu, packed with appetizers, pizzas, calzones, pasta, heroes, and even dessert, revs you up to run down hunger in any number of flavorful vehicles. Dive into cheese with mozzarella sticks ($6.49), then float to the surface of a specialty mealwheel such as the Manhattan meat lovers' (10-inch, 14-inch, or 18-inch pie with pepperoni, meatballs, and bacon, $7.99, $14.99, $17.99). Or choose from more than 20 types of toppings such as fresh basil and sun-dried tomatoes to craft the Staten Island stuffed pizza, any two toppings and mozzarella crammed between two layers of pizza dough (18-inch only, $25.99). For a circle-free entree, grab a convict cheese calzone (mozzarella and ricotta, $7.99) or an eggplant parmigiana hero ($6.99) before finishing your sentence with a slice of authentically creamy NY cheesecake ($3.99).
The trained dough tossers staffing the ovens at Louie's Pizza bake up a menu of family-tested recipes that have pleased palates for more than 40 years. Rev up eating engines with an order of freshly baked garlic bread (starting at $3.35) before testing culinary creativity with a customizable pie (starting at $6.49) with piquant permutations of 15 toppings and seven flavored crusts, including butter cheese, garlic, and mantle. Stumped snackers are free to try one of the pretopped specialty pizzas ($16.99 for 14"), such as the veggie alfredo, a crisp disk blanketed in a creamy quilt of tomato and black-olive patches, or the meatball pizza, a two-dimensional interpretation of the pasta-based classic.