Started by a family with more than 50 years of dough-flinging expertise, the first Old River Pizza Company came to fruition in 2000, with two sister locations opening soon after. All three restaurants sport an outdoorsy, Northern Minnesotan motif and boast a menu of brick-oven-baked pizza. Pizza Picassos coat the signature dough—which was perfected over three generations of trial, error, and warlock magic—with a South Alma cheese blend and a seasoned, slow-cooked sauce made from vine-ripened tomatoes. More than 35 toppings, such as sauerkraut, taco meat, and locally sourced italian sausage, encourage customized crusts, and 23 preconceived specialty pies spotlight time-tested flavor combinations. An assortment of sandwiches also awaits the crispy kiss and awkward back-pat of a brick oven, and a variety of calzones, pastas, and salads round out the edible bill of fare.
“How do you take your coffee?” asks Andy Morse, son of Breezy Hills Vineyard owners Darrell and Roberta Morse. “We ask people that a lot.”
Here’s what they’ve learned: people who take cream and sugar usually prefer sweet, fruity wines, and black coffee drinkers tend to go for robust, smoky red wines. The staff starts with this simple question because they understand that wine tasting can confound the novice. No snobs, the Morses start off new wine drinkers by introducing them to the basics of tasting and then allowing them to explore for themselves the unique sensory experience of their 17 locally made wines. Handcrafted elixirs such as their popular Misbehavin'—which blends red and white wines to create the pale blush of a sunburned ghost—pair well with the vineyard’s delectable plates of chocolate truffles and nuts.
Adrie Groeneweg was 19 when he decided he was tired of leaving his hometown of Hull, Iowa, every time he wanted pizza. Armed with six pizza recipes from his mother, Groeneweg opened the first Pizza Ranch in 1981, delighting travel-weary pie lovers with dough and sauce made fresh every day. At more than 170 locations in 11 states, a bevy of signature pizzas form the backbone of the sprawling menu, with such options as the bacon- and beef-covered Bronco and the Tuscan Roma's delicate assemblage of spinach, tomatoes, and alfredo sauce. A wide variety of such specialty pies lines the buffet table, but diners who don't see their favorite combo can make a special request to the pizza chefs?who will not only bake it and add it to the buffet but also hand deliver the first slice to the table. Alongside the disks of mozzarella and pepperoni are trays of the Ranch's other specialty, crispy broasted chicken that's seasoned with a house blend of spices and then broasted so that its crunchy coating conceals ultramoist meat and the occasional winning lottery ticket.
Customers at Orange Leaf?s brightly colored storefronts build their own customized desserts, starting with a smorgasbord of thick, creamy frozen yogurt flavors. The low-fat and fat-free varieties lend an air of indulgence to the largely guilt-free dessert, ranging from red velvet to chocolate cheesecake to key-lime pie. Likewise, the topping bars feature fresh slices of kiwi and banana; sweet spoonfuls of gummy bears, graham crackers, and Oreos; or slender bride-and-groom figurines perfect for topping a cup of wedding-cake-flavored frozen yogurt. Orange Leaf also offers catering for private events such as weddings and birthday parties.
At Wing Champion, seasoned wing chefs fry or char-grill batches of hot wings and slather them in more than 14 flavors, such as country sweet, bourbon, and mango habanera. The cooks supplement wing-filled moments with a menu of breaded catfish fillets, char-grilled burgers, salads, and lyre-accompanied odes to their favorite flightless bird. For breakfast, they top tables with rich biscuits and gravy, waffles and wings, and fried eggs with fried chicken.
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.