If a visit to one of Southern Belle's restaurants feels a lot like coming home, it might have something to do with the hearty family traditions behind the kitchen's down-home breakfast and lunch dishes. “My father was in pancake houses all his life,” says owner Steve Fotos. Today, many of the same recipes used by Steve's father help populate a menu of hearty comfort foods that includes a poached-egg and sausage benedict smothered in country gravy and french toast stuffed with cinnamon apples, strawberries and pecans, or blueberries and bananas. But while the country-fried-steak or smoked-sausage skillets are tempting, the expansive menu offers options for diets of all kind, pairing fluffy egg whites with strawberries, granola, and multigrain toast and swapping out regular maple syrup for bottles that are low-calorie, sugar-free, or simply sealed shut. Photos of farms and pastoral images smile down upon diners as they dig in and gently remind them to inquire about the restaurant's seasonal specials, which range from summertime salads with sun-ripened veggies to bowls of homemade wintertime chili.
The team at NuVibe Juice & Java fills vacant cups with free-trade, air-roasted coffee drinks and more than 30 flavors of smoothies. As they blend pieces of nutritious fresh fruit, 100% juice, and creamy yogurt or sherbet, staffers eschew the use of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and forced smiles. Power smoothies contain 25 grams of whey protein to fuel working muscles, and the menu caters to low-carb and kid-sized diets.
The shop procures its coffee from The Roasterie, a nationally renowned company that uses a convection-air method to roast beans purchased from small specialty farmers. The smooth-tasting results comprise concoctions such as creamy caramel lattes and chocolate peanut-butter blended ice coffees, and both pair well with free WiFi and a hot pretzel or muffin.
Paradise Smoothie's blender blades chew up fresh fruits and nutritious additions for a menu that showcases healthful, flavorful smoothies as well as a cascade of blended coffee drinks. Regular fruit-mix smoothies ($3.95) make appealing cocktails of a produce section’s worth of goodies, including pineapple, strawberry, and banana, with inventive additions such as lychee and avocado.
When Carrie Staub was laid off from her 20-year career as a corporate travel agent, she tried her hand at baking as a way to stay productive while staying at home with her kids. Her first attempts at truffles weren't fancy, but as friends and family steadily devoured her creations, she gradually refined their look and taste until they were ready to go public.
Today, she hand-rolls, hand-dips, and hand-details cake pops for a growing fan base. "You'll never find any two that are exactly the same," she says, turning out a steady stream of intricate specialty designs and an assortment of classic flavors.
Carrie says the pops are especially popular as favors, and she's gotten orders for birthday parties, holidays, baby showers, and even a wedding. She carries a sketchbook to jot down ideas, though inspiration can strike with each individual order—such as her beer mug and cheeseburger pops, which are available at The Garage Bar & Sandwiches on Chicago's North Side.
The busier Cake Pop Charm gets, the more passionate Carrie is about her business. And her freedom from the traditional workday brings another benefit: She gets to see a lot more of her 4-year-old twins.
"I feel like I can have my cake pop and eat it, too," she says.
To make really good barbecue, you have to take your time. For the grillmasters at Baby Back Blues, that means slow smoking slabs on ribs over hickory food for four hours, at which point, they emerge juicy, smoky, and fall-off-the-bone tender. But that's a blink-of-an-eye compared to the time it takes to make the shop's pulled pork. The dry-rubbed pork butts get a dry rub before luxuriating in the smoker for 16 hours before being pulled apart, slathered with sauce, piled onto pillowy buns, and paired with sides such as mac n cheese or the house fresh-cut fries.
Baby Back Blues can also package up its juicy barbecued meats by the pound, or create family packs that pair the chosen meats with home-style sides. For big celebrations, they can even bring the smoker to guests' homes for a backyard pig roast that can feed 50 to 100 guests or two dinosaurs meeting for a light lunch.
In the kitchens of Blueberry Hill's five suburban outposts, cooks forgo lazy morning lounging to pull together homey assortments of timeless brunch fare. Pancakes infused with fruit or sweets are made from scratch, much like hand-knitted socks or hand-painted report cards. French-toast slices get stuffed with apple and cream cheese, smothered in fruit, or rolled in Cap'n Crunch. Fresh meats and veggies take cover under eggs in savory skillets, and a selection of sandwiches quells cravings in handheld form.