More than 50 years go, Mike Ilitch was poised for major-league glory. An up-and-coming shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, his baseball finesse was blossoming when an injury derailed his sports career. But although the wound stunted his athletic aspirations, it steered him toward a new path, and on May 8, 1959, he and his wife opened the first Little Caesars location, a then-unheard-of carry-out-only joint. The career shift and novel technique eventually proved triumphant. Today, the pizzeria's iconic, toga-clad mascot adorns storefronts on five continents. In each shop, staffers forge the signature Hot-N-Ready pizza, a freshly baked pizza designed for instant pickup, and warm, garlicky Crazy bread. With a storied half-century under their belt, Mike Ilitch and his family strive to give back, supporting local organizations and creating their own charitable programs.
At Sweet Taste of Italy, the secret?s not just in the sauce?although the restaurant has a specialty homemade red sauce?because everything is made from scratch each day. The chefs whip butter, grind cheese, bake fresh, sweet italian bread, and hand slice meats to create Italian favorites with an American twist. Customers can dine in or take out heaping helpings of pasta and Toyota-sized pizzas, and catering services are also available.
Crowds gather on the dance floor as a rotating disco ball and colored spotlights fill the room with confetti-shaped rays of light. The Lodge of Robbinsdale keep its regulars entertained all week long with a diverse spread of events ranging from live music to trivia nights to wrestling matches hosted in the game room. The clack of billiards divides up the litany of play-by-play announcers calling games on high-definition TVs throughout the space and on an enormous projector screen that doubles as a sail in case the bar needs to move.
Servers weave through high-top tables, their arms lined with 10-ounce sirloin steaks and half-pound, charbroiled burgers made with both buffalo and all-beef patties. Sandwiches pack thin-sliced corned beef and hickory-smoked ham in heaping portions, and wings come coated in a variety of sauces, including buffalo bourbon and teriyaki.
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.
Chef Nong's culinary journey began in Bangkok at age 12, when she would procure supplies from the corner market and cook for her family. She spent her adolescence perfecting her mother and grandmother's recipes, and then gained extra practice when she started a family of her own.
At age 35, Nong decided it was time to share her culinary flair with members of other families. She progressed through restaurant jobs in Thailand and Malaysia before landing a gig in Minneapolis, where she earned her sriracha-soaked stripes by cooking at a number of area restaurants before opening her own eatery, Nong's Thai Cuisine.
In her own kitchen, Nong relies on her stockpile of inherited recipes to create a menu of authentic, homestyle Thai fare, which earned the eatery the distinction of Best Thai Restaurant 2010 from City Pages. Featured in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, the "perfectly timed noodles" of the pad thai carry al dente firmness, and the "high quality" curries stimulate taste buds in a more refined manner than chili pepper stimulates the eye. Flavors of tamarind and papaya infuse salads and stir-fries, and crisp veggies top noodle dishes, all calibrated to customer-chosen levels of heat.
Granite City Food & Brewery, a casual family restaurant founded by hospitality experts, has an on-site brewery and a menu stuffed with more steak, seafood, pasta, flatbread pizza, burger, and sandwich options than Abe Lincoln had dollar bills stuffed in his top hat. Gourmet pub-grub appetizers and many other generously portioned dishes are listed alongside the beers that bring out their flavors. The intoxicating taste of the inebriated vodka mussels ($12.99) is suggested alongside Northern Light––a light creamy beer––and the juicy, tender meatiness of a 14-ounce New York strip ($25.99) is advised along with Brother Benedict’s bock––a brownish German-style lager. Others among Granite City Food & Brewery's six specialty brews are the Irish-style Broad Axe stout, known for its nose of roasted chocolate and coffee notes, and Duke Of Wellington, an IPA with muscle-bound malt character and a deep-seated dislike of Napoleon.