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 Caesar's location, a then-unheard-of carryout-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 pie designed for instant pick-up, 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 its own charitable programs.
Armed with just a single, generations-old cookie recipe, Great American Cookies opened its first store in 1977, and the rest is history. Today, the franchise boasts locations in malls across the country and nabbed a coveted spot on Entrepreneur magazine’s 2012 list of Top 500 Franchises in the baked-goods category. The shop’s reputation grew, and so did its menu as chefs churned out a mouthwatering roster of gourmet-cookie recipes, each created and carefully tested in Atlanta. The tempting options now include snickerdoodle, peanut butter with M&M’s, and chewy pecan supreme, as well as freshly baked fudge and cheesecake brownies and cookie sandwiches stuffed with frosting. The real showstoppers, however, are the giant chocolate-chip cookie cakes, which can be customized with sweet, celebratory messages or shopping lists penned in colorful icing.
Papa Murphy’s, the highest-ranking pizza chain in the 2010 Zagat Fast-Food Survey, serves up a tasty menu of handmade take 'n’ bake pizzas made from dough, cheese, meat, and veggies that are freshly prepared every day. After customers choose their pie, Papa Murphy's slice-slingers build the pizza in-store and package it for customers to bake at home in the oven, in a pottery kiln, or over a pile of burning cookbooks. Customers can select any family-sized signature pizza, including the Cowboy piled with pepperoni, italian sausage, mushrooms, and black olives, or the gourmet vegetarian, which bears an herbivorous cornucopia including spinach, zucchini, artichoke hearts, and more. A pound of cookie dough speckled with Hershey's chocolate chips blossoms into crisp melty discs in the oven, which can be munched on after dinner or tossed at neighborhood kids attempting to steal leftover pizza slices.
Vittone’s slings dough by the disk and noodles by the nest to Decatur and Huntsville-area residents, serenading Alabamian taste buds with traditional Italian fare. Hone dairy origami skills with a gooey cheese calzone ($4.58) or exact ocular revenge on the moon with a lunar eye-hitting pizza pie, such as the Benzina, mounded with meaty pepperoni, italian sausage, bacon, ham, hamburger, and shredded cheeses ($8.03 for a small or $17.22 for a large). The eternally changing dessert menu silences the shrieks of banshee sweet teeth, and garlic breadsticks ($2.30) provide the perfect weaponry for pretend sword fights.
There’s no shortage of renowned oyster establishments in the South. But tripsmarter.com pegged Wintzell’s Oyster House as its No. 1 destination for the specialty.
“Fried, stewed, or nude”: the Oysters are served every way imaginable at Wintzell’s, where oysters are, unsurprisingly, the trademark dish. And they’ve been the trademark dish since the eatery’s flagship location opened in 1938. Regional seafood favorites also dominate the menu, from low-country boils to Cajun seafood fettuccine and bacon-wrapped shrimp.
Though the original location became something of a landmark in historic Mobile, the restaurant has since expanded to multiple locations perfect for catching oysters in the nude, served Rockefeller style, or wearing their favorite pajama pants. Still, each eatery retains the original’s decorative signature: several dozen whimsical signs on the walls. The website even features some of their slogans, including: “Never kick a man when he is down—he may get up.”