When former fast-food execs Ed Rensi and Tom Dentice decided to open their own casual restaurant, they knew they'd have to do some research. In the years since they'd started in the business, the burgeoning foodie culture had transformed this beefy staple into a gourmet food. Honoring the dish's roots in American roadside diners, the duo decided to take a road trip, visiting about 100 restaurants across the country to study what made a gourmet burger.
What they found was a lot of hype and inconsistent execution, starting with inadequate equipment. For instance, the average commercial griddle has hot spots and cold spots that can be 30 degrees different. "You can't get a consistent cook … if you got that much range in temperature on the grill," Ed said. He also saw inconsistencies with ingredient quality: toppings can't save a burger, no matter how good, if a restaurant uses beef from spent dairy cattle. Likewise, good beef loses impact when dressed in drab toppings such as iceberg lettuce.
Once Ed realized what the gourmet burger needed—consistent process and quality across every ingredient—he and Tom went to work. They found an AccuTemp grill that uses steam pressure to uniformly heat the surface. They sourced Midwestern-raised Angus beef ground from chuck with the shoulder clod still intact. And they filled the 20-item condiment station—dubbed the "Tower of Taste"—with all-natural fixings such as three types of organic Heinz ketchup and mustards from Mustard Girl, a company started by a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin.
With a surefire process in place, Tom and Ed began extending their menu to other sandwich fillings, such as fresh chicken breasts, sushi-grade ahi tuna, and edamame burger patties. Sides also benefit from the duo's attention to detail. Hand-dipped ice cream and fresh strawberries swirl into strawberry shakes, which are served with extrawide straws that make it easier to sip when the drink is at its coldest. And at the drink station, fountains pour Boylan sodas sweetened with cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup.
The original Dear Franks location in Deerfield flung open its doors back in 1978 and has served the same quality dogs, burgers, and fries ever since, only now at two additional locations in Niles and Glenview. Charred Vienna Beef hot dogs drag through a garden of traditional Chicago-style toppings, and freshly cut, double-crisped fries are draped in creamy wisconsin sharp cheddar. Italian-beef sandwiches, tuna melts, and assorted sausages also assuage cravings for comfort food, as do chocolate malts and teddy bears stuffed with foie gras.
Evidence for America as the Great Melting Pot is everywhere: our holiday traditions, our dress, our melting pots, and especially our food. Cookers Red Hots sticks to American staples—hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, and salads—but in truth, the menu draws inspiration from all over the world. Polish sausage and bratwursts, Italian beef and Mexican tamales, and made-to-order Asian and Greek salads add some variety to the smorgasbord of hearty American food.
Stowed away inside the seven-story atrium of the Embassy Suites Chicago North Shore rests Cadwell's Grille, an upscale restaurant helmed by Executive Chef John Grosskopf. A Cooking Academy of Chicago graduate, Chef Grosskopf has created menus and recipes for several fine dining restaurants in the Chicago area. For the Cadwell’s Grille menu, Grosskopf puts a contemporary spin on American classics by stuffing meatloaf with white-cheddar-chive mashed potatoes, frying french fries in truffle oil, and crowning burgers with gourmet ingredients such as chipotle aioli and warm bacon vinaigrette. Each dish is plated delicately on white serving ware, allowing diners to clearly see the components of each entree and celebrity faces in each swirl of dipping sauce.
Even the latest of risers should have no trouble making it to Kevin?s Place in time for breakfast or brunch. The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends, serving a dependable spread of breakfast dishes that includes omelets, waffles, and pancakes. The chefs are known to sometimes stray from the traditional playbook, as they do with the honey-nut granola-encrusted Deerfield french toast. Much to the delight of children, they can mold pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse or use maple syrup to draw hopscotch lines on the diner?s floor.
For nearly five decades, the staff at Tony's Subs has piled meats and cheeses onto hearty submarine sandwiches. Armed with loaves of Gonnella bread, the crew stacks toppings and condiments to customers' specifications before running subs through an oven or wrapping them up as is. Sandwiches can be paired with sides such as a New Orleans–style olive salad, Lay's potato chips, or Carol's giant cookies, each of which is stamped with Paul Bunyan's giant seal of approval.