Founded in 1954 by James McLamore and David Edgerton, Burger King rapidly expanded from humble beginnings as a lone burger joint to more than 12,400 locations across 79 countries today, making it the second-largest fast-food-hamburger chain in the world. Its signature burger?the Whopper sandwich?consists of flame-broiled, quarter-pound beef patties crowned with a miniature fedora and a fully customizable array of toppings such as tomatoes, onions, and dill pickles. Focused on continual improvement, the chain recently reinvented the fries that accompany each value meal, outfitting the spud slices with a thicker cut of potato for a fluffier texture on the inside and crispier golden-brown exterior. A spread of decadent desserts including dutch apple pie and Hershey pie keeps sweet teeth from elongating into fangs, and made-to-order breakfast sandwiches clasp eggs, american cheese, and bacon, sausage, or ham between two halves of a flaky croissant to round out the speedy menu.
Chefs at Jonny's Pizza and Pasta slather sweet red sauce onto homemade dough, creating a brightly colored canvas for fresh Italian sausage, pepperoni and 18 other customer-chosen toppings. After a spell in the oven, these custom pies arrive at tables sizzling and, at the Fairview Heights location, can be devoured in the glow of big-screen TVs. Along with specialty pizzas, which can showcase other sauces such as alfredo, barbecue, or garlic-butter, chefs also layer lasagna, bake mostaccioli, toss freshly-cut mixed salads, and stuff footlong sub sandwiches with hearty fillings.
The top-brass twisters at Auntie Anne's, one of the world's largest handrolled, soft-pretzel franchises, create enough twirly treats every year to wrap the Earth in deliciously salted dough three times over. Pretzel professionals prepare a wide array of sweet-and-salty snacks, spiraling them into ornate knots with the delicacy of a grandmotherly sailor and baking them to golden brown in full view of customers.
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 Top 500 Franchises in the baked-goods category. As the shop’s reputation grew, 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&Ms, and chewy pecan supreme, as well as freshly baked fudge and cheesecake brownies, and cookie sandwiches stuffed with frosting. The real show-stoppers, however, are the giant chocolate-chip cookie cakes, which can be customized with sweet, celebratory messages or shopping lists penned in colorful icing.
Hanley's features a motley menu of locally sourced dishes made fresh and served in a sleek, casual setting. Sate crisp cravings with a starter of Hanley's homemade onion rings ($6.99) or the calamari ($8.99), sprinkled with Creole seasoning and guarded by a remoulade sauce. Stone-fired pizzas come in a variety of tongue-shades, such as cheese ($9.99), pepperoni ($10.99), and Hanley's pie ($12.99), which gently lulls a slew of grilled shrimp onto a creamy bed of spinach-artichoke dip accented with salsa. Hanley's burger ($9.99) piles grilled onions, mushrooms, sundried-tomato relish, and goat cheese atop a half-pound hunk of meat, while the pan-seared tilapia ($15.99) pairs up with sundried-tomato-basil butter to create a tongue-pleasing team capable of disintegrating blandness with one swift bite. Other favorites include the grilled pork tenderloin ($16.99), Romine's crispy fried chicken ($29.99 for 20 pieces), and a dessert of caramel gooey butter cake ($5.99) served with Bailey's ice cream. All foodstuffs are best counterbalanced with Hanley's own specialty ale or a sweet dreamsicle martini ($7), which—like a Twister date night—combines the sugary flavor of youth with the obvious perks of adulthood.
When founders J. Kim Tucci, Joseph A. Fresta, and John P. Ferrara first opened The Pasta House Co. in 1974, they wanted to elevate pasta to an art form. “Some artists sculpt, some paint, and some sketch,” they write on the restaurant’s website. “But, at The Pasta House Co., we create authentic Italian culinary delights.” A few of the locations even have giant, exhibition kitchens so you can watch as pizzas, pastas, and entrees come to life.
Naturally, The Pasta House Co.’s menu revolves around the Italian staple from which it gets its name. There are more than 25 varieties of pasta to choose from, including linguine with chicken livers and the signature lasagna, plus weekday specials such as stuffed manicotti. Meanwhile, the mangia bene menu—which translates to “eat well” in Italian—showcases the more wholesome side of Italian eating, with dishes low in fat and calories that won’t peer pressure you to break curfew.