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.
Denisa's Crepes & Fondues packs fresh, seasonal ingredients into its menu of authentic swiss and french crepes in sweet and savory flavors, plus a mélange of soups, quiche, and salad. Like a location of a haunted mansion’s exit, the featured quiche flavor changes daily ($6), and sweet crepes get their charm from tasty fillings such as lingonberry jam ($5.25), honey ($5.40), and dark chocolate with coconut ($6.80). Savory buckwheat crepes toughen up their doughy exterior by morphing into a diverse lineup of full-meal galettes, including fish au cognac, a Parisian playground where peas and raisins play tag with white fish doused with wine and cognac sauce ($14.75 for lunch, $17.75 for dinner). Sweet dessert crepes decked out with caramelized apples flambé in rum send stomachs into the world gurgling happily ($8.90). Diners imbibe in the restaurant's cozy dining room, covered with hardwood floors, sconce-style lighting, and tabletop flower bouquets that translate all conversations into French.
Nestled in the heart of the verdant Fox River Valley, idyllic Geneva lies about 36 miles west of Chicago's Loop area, but its laid-back rural vibe seems a world's away from the big city's honking cabs and rackety trains. Historical buildings and tree-lined streets define downtown Geneva, with 200 specialty shops ranging from artisanal jewelers, chic women's clothing stores, and boutique eateries. Built by German immigrants in the 1850s, the 68-foot Fabyan Windmill lies along the river to the south of town, recently restored with timber from the Netherlands. On the first Friday of every month, Geneva's residents take a self-guided art walk through nine area galleries, which open their doors to serve refreshments, host live performances, and show off their portraits of mustachioed news anchors. Down the street, the Geneva History Center delves into the city's past as an early Kane County seat and an agricultural hub.
Blending exotic spices, artisan sea salts, and organic garlic, Galena Garlic Company equips stockpots and spice racks with a wealth of flavorful seasoning selections. Grown in Galena, various varieties of whole garlic ($12/pound, available starting mid-July), including german white and music, are ideal for sautéing or broiling. Seasoning savants blend aromatic spices in small batches to help cooks create dishes free of frantic, last-minute spice-trade journeys to India or Texas with seasonings such as BB Que rub ($7). An arsenal of more than 14 fresh olive oils, such as the antioxidant-rich Arbequina extra-virgin olive oil ($17), pair exquisitely with a variety of flavored balsamic and wine ($17) vinegars to create consummate bread dips, salad dressings, and treats for neighborhood tin men.
Anointed as one of Oprah's Favorite Things in 2005, Moveable Feast's Deeply Fudgey brownies smother biters' bicuspids in moist, rich dark chocolate. The shop's husband-and-wife duo invented the recipe after hundreds of experiments, some of which resulted in mutant turtle-brownie hybrids who still slowly crawl the earth, surprising children at birthday parties and periodically bathing themselves in cups of milk.
FoxFire Salon has been primping and pruning the human form for 26 years through the expert assistance of high-quality Aveda beauty products. The experienced staff of friendly professionals caters to a customer's needs by offering a full menu of salon and spa services. For when seasonal wardrobe shifts require follicle modification, adjustments can be made with stylish haircuts ($35+), trims for bangs and beards ($10+), color and highlights ($75+), and frosting ($65+). If new hair isn't on the horizon, jazz hands and jazz feet can greet the spring equinox with attractive Aveda spa manicures ($45) and pedicures ($65).