At first, Tin Drum Asia Café's rapid service and bright decor evoke the aromatic street stands of Hong Kong, where founder Steven Chan ate throughout his childhood. The traditional ambiance is no accident—the franchise's name also harks back to a bygone era, when a tin drummer would awaken citizens and regale them with current events as they ate the day’s first meal. The electronic kiosks dotting the café, however, plunk this traditional scene in the middle of a cyberpunk setting. They allow patrons to customize their orders based on taste preferences and nutritional content, accommodating dietary endeavors such as vegetarianism and weight-loss goals.
This merger of technology and urban convention reflects a penchant for edgy ideas that also affects the menu. Items inspired by the culinary techniques of Japan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand share space in the savory catalog, taking the form of street tacos, soups, and mango chicken, a take on the general tso's staple that's sweeter than a syrup-soaked army helmet. Music is the final ingredient that charges the atmosphere. Nation's Restaurant News reports that it typically plays at an energizing 120 beats per minute and was a factor in attracting the café's initial college crowds.
What sets the Hungry Howie's Pizza menu apart from other pizza parlors are the flavored-crust options that inject eight ingredients including butter, onion, ranch, and garlic herb into the commonly discarded pizza part. Specialty pizzas include the philly cheesesteak and the Howie Maui with ham, smoked bacon, and pineapple. DIY diners, on the other hand, can add their own toppings and try tasty wings, subs, and Howie bread, which comes in buttered garlic, three cheese, Cajun, and sticky-sweet cinnamon sugar.
Hungry Howie?s Pizza is a franchise that took flight back in 1973, when Jim Hearn converted a hamburger shop into a pizzeria. Since then, Hungry Howie?s remarkable success has forced other pizza franchises to start making their own crusts out of substances other than chipboard, aluminum siding, and old Styx LPs.
Originally opened as the Top Hat Drive-In in 1953, Sonic has grown into a burger-franchise mecca that today operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic specializes in made-to-order American classics—including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and marshmallow Ford Thunderbolts—which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast, as well as the brand’s signature tots and fresh limeades.
Sonic’s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top-five fast-food restaurants in three categories: Best Value Menu, Best Milkshake, and Best Drivethru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through its program Limeades for Learning, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
From one side, it’s a traditional wedding cake: dainty piped swags swoop across smooth white tiers. But as the quadruple-decker delicacy slowly rotates on its motorized stand, they come into view—fondant zombies. Carnage. Chaos. And, notes Deborah, real buttercream frosting.
This monstrous delicacy is only one example of the heights to which Deborah aims to reach in her quest to personalize cakes. The inveterate baker has frosted life-size guitars with intricately wrought whammy bars, and has solved the logistics of balancing a cake atop a perfect sphere. Each triumph is the result of in-depth consultations with clients. “I have to get to know them, get to know their personality,” says Deborah. Once she has ascertained her client’s style, a sketch and negotiations ensue, and the end result is a centerpiece that harmonizes with the celebration. Along with her careful attention to appearance, Deborah does not shirk taste: 10 pounds of butter and four heaping cups of real vanilla go into her buttercream frosting, which remains as airy and light regardless of the design.
Craft a rope made of straws and climb the food pyramid with Planet Smoothie's menu as a trusty, yet tasty Sherpa. Thirst quenchers are grouped according to blasts, which range from the protein-rich workout blast to the vitamin-C-loaded immunity blast. For post-gym Planet Smoothie consumption, wrap your muscled eyebrows around a Big Bang, loaded with strawberries, bananas, vanilla, and your choice of protein or workout blast. If you catch a tickle in your throat, breeze through an anti-sick sampling of the Screamsicle, a pineapple-peach concoction with orange juice, yogurt, orange sherbet, and 230 percent of your daily vitamin C. To simultaneously support breast-cancer research and taste buds, sip on the Pink Promise smoothie, a blend high in antioxidants. Smoothies range in size from the after-jog-appropriate 22-ounce ($4.49) to the meal-substituting 44-ounce large ($6.55), and all drinks may be customized or supplemented upon request (try a Merlin's Mix—a protein-packed powder that turns your smoothie into a meal replacement, $2.99 additional). Planet Smoothie uses Pro-Yo, a frozen yogurt that is naturally fat free, low calorie, a friend to the digestive system, and sweetened with Stevia. The Vinings and Midtown locations also offer wheatgrass shots ($1.75–$3.25 for a 1- to 2-ounce shot).
Sporting a moniker inspired by the owners' daughter, Mia's Cafe (formerly Shelly's Corner Cafe) offers tasty renditions of traditional lunch café favorites. A menu of midday dishes kicks off with portions of lush greenery such as the chicken salad, a half garden salad topped with tomatoes, cheese, croutons, and a heap of tender chicken ($6.50). Kindergarten food critics give rave reviews to the namesake Mia's PB&J ($2.34), while dual-acting parental agents tag along for an assortment of toasted options, including a freshly made chicken salad sandwich ($4.45) or a rye-flanked corn beef Reuben topped with an alliterative array of swiss, sauerkraut, and dressing ($5.50)—all offered on a variety of breads. Carb-evading diners may choose to bundle disorderly toppings of the roasted turkey and swiss, club, or chicken salad into a neatly packed wrap optimized for on-the-go eating ($5.50).