Restaurateur Ted first fed the Willow Springs community with his intimate establishment, My Way Café, whose popularity inspired him to expand his reach into fine Italian cuisine paired with delicately balanced wines at My Way Ristorante. Through the evolution of his businesses, though, Ted has never lost sight of doing things, as he puts it, his way. He focuses first on cultivating a warm, welcoming atmosphere in his restaurants, striving to make guests feel free to sit, eat, chat, and return.
Of course, delicious food comes in at a close second. He crafts an extensive menu of Italian dishes, calling out signature favorites with the addition of My Way to the dish’s name. My Way polenta pairs sautéed italian sausage with a white wine sauce, and My Way ravioli douses tomato crab-stuffed ravioli in a garlic cream sauce. Some recipes, however, Ted leaves just the way they are, relying on the time-tested ability of a simple grill to draw flavors from his 12-ounce rib eyes, 8-ounce filet mignons, and 2-ounce charcoal briskets.
Sandy's Sandwiches prides itself on feeding customers high quality bread, but not too much of it. Instead, they focus on serving up more meat, more cheese, and whatever other toppings make up the customer's sandwich of choice. With the Big Bet BLT, it's bacon, sliced avocados, and ancho-chipotle sauce; in the Chicken Melt Sub, it's swiss cheese and honey mustard; while the Chicken Salad Sandwich is topped with baby spinach and creamy pesto. Other sandwiches include massive eats such as the Colossal Corned Beef with horseradish dijon on marbled rye, or the Big Hammer, made with enough smoked ham and swiss cheese to put Thor to sleep. The menu also includes hot dogs—the Chicago Dog, the Striped Dog, and the Bacon Chili Dog—and wraps such as the Straight Veggie Wrap with roasted red pepper and artichoke hearts.
Once upon a time—1901, to be exact—Gertie's Ice Cream began topping cones and tempting palates with its creamy texture and creative flavors. Twenty-six years later in a completely separate location, Lindy's Chili drew crowds with its hearty, meaty stew. Both enterprises continued to gain popularity over the years, but it wasn't until 1974 that entrepreneur Joseph Yesutis bought them both and had a novel idea: his chili company had more customers in the daytime and over the winter, whereas his ice cream company had more customers in the evenings and during the summer. Why not combine their strengths by creating a single sweet and savory shop? Yesutis's odd idea gained traction almost immediately, with guests lining up to sample its unique fusion of hot and spicy with cold and sweet. Today, the inventive grouping is not only accepted, but it's become a beloved tradition. Lindy's has since expanded to cook up burgers, Polish sausages, and a slew of meaty sandwiches. Meanwhile, Gertie's dessert artisans concoct old-fashioned banana splits, triple-rich shakes and malts, and sundaes topped with fresh fruits and sweet hot fudge.
If a visit to one of Southern Belle's restaurants feels a lot like coming home, it might have something to do with the hearty family traditions behind the kitchen's down-home breakfast and lunch dishes. “My father was in pancake houses all his life,” says owner Steve Fotos. Today, many of the same recipes used by Steve's father help populate a menu of hearty comfort foods that includes a poached-egg and sausage benedict smothered in country gravy and french toast stuffed with cinnamon apples, strawberries and pecans, or blueberries and bananas. But while the country-fried-steak or smoked-sausage skillets are tempting, the expansive menu offers options for diets of all kind, pairing fluffy egg whites with strawberries, granola, and multigrain toast and swapping out regular maple syrup for bottles that are low-calorie, sugar-free, or simply sealed shut. Photos of farms and pastoral images smile down upon diners as they dig in and gently remind them to inquire about the restaurant's seasonal specials, which range from summertime salads with sun-ripened veggies to bowls of homemade wintertime chili.
Applying his background in engineering, Stony Gardens founder C.J. Jackson tackled a problem familiar to any family every Thanksgiving: cooking the perfect turkey. Determined to find a way to cook the poultry without drying it out, Jackson created a rotisserie smoker that cooks the bird thoroughly while retaining its natural juices. Injected to the bone with one of three marinades—herb and garlic, Cajun, or Caribbean jerk—each turkey slow-roasts over mesquite wood until cooked thoroughly, after which it's packaged for delivery or pickup along with recipes for reusing leftovers. In 2009, in an effort to give back to their community, Jackson and his wife, Dr. Chrystal Strickland, founded the Avert Foundation, a non-profit organization that donates 100 turkeys annually to local underserved families.
Guests quaff cocktails and savor new york strip steak inside Nikos Bar & Grill, a casual pub-style restaurant attached to Nikos Banquets. Besides grilling up half-pound angus beef burgers, heaping plates of marinated chicken, and other hearty fare, the chefs also tend to the lighter side of things with a selection of sandwiches, flatbreads, and crisp, fresh salads. On Saturday nights, a DJ gets the party going inside the art-deco-style space, whose glimmering mirrors and tufted leather couches recall the stately 1930s glamour of the top-secret speakeasy FDR used to run in the White House.