When The Melting Pot originally opened in 1975 just outside Orlando, the location was cozy and quaint, but diners had only three options: swiss-cheese fondue, beef fondue, or chocolate fondue. However, as the restaurant grew in popularity, so did its menu selection and atmosphere. The restaurant first expanded four years later under the leadership of a Melting Pot waiter and enterprising college student named Mark Johnston, who teamed up with his brothers Mike and Bob to open a new outpost in Tallahassee. This location grew in reputation to pave the way for future franchise expansion. Today, the company—now owned by the trio of siblings—reigns as the premier fondue, wine, and drink restaurant, stretching across North America with more than 140 restaurants linked by underground tunnels. The restaurant's menu has also ballooned, and patrons can now expect six varieties of hot dipping cheese paired with salads, meats, and molten chocolate.
On a given night, groups of foodies gather around tables to nosh on signature four-course meals, from cheese-fondue appetizers and various salads to steaks and seafood cooked in a choice of healthy broth or oil. Birthday revelers and couples can share decadent evenings at private tables, capping off meals with chocolate desserts that have defined The Melting Pot for decades.
The owners and chefs at Santa Fe Cattle rely on old family recipes that demand steaks are aged and cut in-house, rolls are baked fresh each day, and signature sauces are mixed onsite. These touches transform the menu’s casual, regional eats into dishes worthy of John Wayne’s personal dressing-room buffet. Steaks, fajitas, and sliders are plated next to housemade sides of cole slaw, Santa Fe taters, and of course, a bucket of peanuts—which guests shuck directly onto the floor. The peanut shells add character to each one of the restaurant’s 20 locations, which evoke old-west saloons with touches such as brick walls draped in horse saddles and weathered wooden floors.
At the Pita Place, you might sit down to the same meal that the Iranian royal family once enjoyed. That’s thanks to owner Fred’s father, who passed down to his son the skills he acquired as a chef for the Iranian rulers. Now, Fred upholds family traditions with a menu of classic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fare that has been lauded by Urban Tulsa and Tasty Tulsa. Chefs shave off hunks of slow-roasted gyro meat, and enfold falafel patties in warm pita bread. For dessert, they dish out a colder food—Persian ice cream, a blend of vanilla ice cream, pistachio, saffron, rose water, and sweet nothings borrowed from a local poet.
Since 1982, the pie architects at Simple Simon's Pizza have assembled casual Italian and American fare at 240 locations scattered across 10 states. Fresh veggies, quality meats, and blankets of cheese spread atop pizzas and fortify the golden-brown walls of Calizones. Breadsticks sheathed in even more cheese accessorize meals, and a smattering of mild-to-spicy wings helps to separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the girls from the boys if they get too rowdy at coed canoe camp.
It’s been a long time since Jack Kerouac or Ken Kesey’s band of merry pranksters made their way down Route 66, but at small, cozy points along the way, driver’s can get a glimpse into the past. Fat Charlie’s Grill is one of those spots. Old-fashioned diner fare and friendly service welcome visitors each morning as line cooks scramble up three-egg omelets and assemble their signature crashes—hash browns topped with eggs, veggies, meats, and AAA cards. Their artful arranging of toppings continues into the lunch and dinner hours, with a host of quarter- and third-pound burgers hoisting traditional bacon, mushrooms, and homemade chili or unconventional fried eggs, peanut butter, and country gravy. For the young at heart, or the sweet at tooth, they blend handmade ice-cream shakes with any ingredient you choose.