Christopher and Melanie Romano?s kids have long loved the music, iPads loaded with games, and fun flavors of Let?s Yo! When they?d frequent their neighborhood outpost, they felt assured they were feeding their kids a healthier alternative to ice cream. "Even in the winter, my kids wanted to go," Christopher says. "They would have gone every day if I'd have let them."
When the couple decided they wanted to quit the corporate world and open a business, Let?s Yo! seemed like a natural fit. They soon opened up shop, where customers self-serve 18 all-natural, organic flavors brimming with live active cultures. The flavors rotate regularly, with varieties such as sea-salt-caramel pretzel, red velvet cupcake, and California tart. Next, guests pile on premium toppings such as Andes mints, mixed nuts, and Kashi cereal?as well as about 10 different types of syrups, including Reese's peanut-butter topping and mango syrup. The staff members get fresh-fruit deliveries daily, which they chop up or splice via laser vision.
Along with iPads loaded with the latest apps, Christopher outfitted the shop with a flat-screen TV and free WiFi. He chats regularly with the customers who swing by for a cup or stop in after the gym for a yogurt protein shake. And he says it's definitely a change of pace from his Wall Street job. "The hardest choice you have to make is what topping you want," he says.
Jutting out over the salty waters of Raritan Bay, Jakeabob's Bay furnishes diners with picturesque views to accompany a menu of classic American and maritime fare. Tantalize taste buds with an appetizer of fried calamari with marinara sauce ($12) and bypass cumbersome cutlery with dishes such as the fried-tilapia fish taco served in a soft tortilla shell with pineapple chili ($12) or the fried-sea-scallop-and-wasabi-mayo sandwich ($11). Daily specials add variety to the standard menu with such variables as the lobster dinner ($17)—a steamy crustacean served whole, complete with its lobster bowtie. As they take in their nautical cuisine, diners catch between-bite views of the New York skyline and invigorating breaths of Atlantic wind.
When he cofounded his first sandwich shop in 1965, 17-year-old Fred DeLuca planned to use his profits to pay his way through medical school. But the combination of quality ingredients and friendly service at the shop—then called Pete's Subway—proved so popular that nine years later, he and his partner found themselves in charge of 16 locations across Connecticut, and Fred left behind his doctoring plans for a career in business.
Today, Subway restaurants number over 34,000 around the world—almost as many shops as there are sightings of Elvis buying cold cuts. At each location, staffers pile sliced ham, marinara-slathered meatballs, and other fillings into halved loaves of bread before customizing handhelds with tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and other healthy toppings plucked from chilled containers behind the counter. Salads free crisp veggies from bread's overprotective embrace, and crunchy baked chips or apple slices accompany entrees to tables. Subway's website also facilitates health-conscious eating by listing each item's nutrition information and fastest mile time online.
Park East calls itself "the ultimate expression of what a high-end casual restaurant should be," and its delicate balance between refinement and spontaneity seeps into its every crack. Drawing upon a hybrid of contemporary American, delicate Japanese, and old-fashioned bar food, the kitchen might prepare anything from a cheeseburger topped with chipotle-tomato jam and house onion rings to innovative sushi rolls that wrap up strip steak or strawberries. On Sunday mornings, the brunch menu wakes up late-risers and offers sanctuary for vampires who forgot to go to sleep with such delicacies as lobster fried rice, bacon-infused pancakes, and a cheese-stuffed waffle soaked in bourbon syrup. It all happens in a massive dining room that somehow retains an intimate lounge feel, even with a hard-partying sports bar right next door.
At Baxter's Burgers & Fries, they like to keep things simple. They preserved the tin ceilings in the 100-year-old building, kept the brick walls and concrete floors exposed, creating an open, spacious eatery. The fries are hand cut, buns baked and delivered fresh every single day. And for the burgers, the kitchen adds no seasonings to the Angus beef patties, knowing that the meaty taste is just what customers want. Where the kitchen gets more complex is with the toppings. Bacon and fried egg blanket the breakfast burger for a tastier wake up than a smoothie made of Froot Loops, and the Mac Attack's macaroni and cheese evokes comfort beneath the bun. The kitchen crafts ground chicken burgers and veggie burgers with toppings such as pineapple and ranch dressing.
At Bagelicious Cafe & Gourmet Deli, bagels aren't just for breakfast. The warm, homemade rolls-with-a-hole also serve as a base for sandwiches piled high with Boar’s Head meats and cheeses or egg, chicken, and tuna salads. Burgers forgo a traditional bun in favor of a flagel—or flat bagel; bagel-less options include vegetarian or chicken fajita wraps, hot prosciutto heroes, and paninis stuffed with eggplant parmigiana or smaller, slimmer paninis. Still, it's hard to improve upon tradition, and guests won't be blamed if they prefer to enjoy their bagel in its most natural form—dressed in nothing but butter or a heaping helping of homemade plain, veggie, or strawberry cream cheese.