The kitchen crew at PJ’s Grill slings up a menu chock full of American classics. Breakfasts, served all day long, diffuse appetites with egg-based edibles ranging from a one-egg special ($2.25) to a hearty loaded omelet ($6.50). When the sun comes up, PJ’s Grill populates plates with lunch items such as the philly cheesesteak grinder ($7.25) or the juicy quarter-pound mushroom and swiss burger ($6.50), which accompanies a side of steak fries, american fries, or mashed potatoes that obsessively dream about hot oil. Diners can cap off pot roast dinners ($7.25) by nibbling on a deep-fried chocolate-chip cookie or building massive pawns out of used napkins to play extreme chess games on the restaurant’s retro checkerboard floors.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
The team at Hog Island Subs stuffs myriad meats and cheeses between fresh bread, creating classics such as BLTs and inventive food that includes a steak sub topped with hot sauce, jalapeños, and banana peppers. Their generous helpings of pork products—especially when thrown into the middle of the ocean—help Hog Island earn its name. Chefs put together subs such as the five-meat italian or the Three Little Pigs, a triad of pulled pork, imported ham, and smoky bacon topped with sun-dried tomatoes. They also bake flatbread pizzas in variations such as the Hog Island Flat, which is topped with cheese, bacon, ham, and pepperoni.
Cooks at PJ’s Pizza load up pies with fresh roma tomatoes, green peppers, and unique toppings such as pastrami or roasted almonds. Wings leave napkins dappled with spicy barbecue and Jamaican jerk sauces, and 13 types of oven-baked subs can be served in fresh bread, folded into a pizza-style piadina, or smooshed into a glossy presentation folder to impress passing businessmen.
The bun masters at Zogg's Doggs mix innovative, premium toppers into combinations christened with surfer lingo to form more than 35 specialty dogs and creative topping combos. Each hot dog is crafted from 100% Michigan beef and, unlike balloon-animal pâté, is devoid of fillers, unless diners request a vegan or turkey substitute. The Righteous Reuben Dogg's bun cuddles pastrami, swiss, and sauerkraut beneath a blanket of thousand-island dressing, and Piper's Zulu Dogg features goldfish crackers swimming in a mustard-and-ketchup sea. Tubular meat maestros top the signature Zogg Dogg with cottage cheese, goat cheese, bacon, and cheddar before encouraging a black-pepper shaker to sneeze on it. Guests can slurp down soda or a slushie as they linger in the space's eclectic aqua-and-orange-colored interior. Each bun-based meal accompanies a hearty side of mac 'n' cheese, baked beans, coleslaw, or a combination of chips, chili, and cheese.
Voted Best Chef by the readers of Grand Rapids Magazine, Eric Chaitin, executive chef of all three restaurants, oversees an edible empire emphasizing creativity and customer service. Take your taste buds on a dream date to The Grille and ponder its sophisticated menu, which entices eaters with wood-fired pizzas, hearty pastas, and meaty marvels such as a Wagyu New York strip ($18.95). Rush Creek Bistro's menu slays cravings with an eclectic assortment of sandwiches and rib-sticking entrees, while the menu at FireRock Grille includes shrimp ($9.95) and steak ($15.95) that can be cooked on a 500-degree FireRock like those used by Stone Age tailgaters before the first Super Bowl. Each menu changes seasonally, accentuating locally grown, seasonal produce and fresh meats. All three locations feature scenic country-club views, outdoor dining, and bar areas for debating with strangers over which of the Founding Fathers had the nicest singing voice.