Sometimes the most satisfying meals are the simplest. Leaf Kitchen's cubano sandwich, for example, a semi-regular special with braised pork and melted swiss, was so good that it inspired Little Village's Scott Samuelson to declare, "a part of me [wanted] to check into some private room to be alone with my sandwich and its sauces." And this isn't the only dish that the restaurant's chefs effortlessly elevate. Their rustic cooking spans breakfast and lunch, ranging from sweet and savory crepes to grilled chicken-club sandwiches, focusing on sustainability as well as simplicity. Meals make use of locally sourced produce and meats, and even the coffee is an exclusive blend crafted by a certified organic, fair-trade roaster.
While the cuisine at Leaf Kitchen is minimalistic in design, the dining space is anything but. Midwest Living praised it by remarking that the "eclectic more-is-more interior offers so much to take in that you may not know where to look first." Servers flit among wood and formica tables set with mismatched dinnerware and clustered with turquoise stools and canary-yellow chairs. These vibrant touches find their complement in a retro-inspired soundtrack of jazz, soul, and world music, which gets knees bouncing without the spring-loaded floorboards used by other restaurants.
With a menu loaded with pizzas and calzones, cheesy breadsticks, and flavorful wings, Gumby's ovens satisfy voracious cravings into the wee hours of the morning. The pizza makers start each day by making mounds of dough by hand, which they decorate with more than 15 inventive toppings, such as alfredo sauce, chicken tenders, and feta cheese, to create specialty pizzas and personalized pies. The same hand-tossed dough serves as a foundation for their famous Pokey Stix, which are smothered in garlic butter, Italian spices, and heaps of mozzarella and parmesan cheese, then cut into strips exactly the length of Abraham Lincoln's foot. To complement the bubbling pizzas, buffalo and boneless wings can be tossed in tangy barbecue, honey mustard, sriracha, or one of four other sauces.
From behind a frozen granite slab, the staff of Cold Stone Creamery uses twin spatulas to blend custom servings of ice cream and creative mix-ins to fit customers’ exact specifications. Founded by Donald and Susan Sutherland in 1988, Cold Stone began under the hot Arizona sun, eventually spreading its frosty fingers to encompass more than 1,400 locations worldwide. Despite the size of the company, each location’s staff keeps up the handcrafted quality, making ice cream onsite every day and using those signature spatulas to create delicious pointillist art against the freezer wall.
2011's Firecracker 500 Festival serves up more than 20 eclectic garage-rock groups bent on rocking an all-ages-audience's socks off over three thrash-filled days. Bands such as White Mystery and Pitchfork-reviewed quartet The Coathangers kick out jams with riot-grrrl grit, and headliners The Strange Boys shred psychedelic hooks sharper than Jimi Hendrix's diamond-tipped mustache-trimmers. The festival's full roster of up-and-coming acts can expose most attendees' ears to new shrieks and sounds.