The chefs at The Best Windy City Hot Dogs have the classic Chicago dog down to an art. With each order, they carefully ensconce a single oversized frank in a poppy-seed bun before layering on pickle spears, sport peppers, tomatoes, relish onions, and a thin line of mustard. The all-natural casings of their classic and Polish dogs allow the complementary flavors of the condiments to shine through, creating a savory balance with the aromas of chili- and cheese-soaked fries and the sounds of neglected ketchup bottles pounding at the door. Not to be defined by its hot-dog offerings, the menu spans a range of dishes that showcase America’s melting-pot history, offering Italian-beef sandwiches alongside tzatziki-drizzled lamb gyros and locally made tamales. A range of cool drinks and ice-cream treats wash down the hearty meals, and delivery or dine-in service allows guests to enjoy their treats wherever they wish without installing a franchise in the back of their car.
Head chef and Chicagoland native Jason Korinek dedicates his kitchen to crafting contemporary versions of familiar Italian dishes with seasonal ingredients. A wood-fired oven bakes sandwiches and Neapolitan pizzas to a golden crisp, and the chefs add homestyle flavors to the menu by making italian sausage, pesto, and ricotta gnocchi in-house. Aside from these traditional approaches to Italian cuisine, the chefs also adopt a more modern stance by grilling salmon on cedar planks and creating fiber-optic strands of linguini.
The rustic and contemporary influences extend to the bold decor, which echoes the ambience of a faux cottage. A wrought-iron chandelier dangles from the vaulted ceiling and eclectic patches of exposed brickwork poke through the walls.
In 1988, Auntie Anne's founders Anne and Jonas Beiler purchased a Pennsylvania farmers'-market stand, where they experimented with dough until they created a pretzel that seemed to strike the perfect chord with their customers. Today, at their more than 1,350 locations worldwide, the pretzel makers still hand roll the original recipe but have added to the menu with inventive options such as the eight signature dipping sauces. The team constantly explores new uses for the pretzel dough, such as wrapping it around hot dogs and slicing it into bite-size nuggets. To transform the snack into a meal, they accompany it with specialty drinks, including frozen-lemonade desserts.
When not twisting dough, Auntie Anne's team partners with the national charitable organization Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which raises funds to fight childhood cancer. Auntie Anne's also reaches out to the community through fundraising opportunities.