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.
Pappanino's 50-year legacy spans the globe. The first Pappanino baked his first pizza in Sicily, but he always nurtured a desire to bring his fresh pizzas to America, so he and his family relocated to Chicago. Decades later, the same love of pizza still fuels the family business, but their menu has expanded to sandwiches, appetizers, and hearty Italian-style dishes and entrees. However, pizza is still the hallmark of the eatery, with varieties ranging from thin to stuffed crust, and more than 27 toppings—from artichoke and giardiniera to barbecue chicken—provide hundreds of combinations to make each pizza unique. The chefs and staff also go on location with a catering menu of their favorite dishes.
The friendly neighborhood cooks at Joe's Place whip up juicy hot dogs with fresh-cut fries and made-to-order Italian specialties with high-quality ingredients. The hot-dog stand sits in a welcoming residential area, serving up a menu of classics such as a hot dog and fries ($2.65) or a tummy-stretching double chili dog with fries ($4.35). Generations-old authentic Italian recipes shape classics such as the chicken-parmesan sandwich ($4) and the italian beef ($4.55). Milk shakes and gelato (both $1.50–$7) cool off tongues overexcited from warm, stimulating cappuccinos ($2.20/small).
As a high-school student working at a local pizzeria, John Schnatter often pondered how he would do things differently if he owned such a business himself. After graduating from college in 1983, he got his chance, knocking down the broom closet in his father’s tavern to create his own pizza-delivery business. Since then Papa John’s has grown to 3,500 restaurants in 50 states and 29 countries. At each location, cooks cover the signature hand-tossed crusts, made with high-protein flour and clear, filtered water, with tomato sauce from vine-ripened California tomatoes, then pile on locally sourced ingredients such as green peppers and onions. The emphasis on fresh ingredients extends to the 100% mozzarella cheese, beef, and pork, which are never artificially inflated with fillers or undeserved compliments.
In addition to delivering pizzas, Papa John’s reaches out to the community with charity involvement, including partnering with the Boy Scouts of America and Junior Achievement to teach US students about entrepreneurship and the best method of capturing a wild roma tomato.