When former fast-food execs Ed Rensi and Tom Dentice decided to open their own casual restaurant, they knew they'd have to do some research. In the years since they'd started in the business, the burgeoning foodie culture had transformed this beefy staple into a gourmet food. Honoring the dish's roots in American roadside diners, the duo decided to take a road trip, visiting about 100 restaurants across the country to study what made a gourmet burger.
What they found was a lot of hype and inconsistent execution, starting with inadequate equipment. For instance, the average commercial griddle has hot spots and cold spots that can be 30 degrees different. "You can't get a consistent cook … if you got that much range in temperature on the grill," Ed said. He also saw inconsistencies with ingredient quality: toppings can't save a burger, no matter how good, if a restaurant uses beef from spent dairy cattle. Likewise, good beef loses impact when dressed in drab toppings such as iceberg lettuce.
Once Ed realized what the gourmet burger needed—consistent process and quality across every ingredient—he and Tom went to work. They found an AccuTemp grill that uses steam pressure to uniformly heat the surface. They sourced Midwestern-raised Angus beef ground from chuck with the shoulder clod still intact. And they filled the 20-item condiment station—dubbed the "Tower of Taste"—with all-natural fixings such as three types of organic Heinz ketchup and mustards from Mustard Girl, a company started by a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin.
With a surefire process in place, Tom and Ed began extending their menu to other sandwich fillings, such as fresh chicken breasts, sushi-grade ahi tuna, and edamame burger patties. Sides also benefit from the duo's attention to detail. Hand-dipped ice cream and fresh strawberries swirl into strawberry shakes, which are served with extrawide straws that make it easier to sip when the drink is at its coldest. And at the drink station, fountains pour Boylan sodas sweetened with cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup.
Yogen Fr?z has an interesting answer for yogurt shops that simply top their swirls with fruit?they mix whole mangos, bananas, watermelon, and kiwis right in with the yogurt. These colorful, fresh creations boast low or no fat as well as a heaping helping of digestion-friendly probiotics and gluten-free goodness. Each flavor is crafted sans artificial flavorings, colors, gelatins, high-fructose corn syrups, or preservatives?all while maintaining gluten-free, kosher-certified status. Of course, customers of the shop?which has more than 1,300 locations in more than 35 countries?can still opt for a traditionally topped cup of yogurt or a fr?zion smoothie. The body bettering doesn?t stop there, as certain topping combinations from its signature fr?zion bar can even support cell membranes and veins, provide antacid and anti-inflammatory relief, or help prevent body aging, especially if bathed in.
At Viceroy of India Restaurant, culinary craftsmen blend the piquant, regional flavors of northern and southern Indian cuisine with a slew of adroitly seasoned meat and vegetarian dishes. The menu reads like a who's who of Indian edibles, starring such favorites as chicken tikka masala, spicy lamb vindaloo, and assorted vegetarian curries that bathe fresh vegetables in mild or spicy sauces. Appetizing aromas emanate from the eatery's kitchen as leavened naan bread bakes in a traditional clay oven, and an extensive selection of wine, beer, and classic cocktails spill into eager vessels. Each table's presentation of flowers, cushioned wooden chairs, and glowing candles woos guests in search of a venue for a romantic evening, group banquet, or first foray into fire swallowing.
Odyssey Greek Taverna has two locations, both of which maintain old-world charm with crisp white linens, dramatic pillars, stone-textured cream walls, and interspersed colorful murals. Dinners begin with bites of moussaka, which layers eggplants, zucchini, and potatoes for a multitoned meal that doubles as a cutaway model of the earth's crust. The gyro plate showcases spreads of beef and lamb with pita, tzatziki sauce, tomato, and onions, and warm, flaky phyllo dough wraps around spanakopita —a savory spinach-cheese pie.
An extensive wine list loosens first dates’ tongues so they can give better PowerPoint presentations detailing their romantic qualifications.
Sam Elias knows that being cooped up during long winter days can make people stir-crazy. So in 1993, after moving from Florida, land of palm trees and beaches, to Chicago, land of frigid winds and gray slush, he founded WhirlyBall as a way for people to release pent-up energy even as snow was falling outside. During each competitive WhirlyBall game, which combines aspects of basketball, hockey, and jai alai, players zoom across an indoor 50'x80' court in motorized cars called WhirlyBugs. They wield plastic scoops to toss a wiffle ball back and forth to their teammates before throwing the ball through an elevated goal. Refs keep watch during the games, eliminating score arguments that would otherwise end in sunrise duels. To fuel up for a bout, players nibble teriyaki chicken satay, gourmet pizzas, and prime rib, and swig draft beers, which vary by location.
All three WhirlyBall spots boast off-court diversions such as video games, pool tables, foosball, and air hockey. The Vernon Hills location hosts an indoor rock-climbing wall, and both the Chicago and Vernon Hills locations invite guests into multilevel Lasertron laser-tag arenas, which fill with fog and flashing lights as combatants duck, aim, and invoke Geneva Convention protocols regarding armed conflict.
Burrito Parrilla Mexicana treats tummies to tantalizing south-of-the-border cuisine served with a modern aesthetic. Mexican favorites mingle on a menu, such as burritos and tacos made with a choice of six meats that include beef picadillo, chorizo, and marinated al pastor pork that regularly defies physics by cooking on a vertical grill and refusing to proofread Isaac Newton’s autobiography. The restaurant’s dinner plates, such as chicken or steak fajitas, arrive at chartreuse booths inside sizzling skillets and accompanied by an elegantly plated assortment of guacamole, pico de gallo, black beans, and rice.