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.
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.
If the menu at Crosby’s Kitchen and the airy interior filled with long, tufted-leather booths, exposed beams, and crisp white subway tiles sends the message that the restaurant isn’t necessarily family friendly, those fears dissipate as soon as the staff offers to valet park strollers. This Southport Corridor eatery shows that fine dining can be kid-friendly. Little ones eat free every day from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., nibbling on smaller versions of their parents’ burgers and house-fired rotisserie chicken. Inside the space, which looks like a confluence between a 50s diner and the bar inside the Stanley Hotel, families can sample a smattering of selections from the in-house rotisserie flanked with oak, apple, and cherry woods, including prime rib and leg of lamb.
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.
Jerusalem Cafe's cooks draw on the rich culinary history of the eponymous city as they stuff pitas, spread hummus, and grill kebabs. Baba gannouj, tabbouleh, and falafels greet taste buds warmly, and shish kebabs of lamb and beef calm rumbling stomachs before they erupt with vitriol about the difficulty of finding a flattering cummerbund. Gulps of fresh juice yield flavors of carrot, celery, and apple, and blenders turn uptight berries into party-ready smoothies.
Every month, Sweet Tomatoes rolls out a new roster of fresh-made eats—including many vegetarian and gluten-free selections—in its wholesome buffet. Simmering soups bubble with vegetables and savory chicken, alongside tossed salads tumbling with crisp produce, much like an Ent in a washing machine. On Sunday mornings, plates fill with comforting breakfast classics such as belgian waffles and scrambled eggs.