When Zoë Cassimus would appear at a party with a bowl of her homemade chicken salad, everyone's face would light up. In between mouthfuls of creamy chicken, her friends and relatives often urged her to open up her own restaurant. Encouraged, Zoë gathered her family's time-honored Mediterranean recipes and opened the first Zoës Kitchen in Homewood, Alabama. Hungry diners flock to her restaurant in search of her chicken salad, pita bread, and pasta.
Today, Zoë's family-run eatery has branched out into more than 50 locations across the country. Within each kitchen, chefs continue to adhere to Zoë's original recipes, folding fresh ingredients into wholesome Mediterranean-inspired roll ups, sandwiches, and kabobs each day. Out on sunny patios, diners clink glasses of beer and mop up last dollops of hummus with fresh pita. Others opt to take meals to go, carrying out still-steaming four-person dinners of chicken kabobs and steak roll-ups to enjoy at home with their family or with the band of outlaws they call their family.
Armed with just a single, generations-old cookie recipe, Great American Cookies opened its first store in 1977, and the rest is history. Today, the franchise boasts locations in malls across the country and nabbed a coveted spot on Entrepreneur magazine’s 2012 list of Top 500 Franchises in the baked-goods category. The shop’s reputation grew, and so did its menu as chefs churned out a mouthwatering roster of gourmet-cookie recipes, each created and carefully tested in Atlanta. The tempting options now include snickerdoodle, peanut butter with M&M’s, and chewy pecan supreme, as well as freshly baked fudge and cheesecake brownies and cookie sandwiches stuffed with frosting. The real showstoppers, however, are the giant chocolate-chip cookie cakes, which can be customized with sweet, celebratory messages or shopping lists penned in colorful icing.
Cooks at Home Run Burgers & Fries' four locations grill up 100% Black Angus beef patties and twice-cooked, hand-cut fries made from idaho potatoes, with a dedication to classic flavor that earned the eatery the Best 2012 Burger award on the Louisville A List. For edibles other than the eponymous burger and fries, the cooks dunk beer-battered onion rings in bubbling fryers alongside baskets brimming with hand-breaded north atlantic cod, as well as chicken strips for the kids' menu or building poultry scale replicas of a Lincoln Log cabin. Bakery buns hug quarter-pound patties cooked to order with a choice of 26 different complimentary toppings, including sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, and roasted red peppers..
The menu at Funmi’s Café swims with the names of West African dishes, tangles of unfamiliar syllables. Kachumbari, asaro, and kelewele may sound intimidating initially, but they conceal a cuisine characterized by warmth and gentle spice. Kachumbari is an African spin on coleslaw, asaro is a goldenrod-hued yam porridge, and kelewele is a snack of fried plantains.
In the kitchen, chefs stir pots of stew and sauce, often eschewing meat and dairy to fill Funmi’s menu with vegan options. Beneath murals of circular huts on a colorful savannah, fair-trade organic coffee imported from Africa pours forth steam like a robot trying to understand the end of Of Mice and Men.
Emily Peters, of Emma Lou's Cafe, transformed a historic 100-year-old home into a café and vintage boutique. Inside the first floor's dining room, servers deliver a rotating menu of café fare which has included mixed-greens salads tossed with mandarin oranges, fresh strawberries, and pecans and warm ham-and-brie sandwiches nestled between slices of ciabatta bread. Patrons may peruse vintage finds including jewelry, furniture, and postcards in the boutique area or meander out to the back courtyard on sunny days.
Every day at all of El Nopal’s locations, cooks whip up fresh batches of salsa, chips, and beans. The sauces and sides accent chicken or beef chimichangas, handmade tamales, and nachos smothered in cheese. All El Nopal locations offer complimentary chips and salsa with every meal, and some locations have outdoor seating areas. Performances by live bands at select locations serve as a pleasant distraction from meals, unlike a judge with highfalutin ideas about not eating in court.