From its humble beginnings in Kankakee, Illinois, in 1938, Dairy Queen has grown from a delicious experiment in soft-serve ice cream to a household name with more than 5,900 restaurants around the world. The shop's signature ice cream delights are built upon a frosty foundation of creamy chocolate or vanilla soft serve, which swirls idyllically into cones, cups, overturned top hats, sundaes, Peanut Buster parfaits, and the chain's iconic Blizzard treats, blended with crumbled candy and other mix-ins. Ice-cream cakes cleverly conceal a surprise filling of fudge and chocolate crunch between layers of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, providing sweet, sliceable sustenance for birthday parties and other special occasions.
Patrons who pass beneath Cafe Monte French Bakery and Bistro's bold red awning seemingly zoom across the Atlantic into a Parisian bistro hung with French artwork and vintage photographs. Platters of mussels arrived drenched in white wine and butter, and pommes frites proudly share the spotlight with steak and french green beans. In the kitchen, chefs sizzle crêpes to a golden brown for breakfast, or fill them with savory lobster and crab for lunch and dinner. Patrons can dine alfresco on an outdoor patio or linger inside the eatery's canary-hued walls, where satisfied customers gather around a piano to sing odes to their favorite French pastry chefs.
Gleaning her baking skills from her mother and grandmother, Gigi's Cupcakes' eponymous owner opened her first cupcake hub in 2008, drawing upon her entrepreneurial spirit and gift for crafting beautifully topped cupcakes. The franchised cupcakery now has 50 locations, each of which churns out 12 daily-rotating flavors that are made fresh every morning. The shop's selection of more than 40 flavors includes Canadian Maple, Southern Comfort, and Champagne—a bubbly-flavored base topped with an edible pearl. Patrons can pick out sweet treats from the daily selection or preorder them at least one day in advance online, by phone, or via singing telegram.
Winner of Creative Loafing's Best Coffee award in 2009, Julia's serves fair-trade coffee and café bites to sluggish bodies and minds while raising money for Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte in the process. As patrons browse the shop's sprawling collection of used books, baristas fill drink tanks with frothy lattes ($2.85/regular; $3.35/large), iced americanos ($2.05/regular; $2.35/large), and steaming mugs of brewed coffee ($1.65/regular; $1.85/large). Legume lovers can savor the grilled veggie-and-hummus wrap ($5.75) and the refreshing spinach, fruit, and nut salad ($7), whereas those looking to pack on protein after an afternoon of bench pressing bench-press salesmen can scarf down a cuban pork sandwich ($6).
To present a revolving ensemble of more than 100 gourmet, organic, loose-leaf varieties, Urbàna Teas & Tonics vigilantly combs through more than 3,000 teas worldwide. The Macaroon Oolong decadently complements vanilla and chocolate desserts with its zesty balance of coconut and floral flavors ($11.40 for 4 oz.). Spicy and sweet flavors blend like an amorous rendition of the “Macarena” with Ginger Pu-erh, a mild and medicinal herbal tea ($17.10 for 4 oz.). Individuals craving fruits, flowers, and earth tones can feel satiated with Urbàna's selection of black, green, white, chai, rooibos, and other teas. Tea cravers can use this Groupon online or at Urbàna Cityspa & Teabar’s New York-style lounge, where beverage-sippers can relax with soothing music and heal their wounds from losing the World Series of snowball fights in Antarctica.
Fresh baking is the specialty at Las Delicias Bakery. This comes in many forms, such as sweetbreads, donuts, and cheesecakes. For a birthday or special event, perhaps a graduation, the bakers create customized cakes, which can be topped with chocolates and fruit mixtures and artfully sculpted into a theme—a vivid Call of Duty cake, to name one recent example.