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.
In Jimmy's Place's kitchen, chefs cook chicken vesuvio in a finely-tuned blend of olive oil, garlic, and Italian seasonings. According to a December 2011 article in the Forest Park Review, this signature dish is a favorite of Food Network star Jeff Mauro, who featured it on his show Sandwich King. The crispy Italian-American meal uses a recipe passed down through owner Jim Jodoin's family—as does the rest of the menu. Years of culinary tradition are written into the homemade marinara sauce that blankets the restaurant's chicken parmesan, the meat that stuffs its homemade ravioli, and the weighty toppings that keep its pizzas from floating up to the ceiling.
Out in the dining room, these meals pair with a distinctly local atmosphere—newspaper clippings and photos of customers line the walls, and bartenders pour drinks at a full bar as flat screen TVs beam in sports.
At Francesca’s Fiore, the 10th in the group of Francesca’s restaurants sprawled across Illinois's Chicagoland—as well as four other states—tongues embark on a culinary journey, sampling the cuisines of Rome, Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. Executive chef and owner Scott Harris opened his first Francesca’s eatery—Mia Francesca—on Clark Street in 1992, to the rave reviews of both critics and patrons praising it for its simple, rustic cooking, unpretentious elegance, and lack of black holes. He later hired award-winning chefs Kevin Ives and Massimo Salatino to help oversee his other restaurants and create the weekly changing menus that are often handwritten. The chefs and their teams may craft starters such as tricolor bruschetta and risotto, or heartier fare such as pizza, rigatoni primavera, sautéed chicken, and roasted salmon.
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.
For more than 35 years, Nick's Pizza & Beef has plied its patrons with pizza, pasta, and house-made italian ice. The menu boasts a smorgasbord of eats—ranging from hearty gyros and beef sandwiches to pizza and barbecue ribs—often chased by fresh lemon, strawberry, or watermelon italian ice. In addition to offering catering for special events and a drive-thru for lunchers in a hurry to crash a special event, Nick's packages its beef by the pound for deliciousness that's certain to please the grumpiest garage freezer.
An elegant, warmly lit dining destination, La Bella brings old-world Italian flavors into tender meats, seafood, grains, and waft-worthy liquids. The dinner menu starts with starters such as classic bruschetta ($5.95) and adventurous grilled octopus ($11.95), then sets the moon on fire with main plates including New Zealand green-lip mussels laid on a bed of linguine with red or white sauce ($17.95) and pork chops oreganato, sautéed in a lemony, buttery, oreganoey blend and served with a stoplight's worth of peppers and vesuvio potatoes ($19.95). Pair any plate with a selection off La Bella's extensive wine list ($5.75–$10 per glass, $22–$45 per bottle), and save a few notches in the belt for authentic Italian desserts, including sweet, sweet spumone ($4), tiramisu ($6.95), and lava cake ($6.95), which contains no magma or tiki torches, but is served on a stable tectonic plate.