More than 50 years go, Mike Ilitch was poised for major-league glory. An up-and-coming shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, his baseball finesse was blossoming when an injury derailed his sports career. But although the wound stunted his athletic aspirations, it steered him toward a new path, and on May 8, 1959, he and his wife opened the first Little Caesar's location, a then-unheard-of carryout-only joint. The career shift and novel technique eventually proved triumphant—today, the pizzeria's iconic, toga-clad mascot adorns storefronts on five continents. In each shop, staffers forge the signature Hot-N-Ready pizza, a freshly baked pie designed for instant pick-up, and warm, garlicky Crazy Bread. With a storied half-century under their belt, Mike Ilitch and his family strive to give back, supporting local organizations and creating its own charitable programs.
When Schlotzsky's first opened in Austin back 1971, the owner offered just one sandwich. Known as The Original, the stack offered lean smoked ham, genoa and cotto salamis, three kinds of cheese, and a layer of marinated black olives, all atop a hot sourdough bun. That’s all it took to get Schlotzsky’s off the ground and send it on its way to become a global franchise, today featuring locations in 35 states and four countries. Of course, today’s menu holds many, many more flavor combinations—Angus roast beef and cheese, chicken and pesto, and a smoked-turkey reuben, to name a few—along with salads and pizzas. The latter aren't as much of a divergence from Schlotzky's lunch-friendly template as it might sound: at eight inches across, they're still easy to grab on the go, and the crust is made with sourdough just like the signature sandwich bread and the walls of the head baker's home.
Mamma Nem’s has dedicated 159 years to satiating diners with an elegant southern-inspired menu, a soul-stirring cornucopia of cuisine drawn from Creole, South Carolina, and deep-south cooking traditions. Sink incisors into robust sandwiches such as slow-simmered pork festooned with jalapeno cole slaw and O’Neal’s signature barbecue sauce ($8) or a fried-green-tomato BLT ($7) that, for once, isn’t just a VHS copy of Fried Green Tomatoes smothered in lettuce and mayonnaise. Smoked barbecue chicken ($11) gives formidable bibs a run for their money, and Mareo’s jerk chicken ($10) casts off its aggressive reputation to play nice with sensitive taste buds. Dinner dishes are escorted by Mamma’s homemade cornbread and any two savory sides, such as fried okra, black-eyed peas, and collard greens, whereas equally hearty breakfast and brunch platters include Big Momma’s pork chops and grits ($10).
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 Top 500 Franchises in the baked-goods category. As the shop’s reputation grew, 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&Ms, and chewy pecan supreme, as well as freshly baked fudge and cheesecake brownies, and cookie sandwiches stuffed with frosting. The real show-stoppers, however, are the giant chocolate-chip cookie cakes, which can be customized with sweet, celebratory messages or shopping lists penned in colorful icing.
Ham and High's head chef Joe Wolfson teams up with a troupe of local farmers to craft sustainably delicious seasonal meals of mouthwatering Southern cuisine. Like the pace of Earth’s orbit around the moon, the restaurant’s dinner menu changes from day to day, painting palates with a colorful medley of artisanally crafted eats. Examples of the edibles have included dishes such as the Oakview Farms "fried" green tomatoes ($7) with Belle Chèvre cheese and broken lemon vinaigrette, as well as Back Forty ale-braised pork ravioli ($25). On Sundays, Ham and High's kitchen commandos help diners gird themselves for the work week with a brunch menu featuring bourbon vanilla french toast with rich vanilla custard ($10) and roasted Springer Mountain chicken and waffles served with brown butter and a sweet corn waffle ($11). A selection from the impressive wine, cocktail, and beer list pleasantly enhances the dining experience, just as pyrotechnics enhance virtually all Shakespearean drama.
Gail’s Down the Street Cafe triggers palate nostalgia six days a week with an ever-changing line up of four distinct, piping-hot lunch specials served with a multitude of Southern-style sides. Meaty entrees include such down-home staples as a juicy fried pork chop and a succulent hamburger steak smothered in a small lake of gravy and onions. Diners can pair their choice of entree with three fresh and filling vegetable sides ($8). A rotating smorgasbord of vegetables includes homemade coleslaw, cream-style corn, squash casserole, and thickly sliced tomatoes—all of which can be matched up in a plated quadrangle ($7). Seafaring mouths can set hook the grilled salmon or fried catfish fillet and reel in the navy beans before heading out to a scheduled debate with a wall-mounted bass. Bathe in the battered glory of specialty fried green tomatoes, or indulge sweet teeth with strawberry shortcake, banana pudding, and other decadent desserts ($2.50 each).