Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.
Fox's Restaurant & Pub first propped open its doors in 1964, welcoming diners with an extensive menu that eventually grew to encompass comfort foods from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In addition to familiar Irish staples—including corned-beef sandwiches and shepherd's pie—the cooks sear 10-ounce hamburger patties and slather baby-back ribs in a rich barbecue sauce. For a distinctly Mediterranean touch, they also hand-form meatballs into perfect dodecahedrons and whisk together their own marinara sauces in-house. The pizza chefs can layer oven-crisped pies with more than 10 available toppings, such as giardiniera, sausage, and chopped garlic.
Select locations help to keep spirits high by hosting live music and restaurant-wide games of musical chairs throughout the week. Bands can get diners' toes tapping and heads bobbing by playing a combination of lively Irish classics and popular favorites.
There's more than one way to appreciate a bouquet. That's the idea behind Avenue Flower Shop & Wine Bar, a successful floral shop that has recently opened a tasting room where visitors can sample wines from Europe, South America, South Africa, and the Columbia Valley. Perhaps unsurprisingly, flowers decorate almost every corner of the space, from the hardwood bar that rests atop small neoclassical columns to the tables that stand draped in black tablecloths. On some nights, wine flavors and floral aromas mingle with live harmonies from local blues and jazz ensembles, which creates a casual atmosphere and teaches lilies music theory. Avenue Flower Shop & Wine Bar also recently branched out into gaming with the addition of five video poker machines.
A family-owned-and-operated establishment, the idea for Jenny's Steak House sprouted more than 60 years ago in a small pub on Chicago's South Side. These days, chefs still whip up menu items that the family concocted all those years ago, such as potato pancakes, braised lamb shanks, and oxtail soup. The culinary maestros at Jenny's Steak House also grill hand-cut steaks smeared with a special seasoning blend, pair wraps and sandwiches with homemade Idaho potato chips, and blacken, broil, or fry fresh seafood. Meanwhile, the pizza kitchen dispenses pies until 1 a.m., at which time all the uncooked dough and pepperoni turn into a magical pizza carriage. The lounge accommodates guests even later as they relax with martinis, local brews, or wine while enjoying evening entertainment such as live music and karaoke.
The Wetzel name wasn’t always a source of pride. As a kid, Rick Wetzel grew accustomed to hearing, “Hey Wetzel, you pretzel!” on the playground. But the teasing inspired a quest for the tastiest soft pretzel, one that eventually blossomed into Wetzel’s Pretzels. After years in Nestle’s marketing department, Rick and coworker Bill Phelps channeled Rick’s soft-pretzel recipe into a chain of shops. They make hand-rolled, oven-baked pretzels that sit for only 30 minutes before being sold or chucked, an example that might be in the dictionary under "fresh," if Babe Ruth using his bat as a pool cue weren't already there. And though the buttered and salted Wetzel’s Original still occupies a spot on the menu, a flurry of imaginative flavors fills its other slots, from Sinful Cinnamon to Jalaroni, a cheesy pretzel scattered with pepperoni and jalapeños.