Karen Gruber founded The Perfect Dinner to confront the dilemma she saw facing “working, commuting, chauffeuring moms”: either burn out trying to cook after long days, or grab fast food and end up feeling guilty. The Perfect Dinner aims to break the cycle with crowd-pleasing family dinners made fresh each day and available for pickup or delivery.
Convenient containers can go straight into the oven, microwave, or refrigerator, with three size options ensuring that there's enough for all family members and any dishwashers demanding sustenance. Each day's menu is marked to clarify which items accommodate special diets, including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and nut-free choices.
The Perfect Dinner also caters feasts with platters, plated dinners, casual party fare, and other options tailored for each event, whether hosts need assorted quiches for a brunch event or 20 flank-steak sliders to fuel cheers during badminton matches.
Puree's is a family-owned-and-operated eatery that captivates hunger with a menu featuring thin and deep-dish pizzas by the slice and by the pie, authentic Italian fare, and an array of other comestibles. Feast your stomach's eyes on gourmet thin crust selections ($10.95–$19.95) such as the grilled pizza—bedazzled in grilled eggplant, grilled chicken strips, roasted red peppers, and mozzarella cheese—or the Italian pizza, a mozzarella-melting pot of tomato, prosciutto, ricotta, and pesto. Appetite-architects can also choose to build their own pizza, with more than 25 toppings available. Stay afloat in the pool of hunger by latching onto a pasta dish such as the handmade lasagna ($9.95), rotini with mushrooms and broccoli ($9.95), or chicken parmesan ($10.95).
Since 1977, Starship Restaurant & Catering has fed Chicago's unending need for sandwiches and soups. The cooks' most classic creation goes by the name The Starship, and, to make it, they load a sesame seed bun with ham, turkey, bologna, and two kinds of cheese, topping it with fresh veggies. The sizable sandwich pairs with more than 150 varieties of soup, including familiar staples such as French onion and split pea, as well as original recipes such as pepperoni pizza and Oktoberfest soup, which yells "Prost!" each time you take a sip.
Tamale Hut's owner, Jaime Flores, has been schooled in the delicate art of tamale construction by his uncle Tony and aunt Emma, ensuring an authentic experience for cornmeal connoisseurs. With each use of their punch cards, customers may choose one tamale from the menu, whose creations are bedecked with tasty fillings such as a hearty bean stuffing made with pintos and fresh green salsa, and a piquant crab-meat stuffing with jalapeño and red salsa. Sugar-seekers can also opt for a cordial dessert of pineapple or blueberry via Tamale Hut Café's sweet tamales, which are served without a drop of salsa or hint of sarcasm. Punch card feasts pair each maize-laden morsel with a side of chips, a can of pop or bottle of water, and a choice of side item: corn, rice, chili, or tinga—shredded chicken draped with chipotle sauce, topped with sour cream and cotija cheese, and served upon a crispy continental shelf of tortilla chips.
Plenty has changed at Jim & Pete's since the family-owned eatery’s opening in 1941, but one thing has remained constant: the recipes. Along with a few updates and one robot line cook, chefs still depend on those time-tested formulas to craft an array of signature chicken dishes, risotto specials, and fish entrees. The restaurant also offers 20 types of pasta and 13 special sauces, including besciamella and string bean. Those combinations can be customized, as can unions between five kinds of pizza crust and 20 toppings such as sausage, anchovies, and red peppers.
Imported and domestic bottles of sparkling, white, or red wine complement meals, which unfold in a brick-walled dining room decorated with wine racks. In addition to dine-in feasts, Jim & Pete's cuisine is available for carry-out, catering, and banquets.
Before moving to Chicago, Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh began their culinary careers in New York as a way to support themselves while they looked for work as actors. It wasn’t their acting that brought the duo to stardom, however. Against odds of 10,000 to 1, they sent a tape into the Food Network and, to their surprise, became the first-ever winners of the Next Food Network Star contest, landing their own show on the cable channel. That success enabled them to grow their catering business’s small café into a full-fledged restaurant serving up brunch, lunch, and dinner.
"Our focus is on what we love, which is mid-century food and the American culture of dining, and that kind of collective memory we have . . . taking those recipes and updating them for a modern palate," Steve says. For example, they top sweet potatoes with black-thyme-pepper marshmallows and create corn dogs with rabbit sausage in red-velvet butter. Steve says that they love creating conversation at their tables, especially as guests reminisce about memories evoked by dishes such as tuna noodle casserole and their Hearty mac ‘n’ cheese. "For Dan and I, that's a major part of the dining experience," he says. "If we can get their heads moving as well as their mouths, we feel pretty successful." Their efforts have paid off. "The duo is making magic by keeping it simple," said Phil Vettel in a review on WGN. "There's at least one wow ingredient on every plate. A simple burger is brightened with triple-cream cambozola cheese, sugar-cured bacon, and garlic aioli. Bacon-wrapped shrimp arrives on a pile of wonderful white cheddar grits . . . It's fun and delicious."
Dan heads the kitchen, while Steve forges many of the signature cocktails, aiming to discourage the intimidation that often surrounds craft cocktails. He and Dan even authored a book whose 200+ drink recipes include every cocktail made at Hearty, proving that everyone can make the drinks at home. Steve's even been known to chat up tables in hopes of introducing them to a new drink. "It's amazing, the amount of people who don't think they drink gin—so I have to force them," Steve says. "Once you have a gin that is different than that gin that you drank in the 1980s that was so harsh and juniper-heavy, once you're having one of these new American gins along with just simple fresh citrus and the other spirits… you understand what the fuss is about." He's also curated an exclusively American wine list with bottles from unexpected sources—including Dr. Frank's Salmon Run rkatsiteli from the Finger Lakes in New York, which he calls "floral and highly acidic . . . Everybody loves it."