Before opening Habaneros Mexican Grill, Marco Bravo worked at several Mexican restaurants scattered around Southern California, placating the population’s notoriously discerning tastes for authentic burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. He’s imparted the skills he learned on the West Coast to his team of chefs, and together they’ve experimented with the fervor of a fourth-grade science fair finalist to create a menu of inventive Mexican dishes. For the Fry Hawaiian quesadillas, the staff stuffs tortillas with the standard helpings of cheese in addition to bacon, ham, pineapple, and turkey. They marinate steak in lime juice, and smother meaty burritos in Caribbean salsa and queso fresco, along with plating fusion specialties such as the Wisco burrito, packed with franks, sausage, and bacon. To visually complement the in-mouth festivities, giant jalapeño pepper cutouts adorn the eatery’s burnt-orange walls, and Hawaiian grass fringes dining alcoves.
While working at a national pizza chain, Scott Gittrich looked at the palette of ingredients around him and wondered why pizza seemed so limited. Then in 1991 he got his chance to experiment. He opened the first Toppers Pizza, combining a fun, party-fueling atmosphere with edible concoctions that topped housemade dough with unexpected delicacies such as mac ‘n' cheese and a deconstructed gyro. More than 19 house specialty pies make use of freshly kneaded dough, transporting classic recipes and unheard-of combinations to get people excited about pizza again. And the people respond, enjoying the treats as much as Scott himself, who once went 60 days eating at least one meal a day from Toppers.
Today Toppers Pizza stretches across the country, peppering the Midwest and reaching to the East Coast. Along with pizzas, the cooks oven-toast their grinder sandwiches, which are built on artisanal french bread and stuffed with ingredients such as chipotle chicken and italian sausage. Signature Topperstix—breadsticks adorned with cheese, garlic butter, and toppings such as bacon and pepperoni—accompany pizza orders, silencing rumbling bellies until the early morning.
For 21 years, Ratch & Deb's Pizza has supplied the Oshkosh area with pizza and hearty, satisfying sandwiches. Cooks layer thin-crust or deep-dish pizzas with toppings such as bacon, pineapple, and barbecue chicken, baking the pies onsite or sending them with patrons to bake at home. They also grill T-bone steaks, griddle potato pancakes, and fry frog legs.
Though its building is a relic of the 19th century and its kitchen whips up 21st-century recipes, Brooklyn Grill evokes New York City in the 1940s. Black-and-white photos of classic New York scenes join wood-paneled walls, old-fashioned lampposts, and exposed brick to create a chic urban atmosphere. The menu enhances the New York theme by dropping mob references in its recipe names, such as the Breaded Bullets mushrooms, the Bugsy Seigel buffalo burger, and the Staten Island Sting sandwich with vegetables and a three-cheese blend. Brooklyn Grill's bar complements each meal with a domestic or imported beer, a glass of wine, or one of many house martinis.
The cooks at Jansen's Bar and Restaurant toil over grills and fryers to fill a menu strewn with seared treats and golden-battered fare in a cheery barroom setting. Servers sling appetizers such as cheese curds ($4.99) to guests, and homespun meals of fried haddock and chips accouter themselves elegantly with toast, tartar sauce, and sliced doilies ($7.99). The juicy steak-tenderloin sandwich ($10.99) leads a brigade of burgers and sandwiches, cheered on by the grill's waves of aromatic fanfare. The weekly Friday fish fry wraps baby pike in crisp cloaks ($7.99–$11.99) and keeps guests forging their way back to the dining room. Bartenders ferry brews to cheery patrons against a backdrop of wood paneling bedecked with neon beers signs, stuffed trophy fish, and autographed headshots of famous burgers.
For more than 30 years, the cooks at Vitale's Italian Cuisine have served up authentic Sicilian fare made from imported pastas, sauces built from scratch, and fresh Italian bread. Jaws warm up after yearlong vows of silence by chewing through calamari and deep-fried mushrooms before delving into patron-beloved spinach rotolo composed of three baked pasta wheels rolled with cheese and spinach. In the kitchen, meat entrees such as chicken parmigiana are prepared by chefs locally renowned for their artful use of chicken and seafood. Cooks roll out slabs of pizza dough to meet diners' extra-thin or stuffed-crust specifications, then invite green peppers, sausage, or sun-dried tomatoes to mingle on its bubbly golden surface. A full bar pours beer, liquor, and 30 wines culled from vineyards across a 4th-grade classroom's globe.