Al Ferreri, his sister Frances, and his brother-in-law Chris Pacelli Sr., developed their signature italian-beef sandwich out of necessity in 1938. The economic depression made meat harder to come by, so the trio of sandwich makers made their supplies last by cutting thinner slices of roast beef.
Their business started with them feeding guests at family weddings, delivering meals to local hospitals, and catering the country's first food fight, but they soon founded a more permanent curbside food stand in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood. Despite their relatively humble beginnings, Al's Beef & Nancy's Pizza rapidly expanded and now boasts franchises throughout the Chicago area and across the country. The family business has garnered plentiful acclaim throughout the years, having been named Adam Richman's best sandwich in the Midwest on the Travel Channel show Best Sandwich in America in June 2012, appearing on Richman's Man v. Food and earning a place on Esquire's list of The Best Sandwiches in America in 2008.
The cooks begin every morning by roasting cuts of beef for the day, kneading fresh pizza dough, and cutting french fries with an industrial-strength laser pointer. The hearty italian-beef sandwiches can emerge from the kitchen with simple, unadorned meat or with blankets of melted cheese and spicy housemade giardiniera. The pizzas range from crispy thin-crust disks to deep-dish pies with 2.5-inch-thick crusts, supporting any combination of the 24 available toppings, which include oven-roasted garlic, baby spinach, and bacon.
Inside a cheerful café marked with a striped awning, chefs dote on hot pans that cradle delicate French crepes destined to encapsulate sweet or savory fillings. Cream of the Crêpe's batter whisperers take pride in the smallest details of their crepes, demanding that each flaunts a flaky texture, toothsome filling, and crisply ironed handkerchief. Crepe masters fill the edible envelopes with eggs and cheese during breakfast, grilled meat and crisp vegetables during lunch, and fresh fruits or decadent spreads during sweet-tooth attacks. Artful baristas grind Lavazza coffee beans to brew into drip coffees or strong espressos topped with scoops of frothy milk. Between customers, servers wipe the granite counter and set vases bursting with flowers on every table, where the blooms soak up light reflecting off the café's sunny yellow walls.
Wally's slings plates of handheld and fork-friendly classics alongside some unfamiliar twists on standard diner fare. The homemade italian beef swaddles seasoned roast beef with either hot or sweet peppers inside two halves of hearty french bread ($5.49+) and the Angus-certified, quarter-pound patty of the charbroiled hamburger adorns a bakery-oven bun before disappearing under a mélange of onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and condiments ($2.69+). The specialty gyros plate fills hot pita bread with slices of gyro garnished with sauce, fresh tomato, and raw onion ($8.49), offering a choice of potato, rice, or barbershop quartet as a side. A supporting cast of sides also dances down the line, with accompaniments such as Wally's spicy fries ($2.25–$3.25), hot ’n’ spicy buffalo wings ($3.95–$10.65), and sweet summertime milkshakes ($3.25) that make unseasonable snowmen melt with glee.
Everything about Eggsperience Pancakes & Cafe is bright, warm, and sunny. Natural light floods the restaurant's eight locations, which sprinkle across Chicago and its suburbs like powdered sugar over a slice of french toast. Orange and yellow walls surround every dining room, and some locations have fireplaces, which make ideal places to sip Ghirardelli hot chocolate or espresso beverages. Even the food is colorful. Fresh fruits?either in solid or juice form?complement dishes such as the Mediterranean omelette, baked in the French style and filled with a vibrant medley of spinach, tomatoes, olives, and imported feta cheese.
Those omelettes, like what most of what comes from Eggsperience's kitchen, start with grade-AA, farm-fresh eggs. The chefs work magic with those eggs, whipping them into frittatas and poaching them for five different "Eggsquisite Benedicts." They also use them to create their signature pancake batter, but in this case, eggs are only the beginning. Strawberries, blueberries, and other fruits mix into the pancakes.
The creativity shown with those pancakes and egg dishes extends to dozens of other breakfast items, and diners could spend countless mornings at Eggsperience without boring their taste buds. The chefs don't stop at breakfast, either. They simply transition to lunch, when they grill Cajun avocado burgers and pair gourmet chicken-salad sandwiches with a soup of the day.
Since 1968, running D'Agostinos has been a family affair, like eating Thanksgiving dinner, or getting mad about Scrabble. First opened by Joe and Jan D'Agostino, the Wrigleyville corner pizzeria has grown to include three additional locations across Chicago, each of which is run by a member of the D'Agostino clan. Metromix sums up the appeal, comparing the restaurant to "an intimate Italian spot in a movie" complete with "snuggling couples, heaping servings of homemade pasta, [and] red-checked tablecloths." It’s in this setting that diners dig into specialty thin crust and deep dish pies scattered with fresh mushrooms, giardiniera, meatballs, eight types of cheese, and other toppings.