Of all the individuals who made the Italian beef sandwich a Chicago staple in the early 20th century, Karl Horn has a soft spot for one in particular: his mom, Carol. Affectionately nicknamed "Tootie" by her family, Carol created the recipe that Karl uses at Tootie's Famous Italian Beef. Deemed the city's best roast beef by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, each portion of slow-roasted meat arrives in 4-, 6-, or 12-inch rolls topped with giardiniera and provolone cheese. The Tootie team also fills sandwiches with sausage links, shredded chicken, and, in the case of its Barnyard and The Farm options, all three at once.
In the most basic of terms, kitchens are places where ingredients come together to create a satisfying whole; the marriage of Pat and Brigitte Joyce, co-owners of 17th Street Cafe, proves that this pairing of complements is not always limited to the food. In 1988, Pat was starring as the café's executive chef when Brigitte joined his kitchen staff. Over their years working together, their love simmered on slow, low heat until they were finally married in 1995. Seven years after tying the knot, the couple jumped at the chance to own a piece of their shared history and took over 17th Street Cafe, which they now operate as a labor of love on many levels.
Today, two staple entrees—the pork chop au poivre and the veal with crab—are the lone holdovers from the original owners' menu. These favorites of long-time regulars join a revamped menu crafted from sustainable and organic ingredients whenever possible. Pat's current favorite—chicken- and asiago-stuffed pasta "pillows" served in an aioli sauce—exemplifies this new approach, which tends to add an innovative twist to traditional fare such as pasta, seafood, veal, and chops. Lunch also hosts a wide array of fan favorites, including the stuffed Portabella–a large mushroom cap filled with zucchini, sweet peppers, onions, carrots, artichoke hearts, domestic mushrooms, and spinach topped with asiago cheese. Chefs Ed and Lance craft creative burgers to sate midday appetites as well. Longtime patrons opt for the Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner burger, cooked to order and topped with peanut butter, a fried egg, bacon, American cheese, lettuce, and tomato.
Inside the dining space, chocolate-brown and gold walls flank dark oak tables, lending the space a Mediterranean look that has been featured in several film and jeans commercials. Location scouts aren’t the only guests to have taken notice of the delicious entrees and cool ambiance—players from the Pittsburgh Penguins can often be spotted dining on puck-sized veal cutlets at nearby tables.
Hookah Bookah wafts the gentle aromas of its tobacco arsenal, allowing patrons to customize their hookahs with various flavors, a number of bowls and hoses, and an appetizing menu of munchables. A single bowl ($9.95) can brim with one of 22 premium, flavored tobaccos, such as mango, jasmine, or honey ($1 for single flavor), or with a heaping of 1 of 14 exotic tobaccos from a list that includes banana split and pomegranate ($3 for single flavor). Lung-powered fog machines can arrive sporting up to three distinct hoses ($4), although Hookah Bookah's policies foster sanitary smoke-ring creation by mandating that no more than three guests may share a multihose hookah and only one person may use a single-hose hookah. Patrons can accessorize their mini-cloud generators with natural coals, ice in the base, or political bumper stickers for additional fees.
You wouldn't expect a restaurant that specializes in beef brisket, wood-grilled steaks, and burgers to be referred to as "a hidden vegan-friendly gem" by a blogger from Yummy Plants. And yet, Double Wide Grill satisfies both meat- and vegetable-lovers, with menus that run the food-chain gamut from lentil veggie burgers to St. Louis?style pork ribs. Adding to the eclectic feel, the restaurant is housed in a converted gas station where vintage pumps still stand out front. Indoors, the decor pays homage to these rugged beginnings with bottle-based chandeliers, a hubcap ceiling, and a vintage trailer that recalls Floridian vacations to the wetlands where all lawns' pink flamingos migrate every year.
Patrons can also stop by on weekend mornings for brunch on the outdoor patio, or hang around until late at night for karaoke and more than 30 types of beer at the license-plate-covered bar. Sports fans can watch games on four 10-foot-wide high-resolution projection screens.
In an effort to find a healthy alternative to fast food without sacrificing speediness, the creators of Pita Pit began assembling their signature sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks. At each location, thin, Lebanese-style pitas encircle lean, grilled meats and fresh veggies, all grilled to order. Sandwich selections span the spectrum from gyro meat and falafel to turkey and prime rib. The staff empowers customers to make healthy choices by displaying nutrition information for each bread, meat, and post-meal toothpick and corralling a selection of healthy sandwiches.
Kaleidoscopic Egyptian tapestries hang on the stone walls of both Sphinx Cafe locations, while tendrils of jasmine- and mango-scented smoke drift up to high, vaulted ceilings. Though it was once a church, the space now exudes an aura of opulence and leisure that matches the warmth of the coffee houses in Egyptian owner Remy and Syrian Amera's native homes. “Hookah bars are different from the norm [in the U.S.], which is either a restaurant or a bar. It slows you down. You just relax here.”
Plush cushions help patrons relax at both of Sphinx Pittsburgh locations, as do more than 30 imported tobacco flavors that servers can enhance with creative add-ons such as wine, fruit syrups, and talking caterpillars. On some nights, belly dancers, fire eaters, and live musicians wind their way between hookahs. On quieter nights, Ms. Andrawes says you can find people playing card games, chatting, and sampling platters of homemade hummus and kibbeh.