Originally opened as the Top Hat Drive-In in 1953, Sonic has grown into a burger-franchise mecca that today operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic specializes in made-to-order American classics—including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and marshmallow Ford Thunderbolts—which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast, as well as the brand’s signature tots and fresh limeades.
Sonic’s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top-five fast-food restaurants in three categories: Best Value Menu, Best Milkshake, and Best Drivethru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through its program Limeades for Learning, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
Located northeast of Savannah, Georgia, Hilton Head Island hugs the southern coast of South Carolina. The waters surrounding the shoe-shaped island’s sparkling beaches are a popular playground for kayakers, yachters, and bottlenose dolphins that come near the shore to feed. Golf is also a major draw; dozens of courses are scattered throughout Hilton Head, and it’s the site of an annual event on the PGA tour. Despite the island’s tiny size, it boasts more than 200 restaurants, serving both Lowcountry southern cuisine and gourmet international fare. The town of Bluffton, located near the hotel, supplies a cultural outlet via its art galleries, antique museums, and preserved antebellum discos.
Sisters of the New South flaunts its Southern heritage with a menu that highlights fried chicken, collard greens, and other soul-food staples. The restaurant lives by the motto ?real southern cooking,? and its chefs take pride in preparing each dish with the same care that their mothers would have used. Sisters even sells its unique blend of spices through an online store so that customers can re-create the restaurant?s fried chicken or season their bathwater.
Ramona Fantini tasted her first spoonful of gelato while vacationing in Florence, Italy, in 2002. She was immediately taken with the cold, smooth dessert, and knew that people back home in America would love it too. So when she returned from her vacation, she left her corporate position and opened Pino Gelato. At her shop, artisans use a precise technique and special equipment to concoct small batches of the Italian dessert, blending fresh fruit, actual espresso, and other wholesome ingredients with milk. The result is a treat that is denser and lower in fat than ice cream, and unlike ice cream, doesn't cause everyone to scream.
In the years since Fantini starting making gelato, her business has expanded to multiple locations throughout the Southeast. At each shop, her baristas scoop gelato and dairy-free sorbetto into cups and cones and brew specialty café drinks to pair with pastries. At lunchtime, patrons can bite into an unconventional snack lauded by the Food Network: handheld cones of pizza crust filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce, and other savory ingredients.