From its humble origins as a soda fountain in 1930s Saint Paul, Green Mill Restaurant and Bar has grown into a franchise with more than 28 locations all over Minnesota and the Midwest. As TV screens blast sports news in the background, patrons at each eatery dine on a menu of classic American and pizzeria fare. Thick, hand-pressed burgers form bunned towers with hefty toppings such as smoked bacon, haystack onions, and chipotle mayo. Families looking to bond can practice fractions on regular, deep-dish, or thin and crispy pizzas or group juggling acts with samplers of 27 juicy wings. In addition to pastas and salads, each location's bar carries a varied drink menu that includes draft beers such as Blue Moon and Samuel Adams alongside wine, martinis, and margaritas.
"Your food should be something you get your hands on and become a part of," Rob Dubnecay preached to a reporter from CBS Minnesota. "Sitting back with a fork and knife is kind of boring."
Along with his brother, Chris, Rob developed his philosophy—and his palate—while growing up in Chicago, where the brothers could hone their motor skills by wrapping their hands around Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef. Hoping to introduce their childhood cuisine to Minnesota, the duo founded Chris and Rob's Chicago's Taste Authority, where each week trucks haul in ingredients straight from the Windy City, such as fresh poppy-seed buns and sausages wrapped in old mobsters' hit lists. True to the authentic big-shoulders style, cooks top Vienna all-beef hot dogs with everything but ketchup: mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, sport peppers, and a sprinkle of celery salt. The brothers have also adapted their roots to other Chicago favorites including sandwiches of sliced Italian beef, deep-dish pizzas, and Maxwell Street polish sausages.
At Parkway Pizza, the chattering rhythm of pool balls punctuates the sounds of busy silverware and diners blowing on steaming-hot pizza slices to cool them. The buttery, hand-tossed crusts brim with adventurous toppings that include shrimp, goat cheese, and even sauerkraut, and chefs can also craft gluten-free dough for the pies. Beneath televisions playing classic flicks in the dining room, Parkway's thick hoagies spill ham, turkey, and cheese, drawing nervous glances from anyone finishing a legal defense on a napkin. Rotating seasonal brews click together in glasses, sometimes spilling honey-colored rivulets of Fulton's The Lonely Blonde or earthy Summit IPA in the shade beneath Parkway's red and green patio umbrellas. Chatter drifts out into the sunshine as a delivery driver glides past on a bicycle with a cart for pizzas.
At Frankie's, chefs coat fresh pizza dough in red, alfredo, or barbecue sauce before sprinkling it with a fine blend of italian cheeses. They then blanket the pies with a choice from more than 20 toppings—one for each pizza it takes to feed a rugby team or a Venetian parking meter. The topping roster includes such delicious embellishments as sliced roast beef and basil, and once they've been added to the pies, the chefs bake them in a stone oven. The care that Frankie's staff takes with its pizzas is similar in magnitude to the selection of its menu's pastas and sandwiches, such as the baked rigatoni and the buffalo-chicken sandwich.
An unofficial estimate ventures that more than one million pizzas and calzones have emerged from Campus Pizza & Pasta’s ovens since the restaurant opened in 1959. The staff can get much more specific when it comes to the ingredients that go into each pie: they roll their own dough, mix their own sauce, and use only real mozzarella cheese that they shred onsite for the freshest flavor. Along with a selection of signature pizzas topped with classics such as sausage and green peppers or gourmet combos such as chicken and bacon with barbecue sauce, the staff whips up a selection of creatively named drinks such as the Shark Attack, which runs red with a splash of grenadine and often attracts confused flocks of seagulls.
A sports fan’s paradise, The Hole Sports Lounge is filled with opportunities to enjoy classic American bar fare in the light of flat-screen TVs. There’s a barbecue pulled-pork pizza—topped with piquillo peppers, banana peppers, jalapeños, and pineapple—over at a corner booth, sizing up the clientele, looking for the right person to share a slice with. A cheeseburger’s hunkered down at the bar, mumbling something about black Angus beef. It’s surrounded by 20 different draft beers from breweries such as Brau Brothers and Flying Dog, more than 20 bottled domestic and imported brews, and a few cocktails. If you find the chicken wings and offer them some mango-honey mustard, they might tell you about how happy hour happens every day from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. It crams one hour of happiness into two, slowing time as patrons head down Golden Gopher Avenue to catch the latest game, rack up balls on the pool table, toss around darts, or remove errant darts from a nearby video-game machine.