Drive-in movies. Car hops. Rock 'n' roll. Though human nature compels us to view the past in varying shades of gold, the 1950s almost transcends nostalgia. For those who were there, the smallest of triggers can set off waves of fond memories: a ringing bell leads the mind’s eye back to the polished counter of a soda fountain, and an oldies radio station evokes weekends spent passing quarters through the jukebox slot.
On September 11, 2001, in the midst of tragedy and after 19 years as a flight attendant, Brenda Stranberg decided that she was tired of playing back memories of America’s greatest decade in her head. Looking around her at a cultural landscape that her childhood self would hardly recognize, she teamed up with old friend Naif Makol Jr. and founded Skooter’s, an old-fashioned diner and coffee shop inspired by the simple pleasures of life more than half a century ago. Though somewhat of an anachronism, the diner’s open kitchen has proven wildly popular among the various generations that frequent the sit-down counter to sample thick milk shakes, loaded hot dogs, and burgers topped with fried onions. Between bites, guests can toss coins into the antique jukebox or admonish the diner’s soda jerks for callously dousing their friends with fountain drinks.
16: how many hours it takes to set up The Greatest Show On Earth
10: how many hours it takes to tear it down
2,500: average pounds of popcorn consumed in between
85: the number of animals, which include Asian elephants, tigers, lions, leopards, and llamas; all receive superlative animal care
61: the number of cars in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus train that carries the show from city to city; that?s more than a mile long
20,000: the number of miles that train will cover in one year
3: the miles the train master walks each day as he tends to the animals (all seated at the front of the train for the smoothest ride) and gives them regular water and exercise stops
At Nadim?s Downtown Mediterranean Grill couples and groups of friends crowd the softly-lit dining room, conversing over traditional Mediterranean appetizers or sharing hookahs on the outdoor patio. The lively scene reflects restaurateur Nadim Kashouh?s passion for celebrating Mediterranean culture and cuisine. Though Nadim spotlights Lebanese standbys such as charbroiled kebabs and heaping bowls of hummus, he also incorporates Western flourishes such as demi-glaze sauces, mashed potatoes, and deep-fried footballs. A selection of Lebanese wines and beers whets palates.
Winner of more than 400 awards for its barbecue, Famous Dave’s caters to carnivores with a menu of hearty, flavorful American fare. Kick off the mouthcapades with a starter of sweetwater catfish fingers ($7.99), which pair the whiskered swimmer's cornmeal-crusted phalanges with rémoulade and jalapeño sauce, or begin by using onion strings ($6.99) to weave yourself a lightly breaded palate poncho. A 12-boned slab of St. Louis-style spareribs ($22.99), pit-smoked for three to four hours over a hickory inferno, gives sauce-slathered fingers the chance to enjoy an endless string of napkin hugs, while a Texas beef brisket sandwich ($8.49) provides a bread buffer for the benefit of tidy tasters. A sugary slate of desserts, including Dave's famous bread pudding ($5.99) with pecan praline sauce and vanilla-bean ice cream, give sweets-loving stomachs something to blog about to their gastro-friends.
Hot Table fires up grills for all three daily meals with its menu of crisp salads, coffee drinks, and handmade paninis ($5.99 for small, $8.29 for large), which combine artisan breads with fresh ingredients and bake to melty perfection on hot table grills. Treat taste buds to dairy triumvirates with a three-cheese chicken panini, which smothers roasted chicken and salami with provolone, shaved parmesan, and blue cheese. Diners can customize their own paninis or revel in the preconceived meatiness of the swiss-steak mushroom melt. Until 10:30 a.m., Hot Table features breakfast paninis ($3.99)— such as the Vermont, a hodgepodge of sausage, cheddar cheese, and maple syrup—which go smashingly with dark roast coffee ($1.75), chai tea lattes ($2.95), or perfectly timed rimshots. Fans of fork usage can leaf through a Southwest salad ($6.99), loaded with jalapeños, crispy onions, and chipotle dressing.
The chefs at McCaffrey’s Public House craft a menu of crispy fried appetizers and succulent burgers to support a rotating cast of traditional Irish entrees. Fingers can hula-hoop with a golden order of battered, hand-cut onion rings ($5.95) before biting into a bleu burger dressed in a warm wardrobe of caramelized onions and creamy blue cheese ($7.95). The grilled-chicken autumn salad rakes together freshly-fallen mixed greens, colored with fall hues of brown candied walnut and crisp apples, all coated in a mist of homemade sherry vinaigrette ($6.95 for a small; $8.95 for a large). Entree specials rotate daily, but have included such Irish classics as steaming corned beef and cabbage, delicately fried fish and chips, and four-leaf clover salads sprinkled with Lucky Charms–shaped croutons.