Bill and Amy Wesolowski were no strangers to barbecue when they opened their restaurant. After all, they'd been grilling up mountainous platters of ribs, pulled pork, and grilled chicken at local parties and special events since 2008. Within their cheerful, sunlit joint, the seasoned caterers and skilled barbecue chefs whip up their signature dishes, along with southern-style sides of barbecue beans, collard greens, and coleslaw. The duo even accommodates vegetarians with meat-free menu selections, unlike other barbecue venues that require vegetarians to wear an itchy wreath of string beans around their necks. Plates pair with bottles of beer as they sit atop the white-cloth tables of the casual dining room, where colorful photographs and drawings of jazz instruments adorn the walls.
Here's the thing about Famous Dave: he wasn't always famous. Dave Anderson inherited his passion for barbecue from his father, a humble construction worker who knew where to find the best barbecue on Chicago's street corners. In 1994, Dave opened his first barbecue shack in Hayward, Wisconsin, and before long, the shack was attracting 5,000 customers weekly?a momentous feat considering Hayward had a population of 1,800. Dave's lifelong pursuit of barbecue perfection had certainly paid off. It gave him a new life's work to be proud of. And, of course, a new first name to put on his passport.
With locations now spread across the U.S., Canada, and even Puerto Rico, Famous Dave's has become a revelation for barbecue fans. It has earned more than 700 awards, including first-place honors for its ribs, wings, and sauces. Most of these awards have Famous Dave's cooking process to thank. For every batch, pitmasters hand-rub high-quality cuts and cook them for hours at a time in live-wood smokers, taking care to not disturb the dragons napping between the logs. For Famous Dave's renowned ribs, the process has an extra step after the smoker, as each rack gets tossed on a grill to caramelize the sauces before serving.
Ying's Wings & Every Thing has been a family-owned restaurant since 1988, and ever since its menu has satisfied a diverse range of appetites by presenting international and American favorites. This menu is as long as the line at the last DMV on earth, with cuisine derived from countries all over the world. Originating as a Chinese restaurant, its multitalented chefs soon expanded their repertoire to include specialty pizzas, submarine sandwiches, and hearty half-pound Angus beef burgers, as well as Greek food and tacos. Buckets of their namesake buffalo wings simmer in seven different toppings, such as honey mustard, barbecue, or garlic parmesan, and the restaurant is open until 4 a.m. from Monday to Friday, allowing astronomers to do research while they feast on mozzarella sticks, known by them as breaded mini telescopes.
Proprietor Nick Kotrides’s open-kitchen concept offers Empire Grill patrons a low-flying bird’s-eye view of chefs plating hand-cut 12-ounce steaks and Cajun shrimp alfredo. Modern light fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows keep the two-story diner bright and welcoming, and semicircle booths surround a stocked bar. Flat-screen high-definition televisions and free WiFi let patrons tweet their most up-to-date thoughts on big games and sated stomachs inhibiting their ability to digest the importance of big games.
Sunlight floods through rustic stained-glass windows onto the hardwood bar and tabletops of The Oakk Room's historic dining room, which was originally an automobile shop before it was converted to a pub in the late 1980s. Surrounded by walls laden with taxidermy pieces and an antique wooden horse trained to stand completely still, servers bring forth plates of jerk chicken and freshly baked cornbread, and bartenders shake up a menu of 17 different specialty cocktails. The restaurant slakes thirst on Wednesday with $4 martini specials and throws weekly Friday fish-frying events.