When Ronn Teitelbaum opened the first Johnny Rockets location in 1986, his goal was to create a restaurant where people could escape the postmodern blues of everyday life and experience a taste of time-honored Americana. The name itself is a nod to this ideal. It combines the star of a classic American fable, Johnny Appleseed, and a classic car, Oldsmobile’s beefy Rocket 88.
That explains why during dinners at the famous burger joints, you’ll see signs of simpler times, starting with the cooks and servers—dressed head to toe in white, including white paper hats, they look like they’ve fallen out of a wormhole from the 1950s ready to sling shakes and cook up some eats. Behind a stainless-steel bar lined with red leather stools they tend to their traditional diner fare, including burgers and melts with sides such as chili-cheese fries and onion rings. Riding sidecar to each meal is a collection of hand-dipped and hand-spun floats, shakes, and malts topped with whipped cream.
Gabriele Paganelli, the head chef at Paganelli's Risotteria, once known as Romagna Mia, introduces palates to the fare of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, where he grew up, by making traditional Northern Italian sauces, pastas, and pizzas by hand. He also whets appetites with charcuterie plates of house-made cured pork and beef through his duties as salumiere—an Italian term that roughly translates to "meat wizard." Visitors can even bring the tastes of the eatery's delicious meats home by grabbing a pound of Paganelli's pancetta or salami—made from naturally raised meats from family farms. The Italian traditions continue in the dining room, where families gather around candlelit tables to tuck into award-winning risottos, Romagnolo-style seafood stew, and shanks of veal paired with imported Italian wines.
Vinsanto Ristorante's bill of fare blends recipes from first-generation Italian immigrants with the passion and innovation of their children to create delicate, yet rustic dishes that bridge decades without the risks of driving at 88 mph. Sides of sautéed forest mushrooms and colourful seasonal veggies accompany entrees such as slow-roasted veal brisket, herbed rack of lamb, and Nova Scotia lobster. Antique chandeliers cast a warm light over granite bar tops, a wall of wood deacon benches, and sleek leather chairs to cultivate an elegant atmosphere inspired by Florentine designs. Live bands send strains of smooth jazz into the air as diners sip Italian wines—kept in perfect condition inside the wine fridge—or watch the chefs hard at work in the open kitchen.
Open for lunch on weekdays and dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, Tre Vigne Restaurant offers a menu that traverses Italy’s culinary regions with housemade soups, salads, seafood, meats, and pastas. For more than 15 years, the restaurant’s chefs have been plating fresh daily specials and the fruits of the earth and sea for occasions from dinner to birthday and anniversary celebrations. A private dining area also offers an enclosed space where kids can proudly get their cheeks pinched away from the public eye. Tre Vigne also provides catering should customers require the restaurant’s succulent grilled lamb, tender cuts of veal, or whole-wheat pasta for on-location events.
The warmth of the Mediterranean sun pervades Nu Panino's kitchen, where chefs stick to southern Italian recipes as they prepare fresh salads and sandwiches topped with spicy meats and grilled veggies. Though some of the deli’s concoctions—such as the Greek salad—reach beyond Italy’s borders for inspiration, the deli stays true to the birthplace of the Renaissance with meats such as veal scaloppine, cured sausage, and prosciutto. When they aren’t slathering tomato sauce on sandwiches during the lunch and early-dinner rushes, the deli’s staff caters parties and lengthy interrogations with cold-cut platters, assorted deli trays, and pasta.
Shoeless Joe’s beckons to passersby with aromas of tasty grill fare—roasted chicken, ribs, and burgers. Named for White Sox outfielder Joe Jackson, who famously made a home-run catch with a bare left foot, Shoeless Joe’s pays tribute to the world of sport, supplementing AAA sirloin steaks, thin-crust pizzas, and pasta dishes with regular broadcasts of baseball, hockey, football, and UFC fights. Guests can wash down their dinners with drafts or cocktails from the drink menu, which boasts classic concoctions as well as inventive creations tinged with ingredients such as maple syrup, blueberry puree, or bacon.