Chefs across the U.S. have taken inspiration from favorite foods of their formative years to create whimsical plates that strike the perfect balance between innovation and nostalgia. Reimagining everything from brown bag lunch staples like PB&J to syrupy sno-cones, check out some of our favorite creations below.
Pig in a blanket at Alimento in Los Angeles, CA
Chef Zach Pollack’s (Sotto) elegant riff on the well-known finger food stands out on the small-plates menu of regional Italian specialties at this Silver Lake destination. Two pieces of delicate spelt pastry sandwich a mound of mortadella, brovada, mustard seed and stracchino, yielding a tart, savory dish.
“Cereal & Milk” at Riverpark in NYC
At Tom Colicchio’s sleek hideaway with East River views and an urban farm, pastry chef Geoffrey Koo takes inspiration from a childhood breakfast staple for this dynamic dessert. It’s comprised of a round chocolate sphere that sits atop a chocolate ganache cake and a bed of caramelized rice puffs. Once served, the sphere is cracked open, revealing the vanilla malt inside which spills over the rice puffs and fills the bowl.
Eli-O's at ePasta in NYC
From NYC’s newest pasta fast-casual by the restaurateurs behind Allora Ristorante, this take on SpaghettiOs with anelletti, marinara, meatballs and Parmesan is giving us all kinds of nostalgia. Also on the menu is its take on the 30-foot single strand pasta that’s a signature at Allora, called miller’s wife pasta, served with vodka sauce and meatballs.
PB&J "sandwich" at Halifax in Hoboken, NJ
Pastry chef Stuart Marx’s (previously at The Odeon, David Burke restaurants) elevated version of a PB&J features two triangles of crispy pastry sandwiching a peanut butter mousse, milk chocolate ganache and some peanuts for added crunch. It’s plated with a scoop of housemade Concord grape frozen yogurt and dollops of jelly.
Latch Key Kid pizza at Bar Gonzo in NYC
This cheeky homage to frozen French bread pizza from the '70s-inspired Bar Gonzo is served on custom ciabatta-style bread from Grandaisy Bakery (that’s baked fresh daily) and topped with housemade tomato sauce and a variety of cured meats and cheeses. The Circus-Circus (pictured above) is topped with Fairytale eggplant, marinated peppers, pickled mushrooms, whipped goat cheese and basil.
Deep-fried stuffed French toast at Stoke in Charlotte, NC
At this wood-fire-centric Charlotte eatery, you’ll find infused cocktails served in French presses and — at brunch — this seriously indulgent French toast that’s crusted in Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes and deep-fried. It’s filled with Uno Alla Volta ricotta (made locally) and strawberries, and topped with fresh berries and maple syrup.
Ants “On a Log” at Empellón in NYC
Offered as an amuse-bouche during lunch and dinner, Alex Stupak’s more literal take on one of his favorite childhood snacks features chicatanas, large flying ants that are a special treat in Oaxaca. The chicatanas are seasoned with lime juice and toasted, and the legs and wings are removed. Stupak pipes peanut butter on celery branches, adds a few shakes of housemade hot sauce made using the chicatanas and tops them off with whole chicatanas.
Sno-cone at Geraldine’s in Austin, TX
Rounding out a global shared-plates menu, pastry chef Yolanda Diaz takes a childhood classic up a notch, filling a housemade white chocolate cone with strawberry granita and dots of peppercorn meringue.
Pop tarts at CRAFTkitchen in Henderson, NV
Seasonal fruits fill chef-owner Jaret Blinn’s homemade pop tarts — past fillings include caramelized apple, cherry, peach and nectarine, blackberry and strawberry. They’re available at Blinn’s locavore cafe and bakery during breakfast and brunch until they sell out.
Choco taco at Mary Eddy’s in Oklahoma City, OK
The ice cream truck icon receives an upgrade at this contemporary New American locale where executive chef Jason Campbell fills a chocolate-dipped waffle taco (made in-house) with pumpkin semifreddo, dulce de leche and candied pepitas.