Two pieces of soft bread mushed together with one layer of nutty peanut butter and another of sweet, tart jam.
This simplest of school lunches never fails to bring back memories of field trips and recess. It wasn’t until I studied abroad for a year in Germany, where Nutella reigned supreme and erdnussbutter had to be shipped to me for Christmas (thanks, Mom!), that I fully appreciated this magical flavor combination.
Nowadays, with the variety of nut butters and unique jams (huckleberry or gooseberry, anyone?) available at your neighborhood grocery store, not to mention some excellent bread, the PB&J is far from mundane. Throw out those frozen Uncrustables and get inspired by these modern takes on an American classic. You owe it to the kiddos.
Instead of Wonder Bread, chef Bill Kim uses ethereal vanilla soft serve, made with coconut water and milk, for the base of this cool treat. Housemade huckleberry jam is swirled with peanut butter crunch for a sweet and refreshing play on the PB&J. Seasonal toppings are always whimsical and tasty, but the peanut butter and jelly is a menu staple, and our personal favorite. 1400 W. Randolph St., 312-563-1010
The PB&J slider is a delicacy at this Lebanese-Cuban fusion restaurant. Fried plantain “bread” is tossed in cinnamon and powdered sugar. Inside, you’ll find peanut butter, house-made guava jam and a sweet plantain. 543 N. Noble St., 312-666-7767
Pastry chef Meg Galus always runs a seasonal tart on her menu, and the PB&J is one of our favorites. A layer of toasted brioche is nestled in peanut butter cream and topped with fresh raspberry jam. Galus cuts the crust off the brioche, but doesn’t let it go to waste. She pan-fries the crust in butter and sugar to use as a crisp garnish. 800 N. Michigan Ave., 312-239-4030
Some back-to-school French toast is a great way to start your day, and Kanela delivers with egg-battered challah bread, sliced bananas, peanut butter sauce and your choice of jelly. All of the jelly is made in house, and you have a choice of strawberry, blueberry, raspberry or (occasionally) blackberry. 3231 N. Clark St., 773-248-1622; 1552 N. Wells St., 312-255-1206; 500 N. Lake Shore Drive, 312-255-1206
The “nutty bars” at this Michelin-starred restaurant are dressed up with a fruity port syrup in lieu of jam. Peanut-butter cream is sandwiched between phyllo crisps and topped with chocolate for a crunchy-creamy blend. 123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920
At this West Town restaurant, chefs Tom Van Lente and Kevin Cuddihee make airy peanut butter mousse cream puffs with homemade huckleberry, raspberry and blueberry jelly. 1132 W. Grand Ave., 312-624-8363
September’s cupcake of the month is peanut butter and jelly: a peanut butter cake filled with jelly and topped with peanut butter buttercream and crushed nuts. Normally, this cupcake is only available on Tuesdays, so take advantage of this back-to-school PB&J abundance while it lasts. 108 N. State St. #128, 312-346-7777
Why order a PB&J sandwich at a restaurant when you can easily make one at home without even turning on the stove? Because you can’t quite make one as good as the version at Elaine’s. It’s made with pecan butter and housemade fruit preserves, based on whatever’s in season across the street at the Green City Market, and spread on toasted honey-wheat bread that has a slight crunch at the edges before giving way to soft, gooey goodness. 1816 N. Clark St., 312-254-4665
It’s not on the menu, but my custom PB&J jackhammer is worth trying. Just blend fresh strawberries and blackberries into a vanilla frozen custard base, along with pretzel sticks for a salty crunch. I view the pretzels as a substitute for bread. Finish it off with liquid peanut butter oozing from the center for a decadent dessert. 719 Church St., Evanston, 847-864-8009
On the kids’ menu, chef John des Rosiers offers a PB&J sandwich that will tempt adults, too. It’s made with Klug Farms blueberry jam and almond hazelnut butter, spread thick on sourdough bread.28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff, 847-295-1000
Photos courtesy of each restaurant, unless otherwise noted.