Ah, a classic no? And lately my mantra. I don’t know why, but I seem to be eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches lately. I mean A LOT. I’m probably eating them more often now than when I was a kid, honestly.
It all started back in the fall when Happy Girl Kitchen opened up shop here in PG. When they first opened, they didn’t have much on the menu as far as food went, except for a PB&J. But it wasn’t just any PB&J. No, no, this was a much more sophisticated PB&J–one made with your choice of their local and organic fruit jams and Santa Cruz Organic’s peanut butter on Parker-Lusseau ciabatta or nine-grain bread. Oh man, I was hooked. Sure, $5 for a PB&J sandwich isn’t cheap, but now I’m more than happy to hand over the pennies for this delectable yet simple sandwich. Even as the menu at Happy Girl has expanded to feature granola, polenta, soups and (proper) sandwiches, I still find myself ordering the PB&J.
The secret to a good PB&J is the ingredients. We aren’t talking about cheap peanut butter *cough* *cough* Skippy *cough* *cough* and jam *cough* *cough* Smucker’s *cough* *cough* here. No, no–we’re talking about a grown-up PB&J with grown-up ingredients. I’m a big fan of the Santa Cruz Organic peanut butter they use at Happy Girl–it’s nice and smooth. Happy Girl’s summer strawberry jam is my favorite “jelly,” though it’s an endangered species as stocks are drying up until strawberry season returns in a month or so. Needless to say, Happy Girl employs said jam in their PB&J, and rather wisely, so does Carmel Belle, where I recently sampled a PB&J on pullman bread.
Which brings me to the bread. Yes, the bread is also key to the perfect PB&J. Forget
Wonder white bread (no offense to the staple of my youth)–a good PB&J deserves good bread. Nine-grain bread is fine–and my staple when making PB&J sandwiches at home–but when I’m dining out, I favor fancier breads. Happy Girl uses Parker-Lusseau (best pastry shop around town, hands down!) ciabatta bread; Carmel Belle uses pullman bread for a gooeier PB&J. Be warned–when dining on a PB&J with thick pullman bread, a glass of milk is a MUST! (I found out the hard way on Sunday–yikes!)
Most recently, I’ve been favoring a PB&J combination that’s a favorite of one of my dear friends and coworkers. We call it the “Jaci style” PB&J. What’s this mysterious invention? A PB&J with butter–I guess a PBB&J? Huh, that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as easily, does it? Sure, it’s not exactly low on calories or cholestorol for that matter, but the butter is such a nice addition. The sweetness of the jam, the nuttiness of the peanut butter and the richness of the butter really elevate this humble sandwich.
I’m actually quite fond of the notion of PB&J sandwiches with grown-up twists. Besides elevating this humble sandwich with high-end, gourmet ingredients, I’m intrigued by modern twists on a lunchtime classic. The best example in recent memory? The “peabut butter and belly” at Carmel’s Rio Grill. Texas Toast with peanut butter, olallieberry jam and . . . wait for it . . . pork belly! Mmmmm. Pork belly. My favorite two words in the culinary dictionary. But why stop there? Why not a PB&J with crispy maple-glazed bacon? Or how about PB&J with bruleed banana or roasted apples? The possibilities are endless. Mark my words–the PB&J is bound for a culinary makeover soon. Move over cupcakes, a new fad food is coming to town!