There is nothing noble or refined about the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's a gooey, gloppy mess of a meal that sticks to your tongue and seems fit only for, well, children. Yet many adults can't shake their devotion to Jif and jam -- or, for that matter, other kid faves like mac and cheese and root beer floats. This shared nostalgia for the Old Faithfuls of childhood cuisine has inspired chefs around town to put a grown-up spin on kid classics.
"We want foods that are comforting, that make us feel warm and fuzzy," says Frank Morales, the executive chef at Zola's, which offers several updated versions of childhood favorites. "But our adult taste buds want a more elegant spin to it all. And for me, it's about exploring how I grew up as I watch my own kids grow up."
So, rather than snatching a lunchbox from a wee one waiting for the school bus, consider these adult-erated menu items from area restaurants.
-- Kelly DiNardo
Grilled Cheese Sandwich
PLACE: Bar Rouge, a sleek lounge inside the Hotel Rouge, pours cool, if pricey, cocktails.
ADULT SPIN: Manger a trois, $9. Nosh on a trio of grilled cheese sandwiches halves: apple and gruyere on pumpernickel, ham and Swiss on rye and cheddar and tomato on wheat.
INSPIRATION: "I like to take classic American fare and twist it," says executive chef Dan Mullins. "I was playing around with different French phrases and decided the name would fit my love for grilled cheese and Bar Rouge, which is kind of sexy."
DETAILS: 1315 16th St. NW. 202-939-6422. www.rougehotel.com.
Mac 'n' Cheese
PLACE: Zola, a stylish eatery above the Spy Museum, serves up classic American fare to a clientele that has included Robert De Niro, Sandra Day O'Connor and Wolf Blitzer.
ADULT SPIN: Lobster mac & cheese appetizer, $14. This update on the neon orange kid classic blends Maine lobster with fontina cheese and elbow macaroni. Other grown-up dishes include a ham and cheese sandwich made with brie and a Creamsicle-inspired dessert.
INSPIRATION: "I had to think about how to feed my two kids and my wife at the same time," says Morales. "She's a New Englander and loves lobster. Normally I don't think cheese and seafood work together, but fontina is such a nice cheese that it works."
DETAILS: 800 F St. NW. 202-654-0999. www.zoladc.com.
Peanut Butter & Jelly
PLACE: Cafe Bonaparte, a cozy Parisian-style cafe in Georgetown, lures customers with its coffee, crepes and cocktails.
ADULT SPIN: L'Americain, $6.95. Creamy or crunchy peanut butter is spread on a crepe, then rolled with another slathered with strawberry jelly. The whole concoction is served with a glass of milk.
INSPIRATION: Owner Omar Popal first tasted a PB&J at a pool party in the fourth grade. Since then, he has associated the sandwich with summer, so he decided to add it to his menu as a Fourth of July special. It was such a hit, it's now a permanent fixture.
DETAILS: 1522 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-8830. www.cafebonaparte.com.
Root Beer Float
PLACE: The Oceanaire, an art deco seafood restaurant that plays big-band music and serves up fresh fish to D.C. tourists and power-players alike.
ADULT SPIN: Root beer float a la royale, $6.95. This sweet treat gets a little kick with a shot of schnapps. It's not the only dessert on the menu that harkens back to childhood days. Diners can also munch on warm chocolate chip cookies and milk, or dive into a chocolate-vanilla Dixie Cup, complete with a wooden spoon.
INSPIRATION: The Oceanaire specializes in retro favorites, but Wade Weistling, the vice president of culinary development, wanted to make the fountain shop classic a little more "edgy."
DETAILS: 1201 F St. NW. 202-347-2277. www.theoceanaire.com.
Several upscale restaurants offer a sticky, sweet treat that will take guests back to childhood. These two present a sugary puff gratis with the bill.
2941 Restaurant. Go into sugar shock with the circus classic, in flavors such as grape. 2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church. 703-270-1500. www.2941restaurant.com.
Palette. Chef James Clark whips up a cloud of cotton candy in grown-up flavors such as tangerine. 1177 15th St. NW. 202-587-2700. www.palettedc.com.