The end of the school year is the perfect time to reconsider a cafeteria classic: The peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Bread. Peanut Butter. Grape, strawberry, raspberry, name it. Crusts on, crusts off: Your call.
It's so simple, so perfect, so synonymous with the innocence of youth. So it's no surprise countless restaurants have attempted to reclaim the PB&J for adults.
Take, for example, Moxie's in downtown Tampa, which has a full menu of "Classic Peanut Butter Sandwiches," thick with hefty waves of fresh, nutty butter. Look past all their overly sugary fluff (er, Fluffernutters) and you'll find the Classic PB&J, offered with strawberry or grape jam or raspberry or apricot preserves, served between thick, pillowy slices of bread. For an autumnal twist, try the Health Nut, which replaces the jelly with apple butter and wheat germ.
Once you move outside the sandwichsphere, however, things get dicey. Case in point: The Brewers Tasting Room, a popular Pinellas hangout for craft beer geeks. They have a modest food menu, including 10 varieties of wings. But from 5 to 8 p.m. on "Wing Wednesdays," the list of flavors grows to 30, including Cheesy Taco, Creamy Sriracha and, you guessed it, PB&J.
Served bone-in or boneless, they come slathered in thick peanut butter and striped with a red jelly drizzle. Honestly, they don't taste as bad as they sound, but they are incredibly messy, even by wing standards. This might be a case where the craft beer community's penchant for creative flavor experimentation has overstepped its boundaries.
Speaking of beer, Oakland Park's Funky Buddha Brewery has earned raves for its limited-release No Crusts PB&J Brown Ale, though its availability in the Tampa Bay area has been spotty at best. That might change when Funky Buddha starts bottling its beer this fall.
Until then, a handful of bars have experimented with PB&J cocktails, though it's tough to find a recipe that's more than just a novelty. Kelly's Chic-a-Boom Room in Dunedin, however, is all about silly martinis, and they have one called The Elvis. Now, technically it was the peanut butter and banana sandwich that Elvis Aaron Presley loved, but this one strikes a fair (if decadent) balance: PB&J-flavored vodka, crème de banana and vanilla liqueur, garnished with a peanut butter rim and (why not?) a slice of bacon. Once you get past the garishly pale yellow color, it's not half bad, and the sweet rim lingers on the tongue. Plus, bacon!
Outside the lunchbox, the PB&J might work best on dessert menus. And wouldn't you know it: Through June 21, Tampa's Burger 21 is serving a PB&J Shake. For $5.50, you get vanilla ice cream blended with peanut butter, strawberry, raspberry and blackberry puree, topped with whipped cream, berry puree and chopped peanut butter cups. That's an ambitious recipe, but it mostly works.
Most of Tampa Bay's upscale cupcakeries offer some version of the PB&J (though frequently only by special request). For a more consistent cakelike treat, try St. Pete Bagel Co., which makes a mean PB&J doughnut on the regular. Pretty genius, when you think about it — slap a little peanut butter on a jelly doughnut, and voila. But St. Pete Bagel deserves credit for getting the topping just right — it's not thick, gooey or overly sweet; it's more like a thin glaze with just a few tiny peanut chunks for texture. At just 99 cents, it's a steal.
High-end eateries do right by the PB&J, too. For example, William Dean Chocolates, which makes museum-quality chocolates for the Hunger Games film franchise, is a veritable PB&J lover's paradise, serving both a gorgeous PB&J chocolate (impossibly creamy peanut butter and blackberry, boysenberry, grape and black raspberry jams in a snappy dark chocolate shell) and a PB&J macaron (pretty, with both brown and purple shells, but hard to discern much flavor). Best of all, one of their signature creations is a PB&J Bar, featuring a layer of deep chocolate nougat sprinkled with crispy bits of peanut brittle, topped with a blend of jellies, wrapped in chocolate and decorated with William Dean's signature bold artwork.
If any restaurant can challenge William Dean's claim to the PB&J throne, it has to be Edison Food and Drink Lab in Tampa. At the end of a jargon-rich, occasionally overwhelming menu, you'll find a simple list of ice cream flavors, including peanut butter and jelly. The presentation alone is exquisite: Three spheres of sweet vanilla ice cream with gobs of thick peanut butter and small swirls of rose-colored jelly, sitting atop a bed of barely perceptible crumbs. The piece de resistance: An actual, miniature open-faced PB&J sandwich, no larger than a Saltine, garnishing your bowl.
At $5, Edison's PB&J ice cream is a relative bargain (especially considering some of their cocktails can run north of $15). And it's more than enough of a PB&J treat to get us to the next school year.