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Modern takes on your retro food favorites

NutellPop Tarts are one example how chefs are putting modern spretro food.

Nutella Pop Tarts are one example of how chefs are putting a modern spin on retro food.

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Updated: April 7, 2013 6:05AM



Bust out those faded cookbooks and get in the game: modern versions of retro dishes are popping up all over town. Whether you appreciate the dose of nostalgia or simply revel in time-honored eats, a payoff awaits.

“There are dishes that evoke a special feeling,” says Greg Ellis, chef/partner at 2Sparrows in Lincoln Park, where a house-made version of Pop-Tarts elevate the morning mainstay.

At Storefront Company in Wicker Park, Chef/Partner Bryan Moscatello and Pastry Chef Kymberli DeLost turn out a luxe version sponge candy. Mind you, it’s worlds away from the childhood sweet. The caramelized, toffee-like chunks join with black currant gel and gelee, jasmine pearl tea mousse and hazelnuts, with a scoop of milk sherbet and frozen milk foam to complete the dish.

If you’re looking to recreate or riff on your favorite, time-honored meals, the pros say the mantra is try, try again. Ellis went through 30-plus variations of his beloved tart dough before getting it right.

“The first one was horrible,” he concedes. “But that’s the thing: if you mess up, just start again.”

“You just need to decide whether you’re going for same effect as you remember or something different,” says Ben Roche, co-executive chef at Baume & Brix. “Think about texture and flavor combinations you liked, or consider ways to reinvent them.”

“Reinvent” is clearly the case at Baume & Brix, where Roche and fellow Executive Chef Thomas Elliott Bowman serve the playful, Wendy’s-inspired Frostee & Fries, which teams up potato ice cream, milk chocolate and banana.

“It reminds us of when we dipped fries into Frostees,” Bowman says.

“Even diners who didn’t do it themselves light up,” Roche adds. “They seem to ‘get it.’”

Speaking of potatoes, tater tots are hitting their stride. Ellis turns out a homemade, marshmallow-sized version. At Trenchermen in Wicker Park, they’re presented in a memorable pickled prep. Meanwhile, at The Boarding House in River North, the oversized nubs are stuffed with pork for a pot roast-y effect.

Meatloaf isn’t immune to the trend. At Gold Coast’s Hash House a Go Go, griddled meatloaf rests atop a biscuit with porcini mushroom cream.

Whatever your persuasion, resurrecting throwback-feeling foods can serve a purpose.

“To a degree it’s about tradition,” says Phil Rubino, executive chef at Royce in Highland Park. “The goal is to strike a memory of a person or time.”

“At the same time it can be whimsical and fun,” says Stephanie Mazzone, pastry chef at mk.

Enter Mazzone’s “peppermint-rich patty,” a composed finale with milk chocolate peppermint semifreddo, Bailey’s hot chocolate, flourless chocolate cake, peppermint bark and chocolate caramel sauce.

“The thing is, retro foods can be done in a nicer, more grownup way,” she adds. “You just want to make sure they still feeling warm and comforting.”

“Just cook what you like to eat,” suggests Rubino, who serves a mean wedge salad at his North Shore restaurant. “If there’s an old-school dish with ingredients you don’t enjoy, substitute them with something else to make it your own.”

Because, really, at the end of the day, an updated version takes the best of the past and makes it better.

Jennifer Olvera is a local free-lance writer.



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