We all have the memories, locked away in sepia tones.
The s’mores by the summer campfire, seasoned with charcoal and summer’s humidity. Deli meat sandwiches, hastily made as we filled our backpacks. Ramen noodles, the ultimate cheap default, filling our college-student bellies.
Years ago these nostalgic noshes were eaten at home — out of necessity but with a simple satisfaction. Now chefs are giving our favorite comfort foods a fresh look.
“We’re making everything better now,” said Tim Niver, restaurateur at Saint Dinette in St. Paul. “There is a focus, not so much on reinvention but reinvigoration, of things that are old and bringing them back.”
Trends, by definition, come and go. But the reasons for this new re-creation of childhood classics hasn’t come about by accident. As fine dining’s moment fades into a sea of diners and food trucks, many restaurants are packing up the white tablecloths and turning out more finely crafted casual cuisine.
The result? New takes on old favorites that simply taste better, while still managing to whisk us back to the past. Consider ramen noodles. From college standby to gourmet obsession? You betcha!
“It’s just exploded in Minneapolis,” said Lina Goh, owner of Zen Box Izakaya in Minneapolis. “What was once a poor man’s food is now celebrated.”
Craving your own edible nostalgia? Check out these six dishes.
The Bologna Sandwich
Then: Thin slices of hardened meat paste — yep, that’s really what it is — peeled from a plastic package and jammed between two slices of Wonder bread. If we were lucky, we got a squirt of yellow mustard or a slice of Kraft American cheese, too.
Now: Delicately spiced pork shoulder defies its bologna shape; it’s thickly sliced, warmed and slightly scorched on the stove, cloaked with Gruyère and sharp Cheddar and tucked into a toasted and buttered roll.
Where to find it: Saint Dinette (261 E. 5th St., St. Paul, saintdinette.com, 651-800-1415), $11.
The Hot Dog
Then: A boiled or grilled Oscar Mayer wiener on a soggy white bun from the grocery store.
Now: Limousin beef dogs blanketed with a barrage of Asian inspirations: tangy kimchi, yuzu fruit mayonnaise, avocado, chopped egg, charred shishito peppers, pickled ginger and — why not? — stir-fried soba noodles.
Where to find it: Kyatchi (3758 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., kyatchi.com, 612-236-4429), $9-$10.
The Ramen Bowl
Then: Hot water poured over a 20-cent package of freeze-dried ramen noodles; devoured with the only spoon you could find in your dorm room.
Now: Berkshire bones boiled into a creamy broth for 24 hours; premium-quality noodles are added and then topped with marinated and almost melting pork shasu, a soft-cooked egg, bamboo shoots and thinly cut green onions.
Where to find it: Zen Box Izakaya (602 Washington Av. S., Mpls., zenbox.com, 612-332-3936), and other local spots, about $13.
Then: While camping, a clear plastic bag of marshmallows is popped open and the innards are roasted on sticks over the fire, then paired with a quarter of a Hershey’s chocolate bar between two Honey Maid graham crackers.
Now: A light, spongy graham cake is indulged with chocolate crémeux (a dense pudding) and streusel, with picture-perfect pillows of meringue “marshmallows” strategically placed around the artful plate.
Where to find it: Corner Table (4537 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., cornertablerestaurant.com, 612-823-0011), $7.
The Frito Pie
Then: Fritos corn chips piled into a casserole — or in the cut-open bag itself — and topped with canned Hormel chili, shredded cheese and whatever else is in the fridge.
Now: A cast-iron skillet filled with those same Fritos — why fix what isn’t broken? — that are smothered with a slow-roasted beef and kidney bean chili, smoked Cheddar and topped with sour cream, pink pickled onions and fresh chives to help cut through the decadence.
Where to find it: Nighthawks (3753 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., nighthawksmpls.com, 612-248-8111), $12.
The Orange Soda
Then: Sugary soda sipped from that legendary glass bottle.
Now: The same jet orange look, but with a cocktail buzz replacing the sugar high. The new potion? A clever blend of vodka, Curaçao and cherry bark vanilla bitters.
Where to find it: Lawless Distilling Company’s cocktail room (2619 28th Av. S., Mpls. lawlessdistillingcompany.com, 612-251-9250 ), $8.