The St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 aimed to celebrate the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase and to shine a light on a century’s worth of progress in industry and the arts. From a culinary perspective, the event is notable for its popularization of hot dogs, hamburgers and ice cream cones. In common with these iconic dishes, peanut butter predates the fair, but it truly made its mark on that midway before taking its place in the American pantry. More than 100 years later, peanut butter is consumed in 94 percent of U.S. households, and we eat enough of the stuff to make a whopping 10 billion peanut butter and jelly sandwiches each year, according to the National Peanut Board. 

The classic peanut butter and jelly pairing has taken on a 21st century vibe. Many operators have turned the ingredients into burger toppings, as with Slater’s 50/50’s Peanut Butter & Jellousy, which includes strawberry jelly and bacon. Ram Restaurant and Brewery’s PBB & JJ Burger boasts homemade Roma tomato jam along with bacon and jalapeños. In a similarly savory vein, the promotional Cinnamon Spice Peanut Butter Burger at Seattle’s 8 Oz. Burger Bar used garlic-tomato jam. In a non-burger variation on this theme, the signature PBJ Sauce for the chicken wings at TGI Fridays is a mashup of spicy-sweet Thai peanut sauce and habanero jelly topped with cilantro.

Peanut butter was reportedly a favorite food of rock star Elvis Presley, a connection exploited by Flipdaddy’s, a four-unit chain based in Cincinnati. Its Elvis & Ed 1956 Burger celebrates Presley’s debut on the Ed Sullivan Show that year and includes fried bananas and powdered sugar. It also pops up in the Fat Elvis Shake, along with chocolate, bananas and bacon, at Twisted Root Burger Co. in Dallas. Pushing the envelope further, Canadian chain The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro introduced The Reese’s PBC Burger and garnered international media coverage with its wacky combination of peanut butter cup candy, crispy onion strings and smoked bacon. And in a marriage straight off the midway, peanut butter has also appeared atop hot dogs. It’s a standard condiment at Dobbs Dawg House in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., but it truly stars in the Goober Dog, together with crushed Fritos and shredded pickle, at Dog Central in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. 

Peanut butter hits the sweet spot in a range of applications. Devotees of Stan’s Donuts in Los Angeles can start their day with a trio of peanut butter varieties, including a Peanut Butter and Fresh Banana Donut loaded with chocolate chips. Later in the day, Angelenos can partake of the PB&J dessert at Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air, where homemade peanut butter ice cream pops are covered in a caramel and chocolate shell and then doused with raspberries and raspberry jam. At Stacked: Food Well Built, diners can sate their sweet tooth with Peanut Butter Heaven, a signature ice cream sandwich built on a peanut butter cookie, or they can go all out and stack their own sundae with peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter topping and, yes, peanut butter sauce. 

Wolfgang Puck PB&J dessert

On the East Coast, New Yorkers get their peanut butter fix in a variety of ways. Trendy Manhattan eatery Wildair received rave reviews for its Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart, while Macaron Parlour specializes in non-traditional creations like the Peanut Butter Cup Macaron made with dark chocolate and creamy peanut butter filling. In a truly mind-expanding use of the staple, Musket Room mixologists created Pierce’s Lunch, a cocktail that uses a trio of grape-based spirits, including peanut-butter-infused pisco, to recreate the PB&J experience in a glass. On a related note, last winter Sheetz, the powerhouse regional convenience store chain noted for its innovative food and beverage program, added a promotional Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate to its menu.

Peanut butter is the basis of a philanthropic endeavor. As part of a tradition of giving back to the communities in which it operates, Which Wich’s Project PB&J donates two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every one purchased in its restaurants. Launched in mid-2014, the program gave away 100,000 sandwiches in its first six months and set a goal of one million sandwiches in 2015. It’s a great use of a universal favorite that provides both comfort and nourishment to those in need.

Which Wich Project PB&J

Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta. As one of LinkedIn’s Top 100 Influencers in the US, she blogs regularly on food-related subjects.