The Luxe Life: Gourmet Junk Food

Satisfy your cravings with these sophisticated takes on classic snack foods.

By: Jennifer Ball

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Snacks Gone Supreme

Most everyone has a junk food favorite, though not everyone is willing to fess up to a covert desire for crunchy potato chips, cream-filled snack cakes or other guilty pleasures. Clever chefs across the country have tapped into those hidden cravings by creating elevated spins on classic snack foods. No need to keep your secret obsessions to yourself any longer; these spots across the country are making it perfectly acceptable to indulge in public.

Duck Fat Chex Mix

It may seem impossible to improve on the many qualities of Chex™ Mix that make this salty, crunchy party mix so addictive, but the founders of San Francisco ice cream empire Humphry Slocombe have found a way to take this savory treat to new and luxurious heights. The secret to the snack’s sumptuous boost of flavor is rendered duck fat, which is melted and used in place of the traditional butter coating. Other unique additions, such as fresh pepper, cayenne and fresh thyme sprigs, make this treat feel especially decadent. You can find this indulgent version, served warm, as an occasional snack in the Humphry Slocombe ice cream parlors and pop-up shops.

Silly Rabbit Cocktail

Beverage Director Benjamin Schiller of The Sixth in Chicago dug into his bartending bag of tricks to translate the flavors of a favorite fruity cereal from childhood into the Silly Rabbit Cocktail. This refreshing beverage starts off as a tweaked version of the long-established Southside cocktail recipe — a shaken concoction of gin, lime, simple syrup and mint. Schiller’s base cocktail is a mix of gin, lemon juice, soda, simple syrup and mint tincture. The drink is then poured over a stack of four brightly colored fruit juice cubes: a play on the lemon, orange, raspberry and grape flavors from the breakfast cereal. As the cubes melt, the flavor profile of the drink evolves, thus making for both a striking visual and a sweet-and-sour taste experience that patrons love. “It's been on our menu since we opened, and I would get [dragged] out into the street if I tried to take it off,” Schiller jokes.

Miso-Butterscotch Twinkie

In his search for a lightly sweet dessert to cap off a menu of hearty rice bowls, ramens and steam buns, Boke Bowl Chef and Co-Owner Patrick Fleming turned to the treats of his boyhood — in particular, his favorite cream-filled snack cake. “I wanted to recreate something fun from my childhood, but make it uniquely our own,” he says. The idea prompted the chef and his team to begin crafting handmade versions of the classic treat, which they have churned out in a variety of Asian-inspired flavors at Fleming’s shop in Portland, Oregon. The standout is the Miso-Butterscotch Twinkie. This vanilla sponge cake is baked until slightly golden, then filled with a miso-butterscotch cream and dusted with powdered sugar.

Barclay Prime Cheesesteak

Philadelphia steakhouse Barclay Prime delivers a sumptuous spin on a legendary local sandwich with its Barclay Prime Cheesesteak. The restaurant’s culinary team skillfully elevates the Philly cheesesteak to gourmet status, while managing to stay true to the essence of the regional staple, which traditionally consists of a chewy hoagie bun stuffed with thinly sliced rib eye, melted cheese and fried onions. Prime’s upscale take begins with a lightly toasted semolina roll. Grilled, razor-thin Japanese Wagyu beef is sauteed with slices of lightly caramelized Spanish onions, then spooned inside the roll along with a truffled foie gras mousse. A truffle-studded cascade of creamy Sottocenere al Tartufo cheese is then poured over the top of the entire sandwich. Another difference between this dish and the standard Philly sandwich is the price tag — Prime’s version costs $120, which includes a half bottle of champagne.

Chorizo Pop Tarts

The Chorizo Pop Tarts from Graffiti: A Social Kitchen may share a name and a shape with the pre-packaged toaster pastries found in local grocery aisles, but the similarities stop there. At this Cleveland restaurant, the sweet breakfast snack has been reimagined as a savory brunch dish. Graffiti’s popular pastry starts with a buttery homemade crust that is rolled into squares, then stuffed with locally-sourced chorizo and goat cheese before being baked to a beauteous golden brown. The dish comes flanked by fresh sides of tangy guacamole and smoked paprika crema, which provide the perfect complement to the pastry’s rich filling. This brunch favorite is a first-come-first-serve item, and only available on the Sunday menu, so it’s best to arrive early if you want your fix.

Savory Turnovers

Provision No. 14 offers an epicurean alternative to microwaveable turnovers with its refined interpretation of the savory treat that’s typically found in the freezer section of the supermarket. While part of the joy and pain of heating up this classic snack has always been the mystery around whether the salty filling inside will be lava hot or ice cold after a turn in the microwave, the Washington, D.C. restaurant removes these doubts entirely. Its version features a lamb cheek filling that’s braised until fork-tender, then enveloped in a flaky pastry crust and baked until delightfully piping hot. To give this luscious dish a peppery kick, dollops of arugula aioli are added as a finishing touch.

Wild Game Frito Chili Pie

Lulu’s Allston in Boston turns out an elevated take on the savory Frito pie popularized at concession stands and food trucks across the Southwest. In its purest form, this snack classic is eaten with a plastic fork directly out of an open bag of Fritos® corn chips, which are smothered in chili and shredded cheese. Lulu’s version dresses up the original with a Texas-style beanless chili made with buffalo and wild boar meats sourced from Durham Farms in Nevada. The fresh game is slow-cooked in beer and tomatoes to add depth of flavor, then poured over a bowl of crunchy Fritos® corn chips and finished with sour cream, shredded Cabot cheddar cheese and chopped scallions.

Cheetos Macaron

Husband-and-wife team Simon Tung and Christina Ha pride themselves on creating airy confections in unconventional flavors at their two Macaron Parlour shops in New York City. It’s no wonder, then, that they discovered an ingenious way to turn the delightfully addictive cheese puffs known as Cheetos® into an elegant finger food. Their Cheetos Macaron features a filling bursting with the distinctive flavor (and bright orange color) of the classic snack. Ha and Tung soak bags of Cheetos® in heavy cream for a few hours to sop up the flavor of the cheese puffs. After straining out the Cheetos®, they combine the cream with melted white chocolate and chill the mixture until it’s thick enough to pipe inside the crunchy cookies that complete the confection. Made with an Italian-style meringue, the cookies feature a vibrant orange hue that is achieved via food coloring. The resulting confection is a striking treat that’s lightly sweet and savory — and won’t leave your fingers orange when you’re finished.


“Twix” Bars

Though best known for their sophisticated renditions of snack cakes like Ho Hos® and Twinkies®, the minds behind Empire Cake have also worked their culinary magic on a classic candy bar. This housemade version features a buttery shortbread cookie as its base. The cookie is drenched in indulgent layers of melted caramel and creamy ganache, then encased in a bittersweet Belgian chocolate shell. The confection is finished with an artful drizzle of white chocolate that adds to the richness. The only downside to this sweet treat is that it doesn’t come in packs of two like the original pre-wrapped candy bar. We won’t tell if you decide not to share.

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