Peanut Butter & Co. – New York
From the outside it looks like a typical American diner. There is something rather 1950s about the building and décor: the blue plastic seating, the napkin dispensers and collected memorabilia on the walls – newspaper cutting and tin signs. Full it only sits fifteen, maybe even twenty people? Tightly crammed together in ‘death by peanut butter’ formations, their happy faces and drooling mouths dripping in anticipation for a glance of the menu. Heads down chomping at creative designs and lumpy milkshakes. There is almost silence here.
Apart from the wall furniture, it’s pretty bland inside. It is not comfortable and you sit down rubbing up against a family on the table behind you, while those standing in the line give you the eye for your table. You order, you eat, you gaze around in ore, and you leave.
It doesn’t have a restaurant feel, or the warmth and welcome of a coffee shop where you can sit and write, sit and think, sit and talk. Here, you’re in and you’re out. Honestly, it needn’t be anything more, for it is so niche, doing what it does well, that people come here for one thing, and one thing only.
In Greenwich Village, off Washington Square, Peanut Butter & Co. serves a variation of sandwiches and milkshakes, yep; you guessed it (the name helps!) all with peanut butter! My dilemma – smooth or crunchy?
Founder Lee Zalben opened the hotspot in 1998, and a decade later it thrives still among local Greenwich hipsters, travelling Americans recreating their childhood peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a hungry Englishman with a sweet tooth and want to combine out of space flavours and ingredients. I arrive.
There’s a line leading out the door and into the street, but I can’t tell whose buying to sit and eat, whose buying to take away, and who are the tourists, there for the scrapbook photos and recipe book? I wait outside in late December. It’s snowing.
It’s not long before I’m in ordering from the menu board. The Elvis ($8.50): grilled with bananas and honey, and Peanut Butter BLT, a Fluffernutter milkshake ($5.10): peanut butter and marshmallow fluff (the stuff of dreams – I buy two tubs before leaving at $2.50 each). Ghastly and sickly and outrageously bad for you!
1) If it’s good enough for the King, then it’s good enough for me.
2) I’m a tourist on his travels, indulge.
3) It’s not the New Year yet. Make the waist-busting resolutions in January.
4) It’s what the bloody sandwich and milkshake was invented for (Jerry Seinfeld is a frequent visitor and wrote the Forward for The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook).
All the staff are young and friendly. I say “all the staff,” the poor girl serving and taking orders was rushed off her feet, switching between the blending of milkshakes, communicating with the customers and kitchen staff, and making sure the food was ready and out on the tables. She and the one chef I could see in the kitchen were the only staff. They had their work cut out on this busy lunchtime.
The sandwich itself was accompanied with three carrot sticks, neatly lined side-by-side next to the dripping heart attack of a sandwich, a weak effort to remind you that health is important, and that “we don’t just serve you variations that will leave you with a bloated belly and increased cholesterol. We’re health conscious too!”
On the menu there is the ‘Cookie Dough Surprise’: Peanut butter on one side and velvety vanilla cream cheese on the other, stuffed with chocolate chips. ‘The Pregnant Lady’: Peanut butter and pickles? You bet! A strange sounding but great-tasting combination, with a tagline, “You better watch out though – this sandwich has been known to induce labour!” and the ‘Jerry Seinfeld Comedy Special’: Sliced, toasted bagel topped with peanut butter, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. Yum!
Almost anything goes here. I’m certain that if I suggest buttering one side of a Baby-Bell with peanut butter they’d probably snatch it up and throw it on the menu? ‘The Babynutter Bell’ © How about opening Nutella & Co.? If it turns out anything like this place then it’ll be considered a success.