If you’ve never eaten a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, this is the time to try one. It’s the food item most closely identified with Elvis, whose memory is being honored over the next few days during Elvis Week.
I’ve eaten the sandwiches at various places, including the now-defunct Sun Studio Café, but I haven’t had one in years. So I ordered one a few days ago at the Arcade, where it’s available — and popular — year-round.
Since I like sweet and savory, the sandwich, referred to as “Fried Peanut Butter ‘N’ Banana” on the menu, hit the spot. The sandwich, which sells for $7.95, comes with one side. I ordered potato salad.
They added the sandwich to the menu 2 years ago, but it’s been available at the Arcade for years — “mid-’90s at the very best,” said Harry Zepatos, who, along with his wife, Karan, are third-generation owners of the circa 1919 restaurant.
Asked how they make the sandwich, Zepatos said they butter the outside of one piece of Texas toast, put peanut butter and banana on the inside of both pieces of the bread and then put the sandwich on a flat grill and fry it for three or four minutes on each side, depending on how hot the grill is. “We don’t drop it in the deep fry.”
They use crunchy peanut butter because Zepatos thinks it gives the sandwich “more zip.” They also use a whole banana for each sandwich.
Steak fries are the most popular side item, he said.
Fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches are very popular at parties catered by the Arcade, Zepatos said. For parties, they’ll cut the sandwiches into four pieces while they’re still hot on the grill. That fuses the miniature sandwiches together, so they don’t fall apart in your hand. It’s better to eat the sandwich right off the grill, Zepatos said. “It gets weird after it sits there. It gets soft on the bottom. The top gets cold.”
I wondered if Elvis and the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich story is apocryphal, so I gave George Klein a call. If Elvis’ best friend doesn’t know, who does?
“When he (Elvis) was growing up, his mother made it as a delicacy because he was poor,” Klein said. “They couldn’t afford expensive pies and desserts. ... As he got older and became pretty famous, he reflected on his childhood and remembered that. He got them to make it once in a while. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father, had to teach one of the maids how to make the sandwich after Elvis’ mother died, Klein said. “As I recall, she couldn’t get it down pat, and he had to send it back three times to get it right. Then his daddy stepped in and told her how to do it.”
And, yes, Elvis did refer to the sandwich as peanut butter and “nanner,” Klein said. “Nanner” is “like slang some of his cousins used” for “banana,” he said. They’d be “goofing around” and Elvis would tell whoever was cooking: “Make me one of those peanut butter and ‘nanner’ sandwiches.”
Arcade is at 540 S. Main; 526-5757