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Nostalgic desserts

At Custom House, the flavors of childhood are even better than you remember them.

CHILD'S PLAY Elissa Narow's Purple Cow channels grape bubble gum and Nutter Butter cookies.

Like the paradoxical bartender who doesn’t drink, Custom House(500 S Dearborn St, 312-523-0200) pastry chef Elissa Narow doesn’t eat a lot of desserts. After a long day of tasting (and retasting) her sugary concoctions, she’d rather tear into a bag of potato chips than a pint of ice cream. So it makes sense that when it came time to develop Custom House’s dessert menu, she reached for memories of her childhood—a time when sugar was a treat, not a job.

Her nostalgic desserts range from s’mores (rather, a s’mores parfait, which layers bittersweet mousse with thin sprinkles of graham-cracker crumbs and dollops of marshmallow) to baked Alaska; each one is an amalgam of childhood treats. Take her Purple Cow, for instance: The dessert—a float of Concord-grape sorbet, vanilla ice cream and soda, flanked by a crispy peanut-butter cookie—is inspired by grape chewing gum (“every time I eat [a Concord grape] it reminds me of Bubble Yum,” Narow says), peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and Nutter Butter cookies. Only here, there are no artificial flavors, which underscores the key difference between a childish dessert and a nostalgic one: The former has you eating like a kid; the latter, like an adult.

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