Pinewood Social, Haute Dish And Johnny Casserole

Chefs around the country reimagine the casserole

"My mom learned to cook from the back of cans," says Julia Sullivan of Nashville's new Pinewood Social.

"In the South, casseroles are the ultimate comfort food," Sullivan says. "I wanted to make an elevated version of something I grew up eating."

She and consulting chef Josh Habiger, late of Nashville's The Catbird Seat, figured the lowly tuna noodle casserole was ready for a comeback. And they're not the only ones looking to the Pyrex pans of potlucks past for inspiration.

Minneapolis' aptly named Haute Dish does a deconstructed version of tater tot hot dish, a Midwestern stalwart. It's a casserole in spirit, if not execution: Braised beef short ribs replace ground beef, fresh French-cut green beans stand in for frozen and, instead of tots, there are fried puffs of Gruyère-fortified potato purée.

At Johnny Casserole in Chicago, David Bryson is doing pre-Campbellian versions of the restaurant's namesake dish. One, a nouveau construction named the Big Grabowski, consists of layers of kielbasa, sauerkraut, egg noodles and scallions bound by a Swiss cheese béchamel and topped with rye bread crumbs.

Sullivan's upgraded tuna noodle variation swaps in smoked trout for the tuna and celery root purée in place of canned cream of mushroom soup (see the recipe). She doesn't bake hers, but we threw our version in the oven and liked the results.

Like Sullivan (and, we suspect, her mother before her) we topped the casserole with crumbled potato chips; because some things don't require improvement