Located in a former 1960s gas station and auto repair shop, Kitchen 56 appropriately serves a menu of comfort classics that matches the retro-turned-contemporary atmosphere. While the offerings are mostly American, featuring mac n' cheese, griddled corn cakes topped with pulled pork, and Black Angus burgers (including the yet-to-be-named $18 monstrosity), the menu benefits from several global infusions, such as coriander-crusted ahi tuna, pan borracho, and calamari over Asian slaw with Thai peanut and miso caramel sauce.
One thing is clear: While the building might be a throwback to the early '60s, the food isn't stuck in the past and certainly doesn't resemble the greasy diner food one might expect. The desserts fall in line with the main fare; most are pretty typical options, but the sweet list also has a few surprises, including Italian zeppoles. The banana split, an all-American specialty straight out of days gone by (specifically, the sundae was invented in 1904 in Pennsylvania), receives an update with fried bananas making the fruit the star of what's usually an ensemble cast.
The fried bananas really have to take center stage because there's very little vanilla bean ice cream on the plate, not even enough to judge if it's worth eating on its own -- and definitely not enough to be considered a true sundae. The only standout feature of the ice cream is its texture, which could have been a little creamier, but at least wasn't at all icy. The ice cream's light flavor blends with a big mound of whipped cream, about as big as the two small scoops of ice cream. The whipped topping brings a lot of flavor, not too sweet and not too heavy, trying everything together and, combined with the chocolate syrup, adding a traditional ice cream shop feel.
That might seem like a lot for whipped cream to accomplish, but it does. That's due in part to the absence of a cornerstone banana split ingredient: strawberries. Without the customary red fruit, with one lone maraschino cherry, and with so little ice cream, the whole dish needs a superb whipped cream in order to come together as a banana split. Sure, there are lots of bananas to enjoy -- two whole fried ones, in fact -- wrapped in a thin crispy pastry, not at all greasy, and tasty enough to make this dessert worth ordering. But altogether, Kitchen 56's take on the sundae might not be satisfying for all banana split fans, only for those who love bananas more than the other components. Luckily, my dining companion and I fit in that category, so we enjoyed every bite.
If you love bananas, this dessert is a pretty good deal at $6. (Try to fry bananas this well at home, and you might end up with mushy, greasy fruit instead.) Go during happy hour when beers are $1 off, wine is $2 off, select appetizers are $5, and specialty cocktails like Adult Lemonades are $5, and you'll get even more for your money. However, for anyone looking for the banana split of every small child's dreams -- big enough for two to eat for dinner and loaded up with all the fixings -- skip Kitchen 56 and head to an ice cream parlor like Valley landmark Mary Coyle.