The Washington Post

Just Like Mom Used to Buy

How do restaurants' takes on brand-name staples stack up?

Brand-name Oreos, left, inspired Bayou Bakery’s house-made Dat-O cookies, right.

No matter how sophisticated our palates, some mass-produced flavors are hard-wired into our taste buds. So it’s simultaneously daring and safe for chefs to attempt their own variations of beloved grocery-store staples. “Don’t we all always look for a better version, to step it up?” asks Casey Patten, a co-owner of Taylor Gourmet delis and the Taylor Charles Steak & Ice. “We always want to make something ours, and we want to make it better.”

Amid the current craze for reimagined comfort foods, we wondered: Are restaurants’ takes on the classics really improvements? Find out how four remakes stack up.

Boundary Stone’s house-made ketchup, right, is thinner but more complex than Heinz Tomato Ketchup, left.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup

The Remake:
Ketchup (Boundary Stone, 116 Rhode Island Ave. NW; 202-621-6635)

The Restaurant Take:
It’s been challenging for Boundary Stone chef Vince Campaniello to produce a house-made ketchup to pair with the everything-from-scratch restaurant’s fries. Early versions didn’t taste enough like the sweet, thick Heinz everyone expected (customers requested the bottled stuff, Campaniello admits). But his latest creation, made with brown sugar, tomato paste, caramelized onion and cloves, has “won over some converts,” he says.

The Verdict:
Boundary Stone’s ketchup, with stronger vegetal notes, a lighter color and a thinner consistency than Heinz’s, isn’t the taste you’ve grown up with. Once you get over that, you’ll realize it’s an improvement over Heinz’s one-two punch of acidic flavor and cloying corn syrup.

Farmers Fishers Bakers’ lemon-lime soda, right, has more delicate carbonation than Sprite.


The Remake:
Lemon-lime soda (Farmers Fishers Bakers, $5; 3000 K St. NW; 202-298-8783)

The Restaurant Take:
Farmers Fishers Bakers’ lemon-lime soda — club soda, lemon and lime juices, and sugar —  was never meant to be a faithful replica of the Coca-Cola-brand beverage. And mixologist Chad Spangler believes his version is better. Brand-name sodas are highly carbonated for better shelf stability; homemade soda has less gas and smaller bubbles. It’s like the difference between a fine champagne and a cheap prosecco, Spangler says.

The Verdict:
A sip of Sprite delivers a mouthful of sugar, while Farmers Fishers Bakers’ version tastes lighter and more citrusy,  like an effervescent lemonade.


The Remake:
Dat-Os (above, Bayou Bakery, $3.50 each; 1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington; 703-243-2410)

The Restaurant Take:
Bayou Bakery executive chef and owner David Guas dares customers to find a difference in the flavor of his “Dat-O” and the famous wafer cookie sandwich. Guas’ version — much larger than its inspiration, and with a Double Stuf-level cookie-filling ratio — contains cocoa powder and real vanilla beans. “It looks and feels homemade,” Guas says, “but flavorwise, I’d be very surprised if anyone could tell the difference.”

The Verdict:
The Dat-O wafers have a nubbier texture than Oreos’, which could be a plus or a minus, depending on how wedded one is to the smoother originals. However, the vanilla filling is far tastier, with a decadent, icing-like texture.

Taylor Charles Steak & Ice’s house-made white whiz, right, tastes and looks more natural than store-bought Cheez Whiz, left.

Cheez Whiz

The Remake:
House-made white whiz (Taylor Charles Steak & Ice, 1320 H St. NE; 202-388-6880)

The Restaurant Take:
To create its signature Philly cheesesteak, the team behind Taylor Charles Steak & Ice sought out authentic hard rolls and seasoned rib-eye beef. It took time to develop the necessary “whiz wit” topping. Co-owner Casey Patten says the sandwich shop’s whiz ended up more cardiologist-friendly than its inspiration. “I wanted to pull some of the salty component out of it,” he says. (Unfortunately, he won’t reveal his recipe).

The Verdict:
While Cheez Whiz packs an aggressive sodium wallop (440 mg per two-tablespoon serving, about a fifth of the recommended daily intake) and has a metallic flavor, Taylor Charles’ paler version tastes of real cheese — and actually solidifies when it cools.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing