Bread And Butter: Recreating Restaurant Food

Apr 29, 2021

I wonder if everyone who loves food and at least tolerates cooking has tried replicating their favorite restaurant meals at home. One day, not so recently, my husband was musing about how difficult it would be to recreate your favorites at home. It is definitely something we haven’t done a lot, preferring the ease and convenience of simply ordering our favorite take out, but I can see the lure of trying.

In a quick internet browse, I see that Chinese and Italian topmost of the “try this copycat recipe at home” articles. I also see that soups, avocado rolls, and steak are frequent fliers. What I also notice is that dessert almost never makes a showing, which I find interesting. Are we more tolerant of homemade desserts that aren’t like the restaurants or do we simply assume they would be tougher or is dessert something that many people tackle anyway, why try a recreation? I haven’t worked it all out and can’t come up with a logical answer that satisfies my curiosity, however. But aside from very specific desserts, nearly all the copycats I found were of main dishes or appetizers.

Another observation: Mexican food also didn’t show up on these lists. While there were a couple of desserts, there were no Mexican copycats. There are a few things I’d love to recreate at home from my favorite Mexican restaurants near and far, but I’m wondering if the cuisine is simply so ubiquitous in every home, no duplication is really needed? That theory lends itself to my ‘Mexican food is superior in every way to every thing’ world view I embrace, so I readily stopped further analysis.

One restaurant recipe I found in my search was curious. Potato skins. First, I wouldn’t think that potato skins would need a recipe and if you did need a recipe, how in-depth could it possibly be? Or do different restaurants really serve wildly different potato skins that a specific copycat is needed? I came away definitely perplexed.

Our brief wondering led me to try to come up with any favorite foods we have tried to replicate ourselves. I came up with three, though it is possible there are more I’m forgetting. Those we’ve tried to replicate at home are BBQ pork mac and cheese, cheesesteak sandwiches, and tres leches cake (a Mexican dessert! What rebels). One has ruined all restaurant versions for us forever, one is clearly a home version of a popular item: good, solid, nothing to change the world, and the other is a nice holdover because eating the restaurant version as often as I’d like would come with a side of cardiology I’m not willing to eagerly submit.

Asking a smattering of friends what their success with recreation has been was met with mixed results. While most rated the taste high, other factors weighed in to ultimately tank the experiment. In fact, every friend rated the taste as good or nearly as good as the restaurant version. 

This was consistent with my quick internet search. It seems you really can equal the taste of beloved foods. I found that true the one time I tried to copy my favorite breadsticks from college. I only made them once, however, preferring to move along instead of consistently dipping nostalgic every time I craved bread. I found the memories and what those breadsticks stood for were much better than making them for my family, now. However, I did keep the recipe. Just in case. 

Another note was the time spent on the recreations. Some taking an inordinate amount of time and though the results were good, the time to make offset the results enough that it made for a quick decision to keep it a restaurant favorite. So not only do you need to decide if it lives up to the real thing, if it tastes as good as the restaurant version, but decide if it’s also cheaper or if the time and extra ingredients are worth it to you. If you are a hard-core foodie who relaxes with a knife in hand and recipe staring you down, the answer is probably yes. If you would rather go running or binge your favorite show and just have a craving for that perfect thing? Ordering take-out might be the better option.

For our three? The tres leches cake we made has put us off all restaurant versions forever. It’s now a family favorite and the cake my son asks for every year on his birthday. The cheesesteaks are good, but definitely nothing to write home about. They make an appearance on our menu often, but I’m certain any east coast person would scoff at our offering noting several things done wrong. I’m ok with that. And the nice holdover? BBQ pork macaroni and cheese. It’s nowhere near the original, but when I’m craving it, our at-home version will do in a pinch.

Now. There’s a butterscotch pudding with pound cake from a certain hotel in Park City in which I need to find a duplicate.