Growing up, almost everyone has their favorite restaurant treats. Given enough popularity/cult status and enough skills in the kitchen, folks try to come up with their own knockoff versions at home to help relive those culinary memories.
Music is full of “knockoffs”, if you will, in the form of cover versions. Like knockoff recipes, the quality of a cover version varies – some are quite different (songwriter Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” was covered by the artist himself in two decidedly different takes (both of which hit Number One on the pop charts)) whole some play it close to the vest (Weezer’s recent take on Toto’s “Africa” was perhaps too much so.) Many others put their own spin on the original, for better (Otis Redding is said to have said his song “Respect” was no longer his after Aretha Franklin brilliantly added her own flourishes a couple years later) and worse (Madonna’s take on Don McLean’s “American Pie” was pretty much unnecessary at best.)
With that in mind, I thought I’d try out a culinary covers post – I’m linking up 12 various food items with some knockoff recipes, and topping them off with a related musical cover related to the item chosen.
1) Red Lobster – Cheddar Bay Biscuits: While the Cheddar Bay Biscuit was introduced long after Red Lobster was first founded (1968 in Lakewood, FL) the chain’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits are the one item everyone talks about, even inspiring the company to make their own grocery store insta-mix. For our purposes, we include a Food.com recipe for your own try-it-at-home pleasure, with Limp Bizkit providing the musical accompaniment, with their take on The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.”
2) Halal Guys – Chicken and Rice Bowl : starting in New York with a food cart in 1990, Halal Guys, founded by three Egyptians, has proven mightily successful, with 85 worldwide locations and a recently announced expansion to the Ohio market. The blog site Every Little Crumb gives us their take on Halal Guys’ Chicken and Rice Bowl, while fellow born-and-raised New Yorker Cyndi Lauper lends her pipes with her rendition of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.”
3) Ajumama – Dduk N Cheese: Perhaps there’s no better knockoff recipe than one from the source itself, and Columbus’s own Laura Lee from the Ajumama Food Truck allowed us to try our luck with one of her staple Korean-meets-Midwest side items during a segment on local show “Good Day Columbus.” With that in mind, we figured Megan Thee Stallion, who has had her share of hot girl summer successes the past few years, comes at us with her remix of “Butter” from mega chart-toppers BTS.
4) Taco Bell – Cheesy Gordita Crunch Say what you will about this being “fake Mexican” and similar, Taco Bell, founded by Glen Bell in Downey, CA in 1962, has acquired a fairly enthusiastic following, and dishes like the Cheesy Gordita Crunch have inspired chefs at more fancier joints, such as Columbus’s own and Top Chef Portland contestant Avishar Barua, who created a popular rendition during his stint at Service Bar. The folks at Brocc Your Body give us a healthier take on this fast food staple, while Indonesian-Dutch musician Taco Ockerse adds the hot sauce with his unexpectedly popular take on Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ On The Ritz.”
5) Baker’s Square – Caramel Pecan Silk Supreme Pie – Starting up in Des Moines, IA in 1969, Baker’s Square at its peak sported a large presence in California (nearly 90 stores for two decades); their pies were always family favorites, especially their Caramel Pecan Silk Supreme. The Mastercook website sports a knockoff rendition of that tasty baked good, whereas Corey Taylor, formerly of Des Moines’s own Slipknot, takes the solo route to pound out a version of “On The Dark Side” (with a little John Cougar references thrown in) from Rhode Island-based John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band.
6) Sophie’s Gourmet Pierogi – Beer Braised Pork Belly A little nod to those who aren’t around comes with this post. Sophie’s Gourmet Pierogi fed the folks around Central Ohio for eight years from 2012 to 2020, but a remnant of their delicious wares resides in this Columbus Monthly article about the Renee Casteel-Cook’s 2016 book “The Columbus Food Truck Cookbook” which reveals their recipe for what was awarded one of the top five dishes at that year’s Columbus Food Truck Festival. In a nod to what was, we decided to feature Columbus’s own Royal Crescent Mob, who blended hard rock and funk with a liberal sprinkling of humor for a more-than-credible body of work in the late 1980s & early 90s, including this cover of an LL Cool J classic, “Mama Said Knock You Out.”
7) Portillo’s – Chocolate Cake: Chicago institution Portillo’s, established in 1963, has pretty much all the Chicago Area staples, but it is their Chocolate Cake (and their related Chocolate Cake Milkshake) that has gotten Portillo’s in the national spotlight of late. The Taste of Home website offers up their take on their chocolate cake, while Sacramento, California based band Cake offers up a cover of Italian Piero Umiliani’s ditty “Mahna Mahna”, which broke to the public at large via television and “The Benny Hill Show” and “The Muppets.”
8) Auntie Anne’s – Pretzels: Back in my mall going days, one of the most important choices was whether to go with Auntie Anne’s or Wetzel’s if you needed a pretzel fix. As you might guess, I leaned more toward the former when I had a choice. Cook and YouTube maven Joshua Weissman provides us our way to try to bake up this twisted treat at home; meanwhile, the long-standing European-based three piece The Soultans gives us their cover of Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” the lead track from their 1974 album “Pretzel Logic.”
9) Fox In The Snow – Blueberry Hand Pies One thing the still ongoing pandemic brought us was local restaurant favorites giving us the inside scoop on their in-house favorites. Such was the case with Fox In The Snow, whose biscuit with jam is featured at the beginning of this post and who released several recipes including their Blueberry Hand Pies. Hailing from the Central Valley of California, Grandaddy has been plying at the indie rock scene since the late 1990s, with their cover of Belle & Sebastian’s “Fox In The Snow” paired up with their take on Beach Boys’ “In My Room” from late 2020.
10) Jollibee’s – Chickenjoy Fried Chicken: In a someone ironic twist, the Philippines-based fast-food chain Jollibee has just established their first location in the country which colonized them in the 1500s, opening an outlet in the heart of Madrid, Spain. Their fried chicken is loved by many ex-pats; in our case, the home take recipe is provided to us by the secretcopycatrecipes.com website. In a perfect parallel of sorts, world-known Philippines Singh artist Lea Salonga, best known for her performances on Broadway and various Disney movies, gives something not typically in her wheelhouse (Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”) a shot with and does a rather great job, if I do say so myself.
11) Beard Papa – Cream Puff: When I lived in the Bay Area, the arrival of Japan’s Beard Papa and their renowned cream puffs in San Francisco was a highly anticipated event. Interestingly, that location has closed but the Japanese bakery has other shops now scattered throughout California and 10 other states. The Nigerian food blogger Kitchen Butterfly gives us their take on this Japanese specialty, while the Japanese influential electro-pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra pays the cover fee with their unique take on The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.”
12) Katalina’s – Mexican French Toast w/Bacon: Look hard enough, and you’ll find a few Columbus food mavens that have received a chance to make an impression on the national scene. One of those folks is Katalina Day, whose two Katalina’s locations have drawn in locals and whose Mexican French Toast with Bacon recipe was featured on a segment of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” While it’s perhaps the biggest reach in terms of musical accompaniment, I can’t help but think that the song chosen by Friends of Natalie’s, put together during the heart of COVID lockdowns by 24 prominent Columbus-area artists as an effort to help out local pizza restaurant/performance venue Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza, was a perfect expression of what many people did to help keep their favorite local artists, restaurants, musicians and similar make it through the roughest parts. The cover itself is technically another Beatles cover (from the 1967 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band”), but it owes a lot more to Joe Cocker’s cover of the song recorded a year after.
Playlist Link: Critical Rice Rhythms – Culinary Covers