Despite my tendency to gravitate towards bizarre food combinations, I’m still down with the staples.
I still dig ham sandwiches on white bread, unnaturally orange Mac ‘n’ Cheese and vanilla ice cream. In the same vein, I occasionally crave that classic standby junk food: french fries.
And by “occasionally,” I mean on very specific occasions. Most notably, after consuming a few beverages. After leaving from an especially productive happy hour at Sugar Mom’s in Old City, my craving for fries was particularly strong and I was lead to European Republic by some wise friends.
The shop itself isn’t much to look at and only takes up a small space on Chestnut Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. They offer wraps and salads, but the main attraction is the fries.
Thick cut, European style potato slivers fried to perfection are just the basis of the deliciousness, but the wide range of different flavors of dipping sauces is what really ups the ante.
Sauce offerings include Caesar, lemon dill, Jamaican curry sauce, basil, BBQ cheddar, Parmesan, avocado, European sauce, and European ketchup. The sauce element of the European Republic experience totally changes everything and brings unexpected bursts of flavor to an old classic.
When I took to my own kitchen to recreate my European Republic experience, I decided to forgo the actual making of fries. My laziness really emerges when it comes to cutting potatoes. Their girth and general solidness often leads to a lot more sweating and cursing than necessary as I attempt to hack through the starch-y lumps with my flimsy college knives.
Additionally, my tactic for frying things (drop something into the scalding hot oil as quickly as possibly and run to the other side of the room while squealing and avoiding flying oil droplets) leaves much to be desired.
In the end, my friend Wendy provided me with the fries. I recommend you leave the fry making to your friends as well, whether it be your buddy McDonald, your pal, the Burger King, or your chum, Checkers. Don’t risk the bodily harm that may result from attempting fry-making at home.
So step one in the recreation process: Go buy fries at your local grease factory. Step two: Get home and realize you’ve eaten all the fries on your walk home. Step three: Vow to only look into real estate next to fast food in the future so as to avoid this problem. Step four: Buy more fries and silently threaten to deprive yourself of all RuPaul’s Drag Race if you eat a single fry before getting home.
The fries are important, but the sauce is really where this project gets interesting. I decided my challenge for this particular restaurant was not to recreate the fries, but to recreate the sauces. And in order to really recreate my experience at European Republic, I wanted to create a ridiculous amount of sauce options.
I pulled out every sauce, condiment and salad dressing in our refrigerator. Jars of spices and vinegars were added to the mix just to increase the variety. With all of my potential ingredients lined up in front of me, I went to town.
My sauce making approach was modest at first – a simple, two-ingredient mixture. Ranch dressing and barbeque (what I dubbed “Texas Cowboy” sauce), or blue cheese and Italian dressing (the “Colbalt Soprano”) were simple, delicious options. But as time went on, I became less disciplined and reverted to an insane 12 year old attempting to shock and sabotage my own taste buds.
Italian dressing, salsa and curry (the “study abroad” sauce) was a happy experiment and the combination of tarragon, honey mustard, and maple syrup (the “sassy Canadian”) proved to be surprisingly delicious. Some misguided attempts involving peanut butter and soy sauce or horseradish and shrimp sauce were better left alone.
In the end, I created 28 sauces. And I could have easily kept going if not for the shortage of fries. Mixing condiments became a fun and easy way to explore new taste sensations and move beyond my regular condiment consumption.
In the end, European Republic is still totally worth visiting. The staff is extremely friendly, the sauces are plentiful and you get a lot of spud for your cash. But I highly recommend taking a second look at your condiments. Throw some curry powder in your ketchup or mix up Sriracha and garlic with your mayo–your condiments may surprise you with their compatibility.
Caitlin S. Weigel can be reached at email@example.com.