Vail, CO Colorado
Eggs Benedicts have delighted diners for more than a century, and it’s not surprising that such a memorable breakfast item would also have a colorful past. This dish delivers a history that’s as quirky and convoluted as it is colorful, with several people scrambling to be heralded as the real Benedict behind the name.
The history of eggs Benedicts is, above all, an innovative history, which several Vail Valley chefs have embraced by creating original eggs Benedicts, slight variations and a slew of creative concoctions.
Perhaps the most entertaining eggs Benedict origination story involves a man named Lemuel Benedict and his search for the ultimate hangover cure. As this version of the history goes, Mr. Lemuel Benedict walked one morning in 1894 into the old Waldorf Hotel on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Although the retired Wall Street stockbroker evidently had a splitting headache, he knew he needed something substantial to eat, so he demanded the following: two poached eggs, bacon, buttered toast and a hooker – or a small pitcher – of hollandaise sauce.
Once his order arrived, this Mr. Benedict assembled the items on his plate, and the result attracted the attention of the maitre d’hotel, who promptly tested it and then added it to the hotel’s menu, substituting ham for bacon and an English muffin for the buttered toast.
Other eggs Benedict histories all understandably involve someone named Benedict, but they vary in their locations – the Waldorf or Delmonico’s or as far away as France – and the reasons sprouting the birth of this new dish differ. One Benedict felt bored as a restaurant regular and called for something new. Another Benedict passed the recipe through the family, and the Benedict with French beginnings involves not ham or bacon but brandade, a salt cod puree.
Since the first Benedict’s assembly, the basic ingredients have undergone a few slight tweaks and then settled at two toasted halves of an English muffin, ham and poached eggs, with hollandaise sauce oozing over the top. Most Vail-area chefs who make eggs Benedicts claim that it’s not a difficult dish to create, even on a busy Sunday morning, but if you’ve tried it at home, you probably already know at least one of the major pitfalls: hollandaise sauce that turns out the consistency of cottage cheese.
Hollandaise sauce is an egg-based sauce flavored with butter, lemon and vinegar, and when it’s not kept at the just-right temperature, it separates into a clumpy, oily mess.
“There’s a fast fix to the hollandaise-separation problem,” Blu’s chef Mike Meador said. “Just transfer it to a cold mixing bowl as soon as it starts to separate, and whisk in very hot water until it regains a smooth consistency.”
Cafe Milano in Edwards, which offers at least six regular Benedict options plus a daily special, keeps its hollandaise in prefect condition by making it in a steady stream that’s replenished throughout the day.
The poached eggs, blanketed beneath the hollandaise sauce, could also pose some difficulty for novices. A nicely poached egg will have a creamy, unbroken yolk surrounded by an evenly distributed oval of egg white. It usually takes between 3 and 5 minutes of submerging a cracked egg in boiling water to reach this result – and some good practice.
“The secret to our perfectly poached eggs? It’s Emilio, without a doubt,” said Westside Cafe Executive Chef Mike Irwin, with a big smile spreading across his face. “Emilio poaches eggs here six days a week and knows exactly how to get it right.”
Besides having a superstar kitchen assistant, or kitchen gadgets such as poaching cups to help you out at home, practice makes prefect.
Like all good rules, the rules of Benedict assembly were meant to be broken. Slight alterations such as substituting spinach for ham (the Florentine Benedict) or replacing the ham with bacon are the most common deviations. But several breakfast locations in the Vail area have taken great creative license and crafted some extraordinary originals.
Blu’s restaurant in Vail, for example, serves the Dr. Seuss version of an eggs Benedict: “Green Eggs and Ham,” which consists of the traditional poached eggs over ham and an English muffin – but with a spinach, caper and asiago cream sauce drizzled on top.
Ludwig’s, at Vail’s Sonnenalp Resort, offers a Bavarian Benedict, which stacks poached eggs over toasted rye bread and black forest ham, topped with Choron sauce, a hollandaise-based sauce with added tomato puree.
Cafe Milano in Edwards and Westside Cafe in Vail both have multiple eggs Benedict variations on their menus, along with daily specials. Cafe Milano’s Benedicts range from the California Benedict, a vegetarian option with tomato, avocado and asparagus, to its Benedict Royale, with salmon, capers and red onion.
Westside Cafe serves at least two Benedict variations on biscuits, including one that places poached eggs and fried chicken on a biscuit with a chipotle hollandaise sauce. And its Red Neck Benedict does the same but with a pile of pulled pork instead.
Whether or not certain aspects of the eggs Benedict history remain disputed, it’s undisputed that these Vail eateries have embraced – and will continue to embrace – an innovative tradition.