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Eggs Benedict: A Mystery in Culinary History

on March 31, 2017

Few dishes are as synonymous with American brunch as Eggs Benedict. Traditionally built in layers, the classic dish starts with a base of two English muffin halves, topped with a slice of ham or Canadian bacon, then a poached egg, all smothered or drizzled with rich, heavenly hollandaise. Any brunch aficionado knows that the dish can also come in several other variations, like the California benedict which frequently features avocado and/or tomato, or other variations which can include spinach, salmon (often knows as eggs royale), or even short ribs.

As strongly associated with brunch and breakfast in America as eggs benedict is, the history behind this happy dish is something of a mystery. Many locations, institutions, and individuals from history claim the hollandaise-smeared creation as their own invention, but as is often the case with widely-loved foods, determining its actual creator is more than a little difficult. Who wouldn’t want to be accredited with designing and discovering the favorite modern breakfast for so many food lovers sitting down to service on Saturdays and Sundays?

In 1967, a column in The New York Times Magazine by Craig Claiborne asserts that Commodore E.C. Benedict had invented the dish. Claiborne was told as much by Edward P. Montgomery, an American in France, who had received a letter from his mother, whose brother had been a friend of the Commodore’s.

Maybe it’s a bit of a reach, but the article made its mark and has inspired belief to this very day. A more believable origin could be traced to a nearly identical French dish featured in Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management in its first edition, published in 1861.

Elizabeth David wrote about “oeufs bénédictine” in her book, French Provincial Cooking. A traditional French dish, David described it as very similar to our familiar eggs benedict, but replacing the ham with pureed salt cod and potatoes. This is certainly a believable enough origin, matching even the historical syntax of the dish’s name, but many have chosen to believe the following, nonetheless.

A popular account suggests that Lemuel Benedict ordered “some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce” at the Waldorf Hotel. This supposedly happened in 1894, making it unlikely that this can be called the true origin point. The story goes that Benedict ordered the dish as a cure for a hangover he was suffering from.
One of the first documented records of the dish being featured on a menu comes from way back in the 1860’s at Delmonico’s, which is credited as being the first restaurant in New

York City and one of the first public dining rooms in the new North American nation. As the story goes, a regular patron named Mrs. LeGrand Benedict visited the restaurant and told Chef Charles Ranhofer that nothing on the menu was to her liking and that she wanted something new.

In 1894, Ranhofer published a cookbook called The Epicurean which features a dish of halved English muffins toasted and topped with the familiar ingredients of the modern mainstay of brunches around the continent.

While this story has some of the most significant supporting details, it’s not definitive that this is how the meal was invented. It’s quite likely that eggs benedict can be traced back to Europe and, specifically, traditional French cuisine. While we seek the finality of attributing a creation to a sole entity or individual, in real life it’s more often the case that we cannot concretely say food comes from a single region or era.

The way we eat is a constant work in progress, and in turn, the way we in the culinary profession prepare and serve your food is a work in progress, as well. Despite all of that, we know that we can learn, practice, and perfect our recipes and experience by studying history and listening to our customers. And, even when we have reached perfection, we continue to strive for even better by using what we’ve learned from the past and expanding upon it.

To find out how we take this classic dish and make it our own while still delivering on the goods that you expect, just stop by our location for brunch on the weekends. Be sure to make a reservation if you’re bringing a group, otherwise we’ll see you when you get hungry, or you’re ready for an afternoon cocktail! We’ve got the rest of the spectrum, as well… such as lighter fare and some of our usual premium tableside steak cuts for lunch. Items from around the world are available in our premium menu, but come see for yourself!