Maybe it’s basic. Maybe it’s not to the tastes of foodies about town. But eggs benedict is delicious, writes Hayden Donnell, as he pushes back on the benedict pushback.
I remember my first eggs benedict. It was at Clarry’s in Devonport; an establishment more similar to a retirement village dining room than a traditional cafe. Why was I in Devonport? Why was I at Clarry’s? I don’t know the answer to either question. All I know is I lined up behind a crowd of ancient prune people, and took a stab in the dark at ordering from the still mostly foreign menu. I got something called “eggs benedict”, and it felt like my life had changed.
In the last decade or two, New Zealand has gone through a breakfast enlightenment. Cafes in our major cities are now foul with sophistication. Orphans Kitchen sells silverbeet, cultured macadamia and chilli on sourdough. L’Oeuf serves its breakfasts in a bird’s nest that its chefs craft from filo pastry. These exotic offerings are great. A fine addition to the city! But unfortunately for us all, they’ve been accompanied by a poisonous side dish. Foodies, not content to enjoy their saffron-marinated fish eggs on spelt, are turning their backs on the old ways. Like the Germanic hordes invading Rome, they believe that to usher in this new culinary kingdom, they must burn down the one that came before.
Eggs benedict, once the queen of breakfasts, has become a subject of scorn. Not serving the dish is seen as a badge of honour in the modern food world. “Even though they do serve eggs benedict, they redeem themselves by offering it four different ways,” said Simon Wilson in his review of the St Heliers Bay Cafe for Metro. “The former Landreth & Co has a slightly Scandinavian-inspired menu that offers a few more surprises than your usual eggs bene,” said Catherine McGregor or one of her co-writers in an accounting of Auckland’s best cafes. “It’s as close as he gets to fucking eggs benedict… And yet, it is so wonderfully far away,” said Simon Farrell-Green in a review of a dish at Orphans Kitchen.
With all due respect, all the people who sneer at eggs benedict can go fuck themselves. They’ve forgotten what made eggs benedict so popular and ubiquitous in the first place: it is a delicious treat worthy of decent menus, and no one should be ashamed of ordering it every time they go to a cafe.
If delivered correctly, eggs benedict will contain eggs. They will be poached. The yolk will drizzle out in a trickle. Not a torrent! A trickle. There will be bacon. Or perhaps spinach or cured salmon. No matter. The real star is the hollandaise sauce. Hollandaise! King of sauces. Like Kiwi Onion Dip or The Beatles, hollandaise is a concoction far greater than the sum of its parts. No one truly knows how it is made, but it is understood eggs, butter and lemon juice are taken away into a secret lab by God’s angels and moulded into a sweet nectar of pure taste.
In some ways it’s understandable that food reviewers don’t get enthusiastic about the wonders of benedict. They’ve had it too much; ventured too far from normality, distorting their palates beyond recognition on a steady diet of chargrilled quail from Cazador and venison tartare from The French Cafe. Simon Wilson’s taste buds resemble mine in the same way that LeBron James’ dunking ability resembles mine. Catherine McGregor and Simon Farrell-Green may have taken their mouths on a world-spanning tour, but many of ours are still back in the caves slurping gruel.
From their vaunted positions, they look back at the eggs benedicts of their younger days and sneer. “Basic,” they say, in the words of The Spinoff’s food section editor Alice Neville.
It’s time to rein in these urbanite sophisticates; to reclaim eggs benedict from the clutches of progress. Leave us alone with our average pleasures, Simon Wilson. Bugger off from our unoriginal delights, Simon Farrell-Green. Eggs benedict is the breakfast treat of the everyman; the food equivalent of a Speights on a summer day. It may not be complicated, or boundary breaking, but it is something better and more important than either of those things: delicious.
Cafes shouldn’t be afraid to put eggs benedict on their menus for fear of being labeled culinary cavepeople. They don’t need praise heaped on them for denying a dollop of hollandaise to the tired, confused, and hungover masses teeming through their doors on a hard Sunday morning. It’s time to stop benedict shaming.
And don’t even get me started on McDonald’s hash browns.
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.