It’s my all-time favorite breakfast indulgence – Eggs Benedict. Light lemon Hollandaise sauce atop two perfectly poached eggs safeguarding two lightly browned English muffin halves and a shaved pile of honey-tinged ham. Forget the slice of Canadian bacon. I don’t want a slab, I want a stash! Layer upon layer of delicate ham finery. Once you’ve tried it, there’s no going back.
I have found three Denver eateries that serve it any way you want it, but only one place gets every morsel and heart-stealing detail right.
Judging from the boundless line of people waiting outside Snooze at East Seventh Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, you’d swear every item on the menu must rate a 10. My husband and I had wanted to visit this fun corner cafe for months, but we saw the same thing every time: plastic chairs filled with patrons outside the front door, around the corner, in the entryway. We’re not talking mild wait times; we’re talking “doctor office” kind of delays. (We didn’t know it until we finally arrived pre-9 a.m. on a Sunday that the lines also extend into an internal hallway between the restaurant and the neighboring store. This place is popular.)
Journeying into the cafe early Sunday morning we are greeted by a hostess who asks if this is our first time. She assures us the wait – even the months of attempting to wait – will be well worth it. I love everything about the design and mood of the place. The white cushy booths shaped in semi-circles, the color scheme and patterns remind me of something out of “The Jetsons,” just as the restaurant’s website suggests: fresh, fun and futuristic-meets-retro.
Our wait isn’t nearly as painful as feared this morning. We are sitting at a table for two along the east wall within 15 minutes. The menu highlights four types of Benedict under the subtitle, “The Art of Hollandaise…” I’m intrigued – a work of art is what I’m seeking. I choose ham Benedict III, which is the closest to the traditional eggs Benedict.
While I sip my coffee and wait for food to arrive, I assess the surroundings. Everywhere you look are smiling faces. It’s as if the wait staff knows something the rest of us don’t. These are super-duper cheerful employees. I take it as a sign that the kitchen is meeting customer expectations.
Food arrives at a moderate speed. The portion is equally modest. To be honest, my first thought is, “Will this fill me up?” My second thought: “They skimped on the Hollandaise sauce.” The third thought pops to mind as I see my same dish arrive at the next table, and the husband wastes no time saying, “That’s not enough Hollandaise sauce for my wife. She’ll need more on the side.” I say to myself, “Me, too! I want more!” It’s just a thought. I don’t utter the words. I’ll wait and see if the chef orchestrated this dish perfectly and measured every droplet to the exact portion needed to sop up every toasted crumb.
Everything seems measured on this plate. The hash browns come in a round formation, as if created in a miniature cake tin. The muffins and eggs are precisely the same size. As for the ham? Well, I wouldn’t call it a “pile” of meat. It appears to be two slices tucked together to create a tiny mound. The Hollandaise sauce isn’t drizzled, but more like dappled over the eggs. I visualize the cook weighing every ounce of my entrée on a tiny scale before it leaves the kitchen. It all looks pretty – but skimpy.
I cut into the first bite. The bread is a little hard and chewy, but the eggs are soft pockets of perfection. I love the ham, but the scant amount makes me dream of more. The sauce hints of cheddar, and goes down easily. I finish every bite, and there’s not an extra drop of sauce on my plate — I finished it with three bites to go. Sure there was a little egg residue, but even that didn’t suffice for every mouthful.
I’m full, but not content. Overall, Snooze offers a decent presentation, but I think it would behoove the kitchen to free up a couple more spoonfuls of that delicious Hollandaise sauce. Same goes for the ham. Let your knife run wild and shave, shave, shave!
Devil’s Food Bakery
Devil’s Food Bakery puts its message in your face. The “devil” stands for all those things we crave and think we shouldn’t eat. Everything here is made from scratch, with real butter, sugar, cream and other whole ingredients. (You won’t find a packet of Sweet n’ Low on the table – and it won’t be in the kitchen if you ask.) This breakfast hangout east of Wash Park has less-intense lines out its front doors, but every bit the anticipation of Snooze, plus a more remarkable eggs Benedict.
Devil’s Food serves it up with your choice of potatoes or salad. I pick the greens to counter the caloric intake, and find myself wonderfully surprised. Imagine a delicious bowl of miniature greens with plump and picturesque fruit as if grown in Eden. This day I get blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. The vinaigrette dressing is slight but tantalizing. Better than potatoes any day. (And the potatoes here are great, too, but you can’t beat the salad.)
This time the Benedict arrives with shaved ham peeking out from under each side of the beautiful egg pouch — enough to make every bite count. The bread is spectacular. Toasted challah made fresh in the kitchen cuts easily with a fork and knife. A generous amount of Hollandaise sauce completes the picture. Yum. It’s a grand way to start the day.
The only drawback to this hidey-hole is the lack of elbowroom. Tiny wooden tables are fine for two ladies sipping tea and enjoying biscuits and gravy, but put a regular-size man in one of the chairs (i.e. my husband) and he’s squirming to leave as soon as he can talk you into it. This also makes it a little harder to convince him to come back if there’s a place you like even more.
And there is!
Lucile’s, at East Alameda Avenue and South Logan Street, knows how to pile on the southern charm – and the shaved ham. But before you can poke a fork into that poached egg, you must wait. Yes, another case of waiting. Hordes of people accumulate like bees to honeycomb in front of the café. More people wait inside. This time, I find a lone vacant chair at the bar and claim it. I’ve just dodged a 20-30 minute wait for a table.
The bartender asks if I’d like something to drink. I know exactly how to start off my experience — with a rich, dark cup of chicory coffee. The aroma alone makes me feel like I’m back in the French Quarter in New Orleans. I don’t bother to look at the menu. I order the Benedict, and once again sip brew and savor the scene.
Lucile’s is bustling. The wait staff is happy but hurried. What surprises me is the camaraderie that develops among patrons. Something in the air here gets strangers talking — and I soon find out what it is. The guy next to me blurts, “I think this is the best breakfast I’ve ever had in my life.” The two guys waiting behind him chime in, asking what he ordered. It was the pain perdu. He points to various spots on his clean and empty plate and describes what was once there: “three pieces of French toast, one egg, Cajun sausage and some fruit – so I don’t have to feel guilty.” His grin says it all. He’ll be back – and he’ll be ordering the same thing.
My eggs Benedict arrives, and the guys hovering nearby ask me at the same time what I ordered. The heaps of ham get noticed first, followed by the hearty portion of fried potatoes. The warm yellow sauce coats the poached eggs, dribbling over the sides and into the piles and piles of ham. I tell them it’s the eggs Benedict, and one of the guys says, “THAT’s what I’m ordering!” Not surprising – the plate looks spectacular enough for a food magazine cover. I can’t wait to plunge in. The first bite leads to exclamation.
“Heaven!” That’s all I can say. Well, maybe more than once. “Heaven, heaven, heaven!” Hands down this is the best eggs Benedict in Denver. The sweet and lush layers of ham cut easily. No fat, just thin pure meat. Eggs are mildly hard, just as I prefer them. The smooth and silky sauce washes down every bite. Tender potatoes dipped in homemade ketchup gives me a chance to catch my breath before I attempt another delicious round of the main course. A gulp of chicory coffee and I repeat the routine. Like I said, heaven. I’ll be back – and I’ll be ordering the same thing.
I’ll give Snooze top honors for ambiance. The windows with the cartoon snowflakes and mod-living furniture entice all to enter. Devil’s Food will tempt me back with their decadent ingredients and stunning produce. But Lucile’s owns my heart.
If You Go
700 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, Colorado 80206
Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Devil’s Food Bakery
1020 S. Gaylord St.
Denver, Colorado 80209
7 a.m.-3 p.m. daily; reopens at 5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday for dinner.
275 S. Logan St.
Denver, Colorado 80209
Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.