The Meaty Difference Between Eggs Florentine And Eggs Benedict

Your Bloody Mary just arrived at the table. Your dining companion is sipping their mimosa — eagerly. Because you woke up late, you're starving, and now, at long last, your server is asking to take your brunch order; rapturous bliss. Only, in this crucial moment, the inner machinations of your ravenous brain are falling to hunger-soaked aphasia. Your eyes frantically scan the menu: "Eggs Florentine?" you sweat, "or eggs Benedict?" The server stands tableside, holding their pen.

They're killer options: Both are eggy brunch dishes that flirt with cloud-like textures and savory flavors. Both rely on experienced technique to nail that soft yet crispy English muffin and a firm yet runny poached egg. If you're cooking at home, both dishes provide a great opportunity to flex your poaching skills to a table full of impressed brunch guests (if your craft needs a little honing, our fool-proof poached eggs recipe can lend a helping hand). But the key difference between these brunch classics is that eggs Florentine doesn't include meat, while in eggs Benedict, meat is arguably the star of the show.

What is eggs Florentine?

Eggs Florentine is a dish with murky origins. Historians speculate that it's likely either Italian or French, but either way, it all starts with an English muffin. The muffin is halved, toasted, and buttered, then topped with fresh wilted spinach leaves, which have been lightly pan-sauteed in olive oil, and finally, a poached egg. To finish it off, the whole thing is drizzled with hollandaise sauce and grated with nutmeg and cayenne pepper.

With such a minimal, stripped-down dish, there is a bit of room for customization, even though the more ingredients you choose to add, the further your adaptation strays from a "traditional" eggs Florentine (if that matters to you). You could bulk it up with caramelized onions and slices of beefsteak tomato. Our favorite move is to add some sauteed leeks into the mix with the spinach. Some variations forego the hollandaise, instead creaming the spinach in heavy cream and melted cheese like Pecorino Romano. Others add garlic to the sauteed spinach for savory umami depth. That Florentine is Your-entine (sorry).

You could swing by your local farmers market for some fresh homegrown spinach. And, for an extra luscious finishing touch, you could even hit the bakery for soft, cloud-like, made-that-morning English muffins instead of your usual grocery store brand. If you're feeling ambitious, make a batch yourself and enjoy 'em warm out of the oven. Pair with fruit salad and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice for a light, refreshing weekend breakfast. 

What is eggs Benedict?

Just like eggs Florentine, eggs Benedict also has murky origins, though less culturally diverse. One theory is that it was created at Delmonico's steakhouse in NYC sometime in the 1860s. Per the lore, chef Charles Ranhofer made the dish for a regular customer known as Mrs. Benedict. Another proposed origin story credits the dish to retired Wall Street stockbroker Lemuel Benedict, who might've invented the dish while on a quest for the ultimate hangover cure. Still, the validity of these theories speaks less to the dish's enduring iconography than the fact that a modern brunch menu would be sorely marked by its absence.

Similarly to its Florentinian cousin, eggs Benedict consists of an English muffin, topped with a slice of smoked ham or Canadian bacon, a poached egg, and a ladle of hollandaise. To finish, the dish is often garnished with a sprinkle of paprika in addition to or instead of cayenne pepper, plus a fresh green element like dill or chopped chives.

Variations on eggs Benedict use regular "American" bacon strips or even smoked salmon (which is technically called Eggs Royale, but we digress). If you use corned beef instead of ham, then you've got an Irish Benedict (hello, hangover brekky post-St. Paddy's Day. Lemuel would've loved that one). If you're feeling zealous, visit your local butcher to pick up some expertly cut and cured ham and dominate the brunch game forever — or, at least, until next Sunday rolls around.

Eggs Florentine are vegetarian, while eggs Benedict include meat

The primary distinguishing factor that separates eggs Benedict from eggs Florentine is that eggs Florentine is vegetarian-friendly and eggs Benedict is not (as long as you consider eggs vegetarian). To make eggs Benedict, just make eggs Florentine but swap the spinach for a slice of smoked ham. Popular preparations of eggs Benedict use Canadian bacon (not American bacon), the salty, succulent, meaty cut from the pork loin. Eggs Florentine is brighter, whereas Eggs Benedict is more savory. Variations on eggs Florentine might also include thin, toothy meats like prosciutto in addition to the wilted spinach, but this preparation is less common. Either way, both brunch dishes showcase the interplay of different flavors and textures for a plate ultimately greater than the sum of its parts.

This veggie-forward versus meaty factor also colors another key difference between the dishes: the role of the hollandaise sauce. Both eggs Florentine and eggs Benedict are ladled with silky, luscious hollandaise (which Anthony Bourdain famously cautioned should always be prepared fresh) with peppercorns, butter, egg yolks, lemon, and cayenne pepper. In eggs Florentine, the hollandaise is a natural extension of the spinach's fresh profile. In eggs Benedict, the rich yet bright buttery, acidic hollandaise is needed to cut through the salty, savory ham, lending balance and keeping the dish from becoming too heavy. Our lemony hollandaise sauce could work particularly well in that capacity.

Eggs Benedict is a casual comfort food, while eggs Florentine keeps it light and inherently fancy

The difference of one ingredient might seem like a minor one, but the spinach-versus-ham distinction determines the atmosphere at large in which these two similar (yet hugely individual) dishes are typically enjoyed. Eggs Benedict is a comfort food; it would be tough to describe eggs Florentine that way (although, if you want to make a case for it, go right ahead).

You might find eggs Benedict on your favorite dive bar's weekend brunch, but you're probably not going to spy a plate of wilted spinach on the bartop anywhere. Eggs Florentine is an emblem of sit-down restaurants with cloth napkins and sparkling flutes of mimosa or Aperol Spritz. It might not feel weird to crack a PBR with your Eggs Benedict, but it's out of place with wilted spinach on an English muffin.

Want the best of both worlds? The midpoint between eggs Florentine and eggs Benedict, one which has become an increasingly popular fixture on contemporary brunch menus, is avocado eggs Benedict, which makes avo the star protein and ditches the ham and spinach altogether — savory, elevated, yet accessible and meat-free.