The Debated Origin Story Of The Eggs Benedict

It's a little unsettling to realize no one really knows how a brunch staple as ubiquitous as eggs Benedict came to be. While stories and theories abound, food historians and eggs Benedict aficionados tend to agree on one thing: Eggs Benedict was first served in New York City. Other than that, you'll have to wade through a twisting-turning mélange of folklore.

While preparations for dishes that are called eggs Benedict vary, often incorporating local and regional ingredients, classic eggs Benedict consists of a toasted English muffin with Canadian bacon and a poached egg, topped off with a generous dollop of hollandaise sauce (via Britannica). Some variations, like using sliced ham or strip bacon, are still considered within the realm of classic.

Other variations stretch the limits to an extreme while staying just close enough to the original recipe. In the New Orleans French Quarter, famed Antoine's Restaurant's rendition, named Eggs Sardou after 19th-century playwright Victorien Sardou, adds a side of buttered spinach, anchovies, and slow-cooked artichokes (via National Geographic UK). Other regional variations along the east coast of the U.S. include Eggs Neptune, which uses local seafood like lobster in New England, crabmeat in the Chesapeake Bay area, and shrimp in Carolina Low Country.

But who the heck was Benedict?

The question to ponder, though, is who the heck was Benedict? One theory, according to Brittanica, centers on the Gilded Age New York City socialite, LeGrand Benedict. Legend has it that Benedict, a frequent guest at Delmonico's Restaurant, asked the chef to create a special dish for them. The result was eggs Benedict.

The New York Times dug even deeper. With twists and turns worthy of any soap opera, the story begins with Lemuel Benedict, a New York City stockbroker and member of a socialite family. According to The New York Times, Benedict arrived at the Waldorf Hotel (precursor to today's Waldorf Astoria), suffering from the aftereffects of too much alcohol. He ordered two poached eggs, bacon, buttered toast, and a pitcher of hollandaise sauce. His assembled ingredients caught the eye of the hotel maître d' Oscar Tschirsky (via Taste of Home) who replaced strip bacon with Canadian bacon.

No one wondered too much about its provenance until a 1942 article in The New Yorker ignited debate (via The New York Times) and prompted one of Lemuel Benedict's distant relatives, Jack Benedict, to pick up the torch on Lemuel Benedict's behalf. Jack Benedict never did achieve his goal of universal official acknowledgement for Lemuel Benedict as the originator of eggs Benedict. However, The American Egg Board endorses Lemuel Benedict as the creator of eggs Benedict (via The New York Times).