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MOUTHING OFF

Eggstraordinary: Not that anyone has asked, but here's the sick, disgusting thing I used to eat for breakfast daily--I'm not kidding--before I became a hired belly and had to start watching what I ate. My morning meal consisted of two sunnyside-up eggs, four slices of white American cheese and two roma tomatoes sliced thinly and fried in butter. All of this was put between two slices of bread and fried in more butter until the bread crisped and the cheese melted. Then I'd squash it flat with a spatula so the egg yolk oozed out and smother the whole thing with hollandaise, sometimes spiked with Tabasco.

I think my chances of living a long, healthy life are much better now.
The thing that went first was the hollandaise, mainly because it took so long to make and because I was meticulous about using only the freshest eggs. Lucky for me the health department didn't visit my kitchen, because I definitely wasn't playing by the rules for safe hollandaise that restaurants must follow. According to Patti Klocker, the state health department's retail food program manager, if an establishment uses shell eggs for its sauce, the sauce must reach 140 degrees and stay there. "The problem--and the reason so few restaurants are serving real hollandaise these days--is that hollandaise falls apart at 140 degrees," Klocker says.

But the high temperature is necessary, she adds, because "salmonella is still very common. It's the top food-borne illness in this country." And for anyone who's ingested the salmonella bacteria--I caught it on my honeymoon during the United Kingdom epidemic in 1989--it's almost worth not eating anything ever again just to avoid it.

Some restaurants resolve the temperature issue by making each diner's sauce as it's ordered--that way they can bring it up to 140 degrees and serve it immediately. But that solution is time-consuming. "I just don't have the manpower to make it like that," says Steve Dirks. As a result, he uses a powdered base at Lakewood's Sunrise Sunset and then "I embel-lish it with seasonings." No matter what a kitchen does to doctor a powdered base (Knorr makes several that are popular with restaurants), though, the hollandaise that results is never as good as the real thing.

But salmonella is not the only reason many places have switched to powdered hollandaise bases. "There's more work," says Mark Bosworth, the executive chef at Racine's, which uses authentic hollandaise for its Bennies during weekend brunch. "It's not cheap to use real butter, real eggs," he adds. "The mixes cost half the price."

While you'd think that restaurants would be proud of the fact that they still make hollandaise from scratch, some don't want it publicized, for fear that the health department will subject them to extra scrutiny (it doesn't, says Klocker). For the record, the places that admit to making hollandaise from fresh eggs--I called every place I know of that serves breakfast or brunch--are: the Delectable Egg (both locations), the Egg Shell and Incredibles Cafe, Marina Landing, Simms Landing, Palmetto Grille, Pour La France!, University Park Cafe, Tabor Grill at the Westin Tabor Center, the Boulder Broker, the DTC Broker and the Cafe at the Hyatt.

Sadly, to avoid the hollandaise dilemma altogether, several restaurants report that they've simply stopped serving eggs Benedict.

 
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