Denver omelet, Denver boot: Can't this city be known for something good?
You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet -- as Michael Hancock is quickly learning as mayor of Denver. (You may have to knock a few heads, too.) And today, Hancock put those egg-breaking talents to good use as he flipped a Denver omelet in the ultimate photo op. But there's another opportunity here:
Denver omelet, Denver boot: Can't this city be known for something good? Like its restaurants?
Jorge de la Torre (left), pours a mixture of beaten eggs and heavy cream into a pan as Mayor Hancock (right) demonstrates the process of creating a Denver omelet.
Hancock wielded a spatula today in honor of Denver Restaurant Week, the annual two-week eating orgy that starts February 26. But don't expect to find a Denver omelet on many menus of the 327 restaurants participating: It's not exactly the height of our culinary dreams.
Here's a brief history of the offending item, as compiled by former Westword critic Jason Sheehan:
A proper Denver omelet is made with green peppers, onions, ham and cheese. The ingredients sometimes vary -- no cheese, bacon instead of ham, whatever -- but the basic construction is the same. East of the Mississippi, this hodgepodge is generally called a Western, and often, it is made into a sandwich (the omelet squashed between two slices of toast or set on a hard roll).
Theories abound as to how this mess got started. One theory holds that wild onions and Spanish peppers were used to mask the taste of eggs gone bad on the trail during wagon-train times. But to my mind, that's not likely. To begin with, eggs were an extraordinary luxury anywhere that wasn't a chicken ranch, and I just can't see a smart trail boss giving up space for a perishable extravagance that would most likely break and go to waste as soon as the wagons began to move. Also, if you've ever cracked an egg that's gone bad, you know that there ain't no amount of onions and peppers going to disguise that smell and taste.
A good case can be made (and has been made in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America) for the Denver omelet as an offshoot of the Basque piperade -- a mess of stewed tomatoes and peppers folded into scrambled eggs. There were French Basques living in the Nevada territory who'd come to work as miners and sheepherders and, as we all know, whenever people move from one part of the world to another, they always seem to bring their food with them. And though the first published mentions of the "Denver omelet" or the "Denver sandwich" didn't appear until the early 1900s, I think the best explanation is probably some cross-cultural fusion between the Basque miners and the Chinese immigrants employed as cooks in the railroad camps. Because what is a Denver omelet if not a knock-off version of egg foo yung (the Chinese version of an omelet and a classic comfort food from the mysterious East) made with whatever local ingredients were close at hand?
History aside, I remain convinced that today the Denver omelet is a stain on our culinary heritage: a cheap-jack, nasty and hopelessly muddled distaff cousin to those original convenience breakfasts.
Denver omelet, Denver boot: What's a better namesake for this city?
Post your suggestions below. And remember, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.
Neither the Denver boot nor the Denver omelet have deterred youth from flocking to this city. Learn more in our slide show "Fifteen reasons why young people are moving to Colorado.".
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