Bring Back the Denver Omelet Sandwich, The Original American Breakfast Sammy
The history of the world's most famous omelet goes back 100 years, and it was preceded by something even better
Sometimes referred to as a western omelet, the Denver omelet is a greasy spoon breakfast staple that’s typically made with eggs, ham, green bell peppers, onions and cheddar cheese.
A plaque on California Street in downtown Denver says as much (minus the cheese):
But while the plaque about Denver’s namesake breakfast favorite claims the omelet was developed to help improve the taste of eggs that lost their freshness on the long journey west, it seems more likely the omelet was a spinoff of a sandwich made of egg foo young pressed between bread that Chinese immigrants working on the railroads throughout the West ate because it was easy to carry and ingest on the go.
“It seems to have been called the western until the railroads made it to Utah, and then folks in Utah apparently renamed it the Denver,” famed American chef and cookbook author James Beard reportedly said.
That culinary concoction, which others say was created by an Italian immigrant slinging food from a street cart in the 1890s, went on to become known as the Denver sandwich and remained popular until some time in the 1950s, when the bread disappeared and the omelet version of the dish became the substantially more popular of the two.
Given the simple dish’s surprisingly complex history, it appears the Denver omelet-style sandwich that owner Sarah Schneider serves at both of her Egg Shop restaurant locations in NYC (Nolita and Williamsburg) is actually somewhat close to the original version of the breakfast-table staple.
Created in tandem with chef Nick Korbee and featured in Egg Shop: The Cookbook, the Pepper Boy is basically your typical Denver omelet pressed between a brioche roll, except instead of ham and cheddar, the eatery uses maple-cured black pepper bacon and Gruyère cheese.
“I really just didn’t want to have an omelet on the menu. I just felt like you could go anywhere and get one,” Schneider tells InsideHook. “That started a dialogue of, ‘Well, what omelet is your favorite?’ Mine happened to be a Denver because I would always get one with hash browns at a Jewish deli my dad would take me to during father-daughter time. I loved the ham and I loved the bell peppers. Even though we weren’t doing an omelet at Egg Shop, we wanted to pay homage to this particular classic. So we just gave it a spin with the bacon and Gruyère. We also added an onion aioli that adds this extra pop of excitement to the sandwich and puts our signature on it, but the bell pepper is the classic ingredient that isn’t reinventing any wheels and really takes home the Denver omelet spin.”
At Egg Shop, the goal for the menu was to have some really healthy items paired alongside some super-indulgent offerings. The Pepper Boy definitely slots into the latter category, according to Schneider.
“It’s really mouthwatering and fulfilling,” she says. “There’s not really a healthy way to have bacon and cheese, so it’s definitely rich, but it’s balanced. You get the pepper bacon with the bell pepper and then earthiness from the Gruyère plus the onion aioli. We felt like the sauce was the secret sauce. You might not immediately think to put them together, but they really just work beautifully. But, I would say you’d have to be in the mood to be going for it.”
If you are, the recipe is below.
The Pepper Boy Sandwich from Egg Shop
- 3 slices maple-cured black pepper bacon (Egg Shop uses North Country Smokehouse)
- 1 Panini or Brioche roll
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons diced green bell pepper
- 3 eggs
- ¼ cup shredded Gruyère cheese
- 2 tables caramelized onion aioli
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- Pinch of sea salt
- In a nonstick skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp, split and toast the roll in the same pan. Set bacon and roll aside.
- Add a little vegetable oil to the pan, add the peppers and sauté for about 1 minute. Add the eggs and cook them in a soft scramble, incorporating the peppers. Top with Gruyère and the reserved bacon. Remove from the heat and cover the pan. This will melt the cheese perfectly and warm the bacon as well.
- Spread both sides of the roll with aioli and use a spatula to place the eggs on the roll. Finish with cracked pepper to taste and a bit of sea salt, add the top roll and enjoy.
- For a gluten-free version, simply hollow out a bell pepper, spread the inside with aioli, and fill with the soft scramble. Top with cheese and bacon then broil briefly to melt the cheese.
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