While the differing accounts of Eggs Benedict’s birth all seem to date from the mid- to late-19th century, the motivations behind these stories vary. One account suggests that the dish was an impromptu hangover helper; while another ascribes the genesis as a re-imagining of a rustic Provencal dish, called oeufs Benedictine, that employed salt cod and toast as a base for poached eggs and Hollandaise. Both stories appeal for different reasons, one because Eggs Benedict’s place as a brunch icon is shared by that most beneficent of hangover helpers, the Bloody Mary, but the other appeals for more local reasons.
If, in fact, Eggs Benedict is based on a country French recipe, it’s amusing that one of Knoxville’s most creative variations on this staple is found at the French Market, where Susan and Allen Tate play turnabout and tweak it back into a French dish—albeit a pretty refined one: Crêpes Benedict. It even sounds elegant.
The birth of the reinvention was a natural one, the kind of adaptation that great cooks everywhere make without thinking twice. Susan likes Eggs Benedict, she makes and sells crêpes—so what’s a girl to do? When she and Allen started serving this dish on Saturdays and Sundays, the novelty worked, and it remains one of their most popular brunch items.
The crêpe itself, of course, is a thin and delicate pancake of French extraction; if you’ve ever tried to make these at home, you’ll know why the French Market is treasured by so many. The Market imports a special batter (it’s the same beautiful stuff used by Parisian street vendors) that gets poured onto a specially designed heating element. The crêpe cooks quickly, owing to its divine thinness, and must be flipped with perfect timing and special care. After serving some tens of thousands of crêpes, the French Market’s staff are experts at this nearly ballet-like move.
After the crêpe is safely retrieved in one piece with one swift motion, it’s folded around your choice of tender Danish ham or beautifully cured smoked salmon. Both fillings are delicious, but the salmon is particularly nice because as it rests in the crêpe—which comes to the table nearly steaming—the salmon cooks a bit more, seasons the crêpe, and nearly melts into it.
Then, as if it this weren’t already a magnificent breakfast, the crêpe is finished with roasted asparagus, an egg—typically fried sunny side up—and, finally, the beauty gets napped by a perfectly formed house-made Hollandaise.
One does hate to use extreme language, but if you have yet to try this brunchy bit of heaven, or any of the French Market’s crêpes for that matter, then it’s hard to appreciate how the delicacy of the crêpe’s texture contributes an extra level of joy to this dish. Once you cut into the egg and it marries with the Hollandaise, well, if you can manage to speak at all, you’ll probably start muttering something French—perhaps, mon dieu!