Last night, a friend and I were fortunate enough to attend the inaugural kickoff for Between Bites, a Chicago-based event centered around food & storytelling. The first of many took place at Two, a delicious beyond delicious restaurant in the West Loop and the speakers themselves were nothing short of extraordinary. We heard 6 “foodie first” stories (while noshing on appetizers & wine) all spoken from various esteemed Chicago food writers, including the previous editor of Eater, the Chicago editor of Tasting Table, Plate Magazine, etc. Hearing some of my favorite writers talk about their first experiences with food was a night so completely up my alley it left me feeling inspired and hungry when it was all said & done.
And with that, I decided to write my own “foodie first.” Enjoy!
I was 25 years old when I ate my first poached egg. The eggsperience happened on a Sunday spent brunching at Cafe Cluny in the West Village. It was one of those perfect fall days in New York; crisp air, bright sun, slight breeze – one of those days where you could comfortably venture outside your apartment wearing only a sweater, scarf and oxfords. Add in a pumpkin spice latte and it was truly a quintessential fall afternoon. Having a Sunday off when you work in the restaurant industry is a big deal, so maybe subconsciously I knew that this day – nay – this meal, would be something special. We walked in, settled ourselves at a comfy table and began to scan the menu. Eggs benedict. Poached eggs. Quiches. As a non-adventurous brunch eater, I was doomed.
It’s not that I don’t like eggs, because I do. For all of my childhood and many of my teen years, it was a “texture” thing for me. Then, after eventually trying scrambled eggs at some point in high school, it was a “I-like-these-but-wont-try-them-any-other-way” thing. Eventually, college came around and so did the omelette station in the cafeteria. Then, came the post-collegiate need for a bacon, egg & cheese to cure your hangover. Still though, I’d never had a poached egg.
Sitting there, sipping on coffee, I questioned everything :
Do I really want to spend $18 on a brunch entree?
What if I absolutely hate it and then go cry in a corner that I wasted all my money?
What if I love it and subsequently spend the rest of my money on poached egg dishes for brunch every day?
Will I become addicted to hollandaise sauce?
Will I really taste the egg?
What if I throw up at the table?
OHMYGOD, WHAT IF I THROW UP AT THE TABLE?
I was obviously in my head and it showed. Our waitress came over and I told her my situation.
“Well, I really love short ribs and the hash sounds amazing but I’ve never actually had a poached egg before.”
Her ocean blue eyes couldn’t tell a lie and I knew she was shocked to the core. Instead of screaming, “Who ARE you?” and flailing her arms in the air, she calmly replied, “You’ll like it. I promise.” I eyed my girlfriends, they nodded in unison and told me if I hated the hash I could always have a bite of their french toast.
We began with the grapefruit brûlée. I figured I may as well have something in my stomach if the eggs are a disaster. Crunchy, sweet and so tart, the grapefruit was everything I had ever wanted, ever. Who needed eggs? Who needed protein? I HAD brûlée and that was all that mattered. Minutes later though, it was gone and unfortunately, I was still hungry. Lucky me, I had my first poached egg on its way.
I suddenly turned my head and there was blue-eyed Betty standing there with my short rib hash. She laid the plate down and there it was – my future, staring at me with the fire of a thousand suns.
“Man up, Allana!” I thought to myself, “This is embarassing. It’s an egg. It will probably taste like nothing. Just eat the damn thing. People are staring.”
I waited a few minutes and then cracked that Hollandaise-soaked egg right down the middle, the bright yellow yolk spilling out like an avalanche across the potatoes and short rib meat. I grabbed my fork, swirled everything together and immediately put my fork back down. I took a sip of coffee, took a deep breath and took a bite.
Three giant carnivorous bites later, I can’t believe I was actually scared of a poached egg. Alongside the tender beef, creamy hollandaise sprinkled with paprika and crispy potatoes, the egg dish was exactly as I had imagined it would be. The whole thing was rich, decadent, surprising and better than the brûlée.
I left brunch that day feeling satisfied and successful. Since that fateful day in the West Village, my brunch meals have become much more adventurous. A few months ago, I even ordered roasted brussels sprouts with a fried egg on top. I’m livin’ on the edge, guys, and I couldn’t be happier.