A good friend says there are two kinds of people in the world: those who eat to live and those who live to eat. While I'm already in the latter category, some eats possess the potential to effect epistemic change on those in the former.
Without a doubt, properly prepared Hollandaise sauce is among them. Wrapping butter's natural nuttiness together with the zing of fresh lemon juice in a seductive, velvety emulsion, good Hollandaise is edible hedonism.
Feeling aroused by the food porn? That's exactly my point.
Frequently attempted but rarely mastered, Hollandaise is one of five "mother sauces" that comprise haute French cuisine. The first recipe was published in 1651 by Francois Pierre de La Varenne, a French gastronome who served as court chef for Louis XIV. Back then, it was called Sauce Isigny, after France's most famous cream-and-butter-producing hamlet, Isigny-sur-Mer.
But World War I brought butter production there to a halt. Substitute sticks had to be imported from Holland, leaving Hollandaise as a name signifying not only the source of the sauce's main ingredient, but also reassuring consumers that the sauce did, in fact, contain butter.
My efforts to emulsify melted butter, egg yolks and a dash of lemon juice over moderate heat have resulted in nothing but failure. Fortunately, I've found the El Dorado of Hollandaise sauce. A leisurely climb up U.S. 24 leads to the picturesque hamlet of Green Mountain Falls, where the chefs at the down-home Mucky Duck have mastered the alchemy.
For those prone to judge books by covers, Mucky Duck seems an unlikely venue in which to encounter transcendent Hollandaise. The mountain-country dcor a big fireplace, wood everywhere but the floor, and exposed giant ceiling logs is exactly what you'd expect from the exterior. But weekend brunch, with the menu handwritten on a dry-erase board and carted from table to table, proves these folks are serious about Hollandaise and eggs Benedict.
On a recent Sunday, no fewer than 10 Benedicts were on offer, built on the foundation of English muffin halves and poached eggs. Choices ranged from the eponymous, featuring Canadian bacon and Hollandaise, to the exotic, such as brisket with green chile Barnaise.
We harvested three stellar iterations: crab ($12.95), sporting lumps of well-seasoned crab; bacon ($8.95), in which avocado slices shared space with crispy strips beneath the eggs and Hollandaise; and duck ($11.95). Featuring perfectly seared breast and finger-licking good Bearnaise, this variation traded lemon juice for white wine, shallots, tarragon and peppercorns, cooked and reduced. Boundaries between plates broke down completely, and each dish faced a three-front fork war.
For those able to resist the Benedicts' charms, basic egg dishes, omelets and a tasty, if fussy, French toast fill out the menu. There's also a full complement of late-day fare, including sandwiches, salads and hearty entres. The award-winning tomato bisque, which has a creamy texture on par with the Hollandaise, is mandatory at any hour.
To say that the Hollandaise is worth the drive is a gross understatement. That it's worth the risk of high cholesterol, a lecture from your doctor and, possibly, an early demise, comes closer to the truth. But then again, I do live to eat.
10530 Ute Pass Ave, Green Mountain Falls, 684-2008
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 5-8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.