Smother Me In Your Hollandaise
IHOP's New Hand-Crafted Eggs Benedicts
I don't talk much about IHOP (aka, the International House of Pancakes). I really don't pay that much attention to breakfast places (or restaurants mostly know for their breakfasts) in general. I'm not a breakfast food kind of person. I'm usually not even hungry until 11 in the morning, and most of my "food" around that point is coffee. It keeps me happy, and then when lunch rolls around I'll finally eat. Beyond that the traditional breakfast foods -- toast, eggs, slabs of greasy meats -- tend not to appeal to me. I don't want to say I have refined taste but it is fair to say that I look for something slightly different than basic, expected fair when I go to eat somewhere. I like to have stuff done up, in essence.
I do like a good eggs benedict, though. That mix of english muffin, poached egg, ham, and hollandaise sauce is so appealing to me. A mix of flavors, a special coating of saucy goodness I don't get every day, all served in a manner that requires a knife and fork. That I can get behind. When I get dragged to a breakfast-style establishment (usually around 11:30 AM when I'm finally up and alive on the weekends), I'm irresistibly drawn to the benedicts. Do them up right and I'm your customer for life.
IHOP recently -- as in this summer -- brought out a line of "New Hand-Crafted Eggs Benedicts", benedict plates in four different styles. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to a benedict; even swapping out the ham for bacon changes the consistency and favor. A good benedict needs to perfectly balance the elements of the dish to properly convey the delightful flavors. It's not hard to do it, it just requires a bit of care. IHOP does not do it right, does not have the proper care, and does not have the means to maintain that balance, making their benedicts far less than the dish I was hoping for.
Over the course of three visits I tried a selection of their benedict plates (you will notice I visited three times and there are four plates; we'll get to that). The first of these was the Spicy Poblano. This version swaps the ham for shredded beef, gives us a poblano hollandaise version of the sauce, and adds in poblano peppers, red bell peppers, seranno peppers, and onions. It's a lot of new flavors on the dish, but together I thought maybe it could be good. I like southwestern flavor, and I like spice. Perhaps this version had the right new flavors to make for something interesting.
It did not. The first issue was that the shredded beef had the wrong texture entirely. It was weird, stringy, and not very good. I don't expect the best ingredients from IHOP (it is IHOP, after all), but they serve marginally okay steaks on their menu, along with decent burgers. A basic shredded beef should have been okay, and this stuff was sub-par. Beyond that, the "fire grilled" flavor simply made everything taste of smoke. Smoke beef, smoky veggies, smoky hollandaise. Everything was too smoky in my mouth, ruining the light flavors that should be in the dish. Worst of all, there was no spice. You put in poblanos and serranos and somehow lose all the possible spicy flavor. This dish was just an utter disappointment.
But I was already one in and I only had to eat four of these for the article. Okay, whatever, let's go again. Next up was the Bourbon Bacon Jam. This one doesn't feel as far outside the basics of a benedict, simply swapping out the thick-cut ham slices for hickory smoked bacon strips and, yes, bourbon bacon jam. I've had bacon jam on burgers and other items before and, when done right, it absolutely slaps. But, silly me thinking that IHOP could do something right because, again, they absolutely did not.
The failure of this version was in the bacon jam, the signature part of the dish. The jam was way too sweet, both salty and cloying. It stuck to my taste buds, clinging to them in a way that made everything I ate taste bad. I dunno that I would call it gross, per se, but it certainly was a bad flavor fit for this dish. Maybe on a burger, with cheese and veggies to balance it out, the jam could have worked. On a benedict, though, it did not. It over powered everything else, from the bacon to the hollandaise. The whole dish tasted of cloying salty-sweet jam and I absolutely hated it. Simply hated, there is no other term.
Okay, fine. Two down, two to go. I decided at this point that, for my third try I'd go with the classic. This is the baseline, the one that shows the bare minimum skill that IHOP would have with a benedict. They're a breakfast place, they should be able to handle this. They already have everything else for it -- english muffins, eggs, ham -- all they'd have to do is make some hollandaise, slather it on, and serve it. That seems stupidly easy, so how could they fuck it up. Well, IHOP was up to that challenge, sadly.
The first thing they did is they swapped out the traditional thick-cut ham, the tasty, salty planks you expect in the dish, with black forest ham slices, like the ones from a ham sandwich. These did not have the body to hold up to this dish. They were thin, tasted too light, and lacked good consistency. The egg was fine, the muffin was fine, but both of those are on the blander side by default. You need the ham to inject salt and body and this ham did not. And then the hollandaise was just lackluster. I couldn't taste that on the other two I tried, one because it had a different hollandaise and the other because everything tasted of salty jam, but here, with it being the forward ingredient, the sauce just sucked. It was thin, bland, watery, and there wasn't enough of it on the dish.
Like, seriously, how do you fuck up an eggs benedict? It you're challenged by the poached egg you can serve one sunny side up, or over easy, and it gets the same basic effect. Yes, not as gooey, not as soft, but I can take that as an egg substitute. But to fuck up everything else, and to do it so poorly that even your baseline is a complete and utter fucking disaster. Well, then IHOP, I have to say that maybe you should get out of the benedicts business because, clearly, you have no business serving this dish at all.
Now, as I mentioned before, there are four of these and I tried three up to this point. After I did these three, one week after another, I had to stop and take a break. These were bad. I needed to eat something else for my special time out (especially since I'm paying for these out of pocket, this being a personal site and, shit, no one is paying me to eat trash). So I waited a few weeks and then tried to will myself to go back... and I couldn't. Frankly I didn't really want to eat the Pesto Veggie benedict even before I started this project. I don't like pesto, and seeing it front and center on a dish I would otherwise enjoy had already forced me to push it off. And then to get three terrible benedicts in a row... yeah, that wasn't happening at all. After three months I gave up on trying to force myself back. I knew it wasn't in the cards.
Maybe the pesto veggie (with its sauteed spinach, mushrooms, roasted cherry tomatoes, and nut-free pesto) could be good, but I'll never know. IHOP did a wretched job with three out of three of these that I ate. Someone else can suffer through the final one to find out if its the holy grail of IHOP benedicts. Somehow I have my doubts.