It's hard to blame the hero of Dr. Seuss' famous Green Eggs and Ham — which turns 56 this month — for being suspicious of the title dish. The illustrated lump of green meat and two eggs with alien yolks would look off-putting to the most adventurous eaters. Yet decades after Theodor Geisel's beloved children's book was first published, chefs across the United States are tickled by the idea of putting the infamous dish on their menus.
Would you eat it with some kale? Would the thought turn diners pale?
Actually, customers love it, says Katie Cantwell, co-founder of Peach & Green restaurant in Chicago. Her take on "green eggs and ham" is a kale, spinach, and cheddar egg scramble topped with a side of sliced avocado and ham. The dish is tasty on its own, but Cantwell thinks the "cute name" has certainly helped its popularity. Ordering it almost conjures up a contrary childhood spirit. "It's fun to take something you thought was awful as a child and make it something you want to eat as an adult," she says.
But at some restaurants serving up Seuss' dish, the name is almost an afterthought. Thomas Ferlesch, the chef and owner of Brooklyn's Werkstatt, says that the green eggs and ham on his menu is actually a dish he grew up eating in his native Austria. Fried eggs come on a plate of rösti potatoes, ham and Viennese creamed spinach. Ferlesch knows that creamed spinach isn't exactly beloved by children (or adults — at least here in the States), so he gave it a name that he felt exemplified the spirit of the dish, not just how it looked. "Once they have creamed spinach, people really like it," Ferlesch says. Sam-I-am would be proud.
Green eggs and ham is a dish at once familiar to many and yet mysterious — no one can say for sure what this meal would translate to as real, edible food. So putting the dish on the menu gives chefs the chance to play around.
Mar'sel, a Los Angeles county restaurant inside the ocean-side resort Terranea, crafted a green eggs and ham Benedict with prosciutto and Californian touches like salsa verde hollandaise and avocado. But chef de cuisine Andrew Vaughan says that there are a lot of ways he could have created the dish. "It's all trial and error to see what works best, what's in season, and also what our guests want."
At Boston's Saus, where condiments and sauces take center stage, a dish called green eggs and ham fits right in among other amusingly named meals — like a sour cream and chive topping called "Saturday night chive." One thing that makes this dish different from the others is that it's served not on a plate but inside a box. (Though not, as far as we know, with a fox.)
Inside are deep-fried Brussels sprouts tossed with parsley vinaigrette and topped with a deep-fried egg and a few slices of pork belly. Chef Chin Kuo describes it as "some sort of hash" since, overall, "it's a bunch of tasty stuff piled together."
Since Huckleberry Bakery & Café opened in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2009, it's been serving "tons" of green eggs and ham, says Zoe Nathan, co-owner and head baker. She says they're so busy making plates of homemade English muffins topped with egg, arugula, pesto and prosciutto that she doesn't even think about the dish's name anymore.
But the fact that it appeals to customers who keep ordering it time and time again doesn't surprise her.
"We all grew up with Dr. Seuss books — that one especially is about trying new things and trying them and trying them," Nathan says. What all these green eggs and ham recipes really offer is a dish stuffed with nostalgia. "Food done well is about comfort," she says.