What, Exactly, Is a Hangtown Fry?
In last week's San Francisco episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain visited the Tadich Grill to eat a hangtown fry, a dish he called "an abomination against God and civilization." What, exactly, is a hangtown fry? Put simply: it's an omelette that includes bacon and oysters, with an origin story with one of those epic food legends.
A hangtown fry is sometimes considered to be the first true California cuisine, a dish that originated around the time of the Gold Rush (1850s) in Placerville, California which at the time was called Hangtown. Reportedly, an enthusiastic miner struck it rich, walked into the local El Dorado hotel and demanded the most expensive dish on the menu. At the time, the most luxurious ingredients were eggs which had to be shipped delicately, bacon that was shipped all the way from the East Coast, and oysters that had to be shipped on ice from San Francisco – more than 100 miles away. Thus, the hangtown fry was born and became popularized by Tadich Grill, one of the oldest establishments in San Francisco, serving the delectable omelette for over 160 years.
Due to its unique name, rumors have swirled about how the hangtown fry got its moniker. One ubiquitous story is that a condemned man in a Placerville prison asked for the hangtown fry for his last meal, knowing that his execution would be delayed in order to procure the oysters.
The hangtown fry is commonly found in the San Francisco area, most notably at the aforementioned famed Tadich Grill, but otherwise is actually quite rare outside of California. Those visiting Placerville — the original Hangtown — will even find hangtown fry difficult to obtain. An updated version can be found at another San Francisco establishment, Foreign Cinema, where chefs Pirie and Clark serve a deconstructed version composed of pile of creme fraiche-infused scrambled eggs that acts as a nest for sugar-crusted bacon and lightly fried oysters, then topped with a pile of lightly dressed arugula and a few squiggles of tangy tomato vinaigrette to offset the richness of the dish. The only places we could find in New York City serving it are The John Dory and Stone Park Cafe in Brooklyn (Stone Park deep-fries the oysters).