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Food & Drink

Best Hangtown Fry 

By Anna Roth

If you've driven to Tahoe on Highway 50, you've passed through Placerville, a charming, Old West-style town that is the seat of one of California's first culinary inventions. See, the town used to be called Hangtown, after its dubious distinction of being the first spot in Gold Country to hang desperadoes. When it incorporated in 1854,the residents opted for a more genteel moniker, but the dish that bears its original name still remains: the bacon, oyster, and egg omelet known as Hangtown Fry.

There are a number of accounts for how such a weird collection of ingredients became a dish, but the most famous concerns a prospector who entered the now-defunct El Dorado Hotel one day hot off a lucky strike and asked for the most expensive meal in the house. The cook obligingly made it from the priciest ingredients in the kitchen: eggs (which had to be transported overland from San Francisco), oysters (which had to be packed in ice and shipped every day from San Francisco Bay), and bacon (which was shipped by sea from back east).

The resulting concoction, the Hangtown Fry, used to be everywhere, but the number of places to get the omelet locally has dwindled in the resulting 150 years.

You can still order it at the venerable Tadich Grill (240 California, 391-1849, tadichgrill.com), which claims to have served the dish since the Gold Rush days. A recent visit yielded a perfectly fine omelet, heavy on breaded oysters, made all the better for the classic S.F. surroundings.

But the best in town is found at Brenda's French Soul Food (652 Polk, 345-8100, frenchsoulfood.com), which makes a version of the dish that will convert even the most skeptical. Smoky, porky bacon is the dominant flavor, and the breaded, fried oysters are succulent and meaty, not slimy or too dry. Slices of green onion and a generous hand with black pepper round everything out nicely — and as a bonus, the dish comes with one of Brenda's famous biscuits. After a few bites, you'll understand why condemned men supposedly requested it as their last meal.

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