The strangest egg I ever ate had no shell at all. Its perfectly formed yolk and the transparent white around it were inside a hen that my grandmother, a fierce woman and a great cook, had just killed. She gave me an impromptu anatomy lesson and dumped our find into a little iron pan with a pat of butter.
I love eggs more than I love most any other food. I eat them on spaghetti, pizza, and hamburgers. I like them coddled, soft-boiled, pickled, fried, mashed, and mixed into grits seasoned with hot sauce, among innumerable other ways. I cultivate friends who keep chickens, and I will do most anything for a never-refrigerated egg from a bird that lives in the same zip code as I do.
I am accustomed to lumpy American scrambled eggs and enjoy them as long as they are cooked gently into soft, glistening curds. (My native French equivalent, oeufs brouillés, are stirred slowly with butter in a double boiler until they form a smooth custard, often subsequently garnished with asparagus tips or caviar.) On the other hand, if you want to torture me, take me to brunch and surround me with people digging into puffy omelets cooked at too-high temperatures and hideously distended with more than half a dozen vegetables and cheese. I feel about frittatas and stratas the way I do about American omelets—too firm, too belabored.
America’s greatest contributions to egg cookery are deviled eggs and egg salad, both of which should never serve as a vehicle for exotic flavors (no capers, cranberries, or curry, please) and are vastly improved by the use of homemade mayonnaise. In Atlanta, deviled eggs have become a symbol of pride at the city’s new breed of Southern restaurants. I recognized Billy Allin of Cakes & Ale in Decatur for the great chef that he is when he stopped serving his wonderfully plain deviled eggs at the beginning of his first summer, when the kitchen grew too hot. “Deviled eggs must never be refrigerated,” he told me. I understood then what had been so magical about the delicate texture of his version of this snack, so often associated with funerals and picnics.
Holeman and Finch Public House’s “deviled eggs three ways” are a little complicated for my taste, the flavor of the yolk dominated by bresaola (air-dried beef), Sriracha hot sauce, and pickled sunchokes. On the other hand, the restaurant’s use of organic eggs on hand-chopped steak tartare and pancetta carbonara is pure pleasure. The marriage of pickled egg and country ham is a great match at Empire State South, which also serves old-fashioned steak and eggs for breakfast. One of the most comforting and original starters in the city may well be the mirror-smooth farm egg baked in celery cream and served with rustic bread at Miller Union, where Steven Satterfield also offers a sumptuous egg salad sandwich with a simple garnish of watercress as part of his lunch menu.
All good bars should be required to serve a fried egg sandwich late at night. Alas, the idea hasn’t occurred to H. Harper Station, an otherwise egg-friendly hot spot where I like to indulge in pickled eggs, fettuccine with sorghum-cured pork belly and an unbroken egg on top, a Ramos gin fizz with egg whites, and the seasonal Tom and Jerry (a cocktail that is a cross between eggnog and sabayon) that owner Jerry Slater whips by hand.
For me, eggs are rarely a breakfast deal, but Kevin Clark of Homegrown knows exactly how to start my day with gently scrambled eggs and not-too-thick grits. Java Jive’s eggs with basil and cream cheese are on my approved list, too, with a fresh biscuit and a strong mug of coffee.
Local ethnic restaurants have their own ways to celebrate the egg. Tempo Doeloe on Buford Highway, for example, does several addictive variations on chile-laced Indonesian egg curries with tofu. Suwanee’s Umaido includes soft-boiled egg in its bowls of Japanese ramen noodles. New Paradise on Buford Highway mixes wonderfully gelatinous, dark bits of preserved egg into Chinese rice congee. Many taquerias start the day early with fried huevos rancheros on zesty salsas; La Kermex on Buford Highway especially excels at this dish.
My favorite dessert in the whole wide world, îles flottantes, consists of satiny poached meringue bobbing gently on rich crème anglaise. Defunct Joël served an enchanting version perfumed with rose syrup. Bistro Niko, the only place in town that currently offers floating islands on its daily menu, executes a more classic version of this showy Parisian treat. A passion for eggs makes me a harsh judge of most crèmes brûlées, which hide their gluey texture under a cover of torched sugar, but I tend to trust French restaurants such as Atmosphere and Anis to offer silky, lightly varnished examples. And if I am sitting with my eyes closed at a table in Star Provisions, I am probably in a trance over one of the cloudlike candied lemon meringues I just bought at the bakery.
I am partial to hangover cures and remedies for the flu that involve cracking an egg into a glass of rum, and I remember the childhood pleasure of sucking raw eggs through a hole in the shell, but I am aware that today’s health concerns get in the way of recommending such predilections. We haven’t even broached the subject of eggs from different birds—the beauty of quail eggs, poised in their speckled shells, paired with sushi, and how the slightly stronger flavor of duck eggs matches bacony lardons in a frisée salad. But for the last word on chicken eggs, I suggest you buy a copy of Betty MacDonald’s hilarious The Egg and I and start thinking seriously about buying chickens of your own!
Photograph by John and Charlotte Autry