One thing I am continually asked is what local restaurant I visit most. That would be Illium Cafe.
I also get asked what local dish I eat on the highest frequency. That would be the corned beef hash at Illium Cafe.
Compared to many diners and other breakfast spots, the breakfast menu at Illium may seem scant. But within the dozen or so selections, there are at least five items that stand out. Then, there are the daily three affordable specials that include ingredients that range from exotic and seasonal to playful and indulgent. But all this is besides the point, since we’re here to talk about Chef Marla’s corned beef hash.
The dish is described as “Corned beef, diced potatoes, bacon, roasted red peppers, topped with a fried egg and our own homemade hollandaise sauce” and is priced just under $10.
Based on the description, you can see that there are multiple deviations to a classic corned beef hash. First, there’s the unorthodox addition of bacon. There’s also the matter of debate over whether peppers belong in proper hash. In addition to the obligatory fried egg, the dish is topped with rich tarragon hollandaise sauce.
The visual appearance of the dish reveals some more attributes that place this dish far from corned beef hash status quo.
Standard hash starts with boiled potatoes that are browned atop a hot surface. Chef Marla’s hash starts with a base of deep fried potatoes, where the exterior of the potatoes are perfectly crisp. The brisket used at Illium is a homemade variety that is diced into fairly large chunks. The chunks are lightly browned in a pan, and this creates a light crust around each piece. That with the chew of the bacon creates a layer of umami that defines the dish.
The small amount of roasted red peppers add some acidity, and the sauteéd onions add sweetness that perfumes the dish.
As a hash purist and enthusiast, I accept and applaud Illium Cafe’s interpretation of the dish, even the addition of peppers, which I will argue usually have no place in hash. In this particular case, this embellishment enhances the dish.
The fried egg comes over easy, and as you break the egg over the hash, the runny yolk and the hollandaise creates a lustrous coating to the hash. Chef Marla’s hollandaise is aggressively seasoned with tarragon, and this is something that really enhances both the potatoes and the brisket.
The dish is served with a large slice of Italian bread toast that’s liberally buttered, then grilled, then split in two. Some small bites of fruit are included to break up the savoriness of the dish.
There is easily one pound of hash on the plate every time, so it’s a definite value. It’s sometimes a challenge for me to even finish. That’s why I have it frequently on weekends when I’m ready for big meals.
Fellow corned beef hash enthusiast, The Fuj, who has been on a mission to find outstanding corned beef hash in the area recently tried the dish and had this to say:
@theilliumcafe has the best corned beef hash I've had in the Capital District. Perfectly seasoned, not too greasy, great portion.
— The Fuj (@FujOnTap) January 18, 2014
I’m not the only person who thinks this dish is outstanding.
Illium Cafe (9 Broadway, Troy, NY 12180)