A Denver Omelet.

(Courtesy: Joshua Hardin/Colorado Life Magazine)

Philadelphia has cheesesteak. Chicago has deep dish pizza. Denver? We have an omelet. If you're from here, you probably know the ingredients: ham, cheese, onions, and bell peppers. But you may not known how it came to be. A plaque on California Street downtown says, "The Denver omelet was developed to mask the stale flavor of eggs shipped by wagon freight." 

A plaque on California Street in downtown Denver celebrates the city's namesake dish... and offers a recipe.

(Courtesy: Waymarking.com)

That drew the attention of Matt Masich, editor of Colorado Life Magazine. He cracked open the dish's history -- it may have started as a sandwich, which is still served today, but not in Denver proper.

Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner spoke with Masich about this tasty nugget of local lore.

A Denver omelet ... er ...sandwich.

(Courtesy: Joshua Hardin/Colorado Life Magazine)

"The Denver Omelet didn't start as an omelet. It started as the Denver Sandwich, which is basically a Denver Omelet between two pieces of toast. It's an egg sandwich of the first big popular egg sandwiches that really started appearing on the scene about 1900. By 1950, there are magazine and newspaper articles calling it one of the most popular sandwiches in the country. In 1959 there's a nationally syndicated article saying the Denver Sandwich is the most popular sandwich in the country with a name," Masich said.

"There are a couple of restaurants that still have them... one in Wheat Ridge, Li'l Nick's Pizza, and George's Cafe in Arvada.

Read the full transcript:

Matt Masich: The Denver Omelet didn't start as an omelet. It started as the Denver Sandwich, which is basically a Denver Omelette between two pieces of toast.

Ryan Warner: So it's an egg sandwich.

Matt Masich: It's an egg sandwich of the first big popular egg sandwiches that really started appearing on the scene about 1900 and by 1950 there are magazine and newspaper articles calling it one of the most popular sandwiches in the country. In 1959 there's a nationally syndicated article saying the Denver Sandwich is the most popular sandwich in the country with a name.

Warner: Wow. It's ham, cheese, bell peppers, onions between two pieces of bread.

Masich: Right. And so the heyday was in the 1950s and by the 1980s the Denver Omelet had surpassed the sandwich in popularity until today the Denver Sandwich is almost extinct. There are only a few places where you can still get them regularly. For some reason, Wisconsin is a hotbed of Denver Sandwiches.

Warner: Okay. I guess they have the cheese for it. Is there a Denver Sandwich to be had in Denver?

Masich: No. I searched high and low to find an actual Denver Sandwich in the Denver city limits. Can't be done as far as I know, you  can prove me wrong but in Arvada and in Wheat Ridge there are a couple of restaurants that still have them. And there is one in Wheat Ridge, Li'l Nick's Pizza, has a Denver Sandwich of sorts. 

Warner: Of sorts. They have their own spin on it?

Masich: Right. The owner, Bob Quintana, grew up slinging hash in restaurants in North Denver, started in the 1950s and he made a ton of Denver Sandwiches at the Hispanic and Italian communities there. He took those influences and on the Denver Sandwich he has, it's called the North Denver Sandwich, has mozzarella cheese, roasted green chile and the best part, it comes with a side of marinara for dipping.

Warner: Oh wow. The infusion of both the Italian and the Mexican there. Where is the other Denver Sandwich?

Masich: It's at George's Cafe in Arvada. It's basically like a BLT except instead of bacon, you have a little bit of Denver Omelet. 

Warner: I suppose the more fundamental question is whether it's a sandwich or an omelet? Why that combination of ingredients became the Denver Omelet?

Masich: There are a few theories on this. One of them is that people out on the frontier might have less than fresh eggs and might want to mask the spoiled flavor of it so they throw those things on it to make it taste nice.

Warner: Okay. What are some other theories?

Masich: Well one is that Chinese railroad laborers came up with this is the 1800s, sort of turning their egg foo young and turning it into a omelet/sandwich.

Warner: There's actually a marker that is about the birthplace of the Denver Omelet.

Masich: Yes. Downtown on California between 15th and 16th streets, there's a tiny little plaque on the sidewalk that you can walk over without noticing saying this is the birthplace of the Denver Omelet. They don't mention the sandwich because it's a little too complicated for a plaque.

Masich: Warner: It's actually got the recipe on it. We'll post the photo to CPRNews.org. What do you think the relationship is between this city and its omelet or sandwich?

Masich: You know, it's a little bit ambivalent, Philly is proud of their cheese steak. Chicago is proud of their deep dish pizza. In Denver, not so much. Some people even call it a Western Omelet, which I just find horribly unpatriotic.

Warner: Unpatriotic. Thank you so much for being with us.