The Return of Monte Cristo

BiteClubber Jim asks: Where in Santa Rosa or in the county of Sonoma can I find Monte Cristo sandwiches?

America’s answer to the Croque Monsieur, the batter-dipped Monte Cristo sandwich was a beloved diner staple throughout the 60s and early 70s. But like Shirley Temples, meatloaf and pot roast, it faded into food obscurity as the Age of Sprouts and Tofu dawned.

But oh, the Monte Cristo. For a generation of kids raised on PB&J, Lil’ Smokies and Chef Boyardee this tooth-pick-studded dazzler was about as good as food could get. Little more than a few layers of bread, ham, turkey and Swiss cheese dropped in egg batter, fried to within an inch of its life and sprinkled with powdered sugar it seemed exotic and grown up. Topped with syrup and raspberry preserves was almost more than my little brain could handle. Hey, it was the 70s.

But BiteClub’s not the only one who remembers this sandwich fondly. “It’s just a classic,” says Mike Thibault, chef at Willow Wood Café and Market in Graton. Thibault makes his own version, with challah bread, black forest ham, and a batter of eggs and Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream for enthusiastic Sunday brunchers. “We don’t mess around with it too much,” he says. Though its not actually fried in a deep fryer, like many of the classics, it’s has become a favorite. “Yeah, it’s really become a monster,” Thibault adds.

Inspired by a Monte Cristo he was once served by a bartender at the venerable Belvedere (they no longer serve the sandwich, sadly), Thibault and BiteClub both agree that aside from nostalgia, the sandwich is a hell of a hangover cure. Sweet, salty, carbo-loaded and fried–it’s a kick start to an otherwise nasty morning.

Mark Stark has also put the classic sandwich on his menu at Monti’s in Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village. More about the play on the name (his is called the Monti Cristo) than any particular nostalgia, the sandwich made of Westphalian ham, gruyere and sweet onion jam on toasted brioche has been around since the restaurant’s opening.

Wondering where the idea for such a sandwich came from originally? Its history is a bit murky, but some think it may have originated in Los Angeles in the 1940s. It came into the national spotlight when Disney’s Blue Bayou Restaurant opened in 1966, featuring the dish. Check out the recipe.

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