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Accounting for This Monte Cristo


Many regional specialties get bastardized beyond comprehension once they leave their home state. I wouldn't necessarily know that first hand since the only vaguely NW-specific food I can recall eating are jo jo potatoes (definitely no morels or cedar-planked salmon).

I think California might lay claim to the monte cristo (proper version, above) but it has been a bountiful favorite of mine for years, one that I rarely indulge in here not out of concern for my health but because NYC has done terrible things to the poor sandwich. I learned this lesson a decade ago when I used to frequent Odessa in the wee hours. This weekend I relived the shock and horror at Carroll Gardens' Hill Diner (the dearth of post-midnight options in the area is sad).

The monte cristo I've always known and loved is essentially a club sandwich on French toast served with jelly (strawberry if you're classy, grape if you're not) and fries on the side. I'm pretty sure there's a layer of mustard too. Sweet, savory and yes, a little weird but if you like poultry, pastry and powdered sugary bisteeya like I do, this isn't much of a stretch. Moroccan…Californian…whatever.  Some go as far as battering and deep-frying the whole thing, Disneyland-style, though I've yet to encounter such as beast.

Hill diner monte cristo

My first clue that something was awry in New York was the sandwich's inclusion in the breakfast section, mingling with the omelets and pancakes. My version is lunch or dinner fare, tidy, not what I would consider overstuffed, and definitely handheld, which is why I balked when I was brought an enormous slab that nearly filled an entire plate. It seems that the NYC diner version (I've never had or seen one outside of a diner) is French toast—they have that part right—topped with thinly sliced turkey and ham and gelled together with a solid layer of melted swiss cheese, served open-faced. A pitcher of syrup is brought out with the confusing amalgam.

Not that I can't learn to love this gooey sugared package. I will say that this is a sandwich for these times; not only did I get post-Cyclones meal (beer and pretzels didn’t cut it) but also breakfast the following two mornings. Now that's good value.

After nearly forgetting about this sandwich—I think this was my first monte cristo of this millennium—my passion has been renewed. I am now determined to find a true monte cristo. There must be one lurking somewhere in the city. Anyone know anything?

Leave it to Martha Stewart to come up with a Ghost of Monte Cristo sandwich.

Example of normal monte cristo from

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  1. lisa #

    Don’t forget,if you’re ever near the Silly-cone CA area to try the Monte Cristo at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell CA (lunch menu only). I think our local Panera offers a version, also.

    Jo Jo Potatoes, your life is calling… What is this dish like?

    June 25, 2009

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