Only the French could make "ham & cheese" sound elegant. In the case of a croque monsieur, it also means the sandwich is grilled, and will typically contain gruyère or emmental cheese. Upmarket versions will have a layer of rich, béchamel sauce as well. In the case of the sandwich's siblilng, the croque madame, a giant fried or poached egg is placed on top, just to gild the lilly. That madame you see pictured above comes from chef Ryan Poli - definitely not a Frenchman - but on his brunch menu at Perennial, he gives a shout out to everyone's favorite French chef, Jacques Pepin. This eggy-rich version has that requisite gruyère, but it also manages to squeeze in a layer of confit chicken between the fried egg and a pool of mornay sauce. As pretty as it is, we also dug the French toast "sticks," which had some poached baby bananas draped over them, along with a smattering of caramelized pecans:
Funny enough, it was the second croque I had seen in two days. The night before, enjoying a truly wonderful meal at Ruxbin (the best BYOB in Chicago), the very first item on their winter menu is a "croque monsieur," (note the quotation marks) featuring shaved ham, a little roasted tomato and the requisite gruyère, plus, a sweet marmalade and a hint of black olive, turning it into a child of the Mediterranean, rather than just France. Portion was key here; we didn't want to get too filled up right off the bat, and the smaller croque "toasts" had a simple balance of rich, sweet and savory, with the brininess of the olive just barely cutting through the richness of the dish:
Incidentally, we loved nearly everything we had at Ruxbin, which is steadily becoming my favorite neighborhood restaurant in Chicago, $5 corkage-per-table and all.
Previous post in Steve Dolinsky