If you’ve never heard of a Monte Cristo sandwich, think of it as the breakfast offspring of French toast and a grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich.
The good ones come with egg-dipped bread, grilled until crispy and golden brown, stuffed with ham, turkey and gooey cheese and dusted with powdered sugar. A proper one always comes with jam or syrup on the side for dipping.
A huge fan of Monte Cristo sandwiches, but frequently disappointed with the offerings here, I went searching for the best versions in Tacoma.
That’s when I noticed more restaurants serving gussied-up versions that were so twisted, they barely fit the definition of a Monte Cristo. I found one dipped in a corn flake batter and deep fried. Another with the surprising addition of grilled pineapple. Yet another came with smoked gouda and a topping of habanero blueberry jelly. A few skipped the ham and turkey in favor of sausage and prosciutto.
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For this tour, I’m writing only about Monte Cristos that push the limit of what one might think of that sandwich.
A preemptive word to Monte Cristo purists: These sandwiches won’t agree with your sensibilities, and no straightforward versions are included here. Just stop reading now.
Here are five unusual Monte Cristo sandwiches to try, in no particular order.
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DOYLE’S PUBLIC HOUSE
Where: 208 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-272-7468; doylespublichouse.com. (Note: Diners 21 and older only.)
The sandwich: Doyles Cristo, $11.
On the: Breakfast menu only, served weekdays and weekends.
Best for: Spice lovers and goo fanatics.
The lowdown: It’s a little bit like a croque madame (after which Monte Cristo sandwiches are said to be modeled) and packed with a whole lot of flavor. Chef Ben Marcus added a little peppery kick, too, a nod to his Bayou roots (he worked at the long gone From the Bayou with his brother). He stacked a spicy sausage patty with smoked gouda and two fried eggs between two slices of egg-dipped cinnamon brioche that came from Tacoma’s Baker Boys. Was that booze I detected in the egg wash? Yes, it was. He added a splash of Brown Sugar Bourbon from Gig Harbor’s Heritage Distilling, which is fitting because Doyle’s has one of the best whiskey lists in the region. Powdered sugar finished the sandwich that was built to be eaten with a fork and knife. This sandwich was the most memorable of the tour because of its flavor whirl of smoky, spicy and sweet.
For dipping: A decadent helping of spicy-saucy habanero blueberry sauce poured over the top (ask for it on the side if you’d rather dip).
Served with: Cubed, fried potatoes.
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OVER THE MOON CAFE
Where: 709 Opera Alley, Tacoma; 253-284-3722; overthemooncafe.net.
The sandwich: Monte Cristo, $12.
On the: Lunch menu only. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.
Best for: Those who love a decadent Monte Cristo with a crispy exterior and feathery soft interior.
The lowdown: Chef-owner Deanna Harris Bender is a sucker for grilled cheese sandwiches. Her Monte Cristo is based on the version served at Charlie’s in Puyallup when she worked there in high school. “I wanted something a little less eggy and more creamy, with heavy cheese,” she said. Her heavy-on-the-cream egg wash gave the sturdy sourdough bread a decadent, rich tone the other sandwiches on this tour couldn’t replicate. She grilled the sandwich first, then finished it in the oven. That technique resulted in a crispy-crunchy exterior and a pillowy interior with alternating layers of prosciutto and creamy gruyere, with a light smear of spicy Dijon mayo and honey. The exterior carried just enough of a dusting of powdered sugar to be visible.
For dipping: Raspberry preserves.
Served with: Tangy potato salad.
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BROWNS POINT DINER
Where: 6622 East Side Drive NE, Tacoma; 253-952-3743; brownspointdiner.com.
The sandwich: Monte Cristo, $10.25.
On the: Daily lunch menu (available after 11 a.m.).
Best for: Anyone who appreciates a well-constructed sandwich with a nice layer of sweet in the middle.
The lowdown: Co-owner Shane Leek grew up eating Monte Cristos made with pineapple, which is why he serves his that way at Browns Point Diner. I award extra points for this diner because the cook grilled the ham, turkey and pineapple separately before constructing the sandwich. All that grilling created terrific flavor from top to bottom of the three-tier sandwich. Egg-dipped egg bread came with crispy edges, also from extra time on the grill. A double whammy of American and Swiss cheese upped the goo factor. The powdered sugar was just a sprinkle.
For dipping: A vessel of strawberry jam that tasted house-made.
Served with: Some of the best hand-cut fries you’ll find in the area.
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STANLEY AND SEAFORT’S
Where: 115 E. 34th St., Tacoma; 253-473-7300; stanleyandseaforts.com.
The sandwich: Monte Cristo, $16.
On the: Weekend brunch menu. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays.
Best for: Crunch fiends. The coating of corn flakes yielded sweetness and extra crispiness.
The lowdown: Coating French toast with breakfast cereal was a restaurant trend that died in about five minutes because it was gimmicky and didn’t usually work well. But Stanley and Seafort’s presentation was highly successful because its cereal vehicle — corn flakes — was crunchy and sweet, two necessary components for a Monte Cristo.
This version of a Monte Cristo achieved peak crunchiness from a thick breading of corn flakes wrapped around sturdy bread and fried until an optimum level of gluttonous. Every bite was as loud as it was tasty. That crisp jacket broke to a soft-and-gooey interior with melted Swiss, thin shaved layers of ham and turkey, and a swipe of Dijon. Powdered sugar was lightly applied.
For dipping: Sticky strawberry preserves.
Served with: Rosemary Parmesan potatoes and a full link of sliced andouille sausage. Fresh fruit also on the side.
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Where: 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma; 253-248-4265; thevalleytacoma.com. (Note: Diners 21 and older only).
The sandwich: Southwestern Monte Cristo, $9.99.
On the: Weekend brunch menu. Brunch begins at 9 a.m. Saturdays-Sundays.
Best for: Spice lovers and cheese fiends.
The lowdown: The server warned, “it’s not a traditional Monte Cristo sandwich.” That’s OK. I was on board based on the dipping sauce alone. The Monte Cristo here was built on French bread treated to a light egg wash, stuffed with turkey and ham (that had been grilled separately) and stacked with cheesy layers of cheddar and Swiss. Spicy remoulade sauce added kicky heat. The sandwich was cut and stacked like Lincoln logs, which was thoughtful because the slices were the ideal size for jamming into the dipping vessel. (Note: No powdered sugar served on this one).
For dipping: Strawberry jalapeno jelly with the most delicious tweak of spice.
Served with: Heavily peppered cubed home fries with onions and peppers.