The only vaguely French quality about a Monte Cristo is that it’s made with French toast, but for kids dining at Disneyland’s Blue Bayou restaurant, the sweet, salty, and decadent creation might as well be a croque monsieur.
Though the Monte Cristo's origins are gooey, the sandwich was likely influenced by the croque, as well as by a Depression-era dinner staple called a cheese dream and the deep-fried grilled cheeses called "Frenchees" native to Nebraska. Curious to know more about its strange history?
A traditional Monte Cristo is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, sometimes with turkey thrown in, made on French toast and dusted with powdered sugar. Some restaurants, like the Bennigan's of my youth and Canter's Deli in LA (pictured above), go a step further and deep fry the sandwich in batter, serving it with powdered sugar and jam. It's a mound of salty, sweet heaven.
The Monte Cristo rose to fame in 1966, when it appeared on the menu at Disney's Cajun restaurant, adjacent to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Whether someone coined the name before that, no one is sure, but similar sandwiches were being eaten. As far back as the 1930s, Depression-era dinner parties often featured "cheese dream" sandwiches. A 1937 Procter & Gamble cookbook features a cheese dream recipe that involves dredging cheese sandwiches in egg and milk, then frying in a chafing dish. French toast meets grilled cheese!
Nebraska also boasts a local specialty going back to the 1950s, called the Frenchee, marketed by King's Food Host restaurants. In her book American Sandwich, Becky Mercuri describes it as white sandwich bread, filled with cheese, "then batter-dipped, sometimes rolled in cornflakes, and either fried or deep-friend until golden." Instead of jam, it's served with ketchup or cocktail sauce.
So perhaps the Blue Bayou chef had been to Paris, or maybe he just hailed from Nebraska. Either way, the name Monte Cristo stuck.