Bite me, Count Bendix!

Today’s Zippy, set in the Bendix Diner in Hasbrouck Heights NJ (in Bergen County, in the NJ suburbs of NYC, near Passaic), celebrates grilled or fried ham and cheese sandwiches:


Background: the diner. The exterior:


In a previous appearance on this blog, in my 7/18/13 posting “namesake”


(with information about the diner, a photo at night, and a photo of the interior).

The Monte Cristo sandwich. From Wikipedia:

(#4) A double-decker pan-fried version from the Macheesmo site

A Monte Cristo is a fried ham and cheese sandwich, a variation of the French croque-monsieur. In the 1930s–1960s, American cookbooks had recipes for this sandwich under such names as “French Sandwich”, “Toasted Ham Sandwich”, and “French Toasted Cheese Sandwich”. Swiss cheese is typically used.

In most regions, the sandwich is savory rather than sweet. Traditionally, it is dipped in its entirety in egg batter and pan fried, though it may also be deep fried. Regional variations may include sliced turkey. In some areas of the contiguous U.S. it is served grilled; in others, it is an open sandwich with only the bread battered and the assembled sandwich heated slightly under a grill or broiler.

The history of the name is unclear; it might not have appeared on menus until the 1950s in southern California. And the name might have been chosen for its ornamental value as an allusion to romantic adventure. The sandwich name is not yet in the OED, though OED3 (Dec. 2002) does have this Monte Cristo entry:

A person, event, etc., reminiscent of those portrayed in The Count of Monte Cristo [Alexandre Dumas’ novel Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (1844–5; earliest in English translation in 1846)], esp. with allusion to the great wealth, imprisonment, or daring escapades of the protagonist

Cites from 1890 on. For example:

1935 J. Buchan House of Four Winds vi. 147 We’re making burglarious entry into an ancient Schloss… We didn’t bargain for this Monte Cristo business.

The Monte Cristo sandwich (under that name) is very much an American thing. The model for it is very much a French thing.

My 7/8/13 posting “croquettes” has a section on the croque-monsieur (as a grilled ham and cheese sandwich using Emmental or Gruyère cheese); the name is literally ‘crunch, bite a man’, with the imitative verb croquer.

My 1961 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique characterizes croque-monsieur as “a rather fantastic [i.e., fanciful] name” for the hot sandwich. OED3 (June 2005) has the first appearance of the name in English from 1915, in a Belgian cookbook; then:

1988 Larousse Gastronomique (English ed.) 339/3 The first croque-monsieur was served in 1910 in a Parisian Café on the Boulevard des Capucines.

In any case, this name too remains something of a mystery.


2 Responses to “Bite me, Count Bendix!”

  1. Gary Says:

    Thanks for this post. I had a Monte Cristo there a few years ago—couldn’t finish it, had to ask for a doggy bag.

    It’s a sad place now, with hardly any customers. When I was a kid around 1960 it was flourishing, being on a then-major route with Bendix and Curtis-Wright factories nearby.

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    When I read that Zippy in the newspaper I was mildly disappointed that he had not worked in a reference to the Count. Thank you for filling that gap.

    50+ years ago, when I and some of my classmates used to occasionally go to Ken’s deli in Copley Square (Boston) at, say, 1 AM, the Monte Cristo was usually my choice.

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