Ah the French. How do they take a humble toasted ham and cheese sandwich and elevate it to new gastronomic heights? By adding béchamel sauce, bien sûr. By the way, "croque" means crunchy, which is what you want to hear, when you bite into your croque monsieur.
The quality of the bread, the ham, and the cheese – typically gruyère – make or break this sandwich.
And of course, the béchamel sauce, one of the "mother sauces" of classic French cuisine.
But if you don't want to spend the time on making a béchamel, then just find a good local French cafe and let them do their thing. Sharon and I visited three in the Chicago area and found our favorite close to home: Bonjour Café Bakery in Hyde Park. Here's how we rated our croque monsieurs.
La Fournette Bakery and Cafe, 1547 N. Wells (https://lafournette.com/)
$7.95 for a croque monsieur
We visited the Old Town location of La Fournette, a bakery with some eat-in tables for the lunch crowd. Their pastry offerings looked delicious but we had a job to do – sample their croque monsieur.
What we found was a very rich and delicious sandwich. You need a knife and fork to eat it.
The white sandwich bread is made in-house and is delicious.
It has a nice balance of flavors, a light layer of béchamel sauce, and the ham they use is quite tasty.
They top their sandwich with comté cheese instead of the traditional gruyère.
Bistro Zinc, 1131 N. State (http://www.bistrotzinc.com/)
$13.95 for a croque monsieur plus fries
They have a Gold Coast location with prices to match. The restaurant has a charming décor and reminded us of a Paris bistro. Unfortunately their croque monsieur was a disappointment.
The sandwich is dipped in a custard-like batter and then fried. It tasted sweet, like French toast.
There was lots of ham, and thicker bread than at La Fournette. It was heartier but blander.
I think their other menu offerings would be a better bet.
Bonjour Café Bakery, 1550 E. 55th Street (https://www.facebook.com/Bonjour-Cafe-Bakery-113471275353073/)
$9.50 for a croque monsieur
The balance of ingredients in this sandwich made it our favorite. The thickness of the white bread was just enough to make it substantial. The stars were the ham -- very tasty -- the gruyère cheese, and a generous amount of béchamel sauce.
If you don't want to eat out, here is a recipe for creating your own croque monsieur. It's hard to make a small quantity of béchamel sauce, so the sauce recipe below can be used to create 4 or more sandwiches.
Croque Monsieur recipe
Béchamel sauce (for 4 sandwiches)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk
dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
- Melt butter in a small saucepan.
- Add flour and whisk several minutes to cook the flour.
- Add the milk, whisking, and bring to simmer.
- Lower heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring, to thicken the sauce.
- Salt and pepper to taste
This is a thick béchamel, suitable to put on the top of your croque monsieur.
Sandwich (one sandwich)
2 slices of white bread
2 oz. ham
2 oz. thinly sliced gruyère cheese
1 Tbsp. melted butter
2 Tbsp. grated gruyère cheese
2 Tbsp. béchamel sauce
- Pre-heat oven broiler. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat.
- Compose sandwich with the ham and sliced gruyere cheese.
- Brush top of bread with half of the melted butter.
- Grill sandwich in sauté pan, melted butter side down.
- Brush top of sandwich with rest of melted butter.
- When lightly browned, flip sandwich.
- Top with 2 Tbsp. of béchamel sauce and the grated gruyere cheese.
- Put under the broiler until cheese melts and is lightly browned.