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Point-Counterpoint: The Monte Cristo Sandwich Is an Absurd Joke

The horrific Monte Cristo sandwich on this plate just barely distracts from the pale, green chunk of fruit that should be ashamed to be masquerading as honeydew.
The horrific Monte Cristo sandwich on this plate just barely distracts from the pale, green chunk of fruit that should be ashamed to be masquerading as honeydew.
Photo by Rick Auden

There are very few foods I don't like. It comes with the territory. And I am incredibly stubborn about the foods I dislike.

By stubborn, though, I don't mean that I've pledged to hate them eternally. I mean that I will keep stubbornly trying foods I hate, year after year, just to see if perhaps my tastebuds have matured or enough of the ones that hate licorice have finally died off so that now -- after 31 years -- I will finally like black licorice.

It's happened with beets. It's happened with fennel. It's happened with menudo. (Our tastebuds do change over time, as do our perceptions of and attitudes toward various foods. Both are important in retraining your palate.) But this shift has yet to happen with Monte Cristo sandwiches, despite being fed large quantities of them pre-birth, while still in the womb. That's right: My experience with hating Monte Cristo sandwiches extends beyond my own life span.

Figure that magic out, NASA scientists.

As it is with nearly everything I hate, however (i.e., Katy Perry, Red Bull, the Insane Clown Posse, Burger King), my cubicle mate at work -- assistant music editor Craig Hlavaty -- loves goddamned Monte Cristo sandwiches. He challenged me to yet another food debate, and I'll concede that he actually won in spite of my best efforts.

I am become silicon(e), destroyer of worlds.
I am become silicon(e), destroyer of worlds.

Katharine: I just... Why? Why would anyone like a Monte Cristo sandwich? I honestly can't think of a single occasion in which salty, wet lunch meat and greasy cheese sandwiched between two soggy slices of sugared bread, topped with jam -- jam! to add insult to injury! -- would ever sound appealing to someone. I mean, let's put aside for a second how disgusting that "sandwich" is. When and why would you want one to begin with?!

Craig: I think "salty, wet lunch meat and greasy cheese sandwiched between two soggy slices of sugared bread, topped with jam" is the answer to the "Why?" in your statement.

Look, Americans are insane as fuck. We went to the Moon, invented cars, rock and roll, and breast implants, and we gave the world Jenna Jameson. You think that a sugared sandwich that you dip in Welch's grape goo is somehow off the reservation? [Note: The Monte Cristo sandwich is an American take on the croque monsieur, a French creation which manages to retain some class by not being topped with powdered sugar or jelly.] Which reminds me, we also took over a country without regard to whoever was here first, which is off topic.

"My palm flower crystal turned black this morning. That means my LDL levels are critical. My only chance is to run it off in Cathedral while trying to avoid the sugar-crazed Cubs, and they just got an extra dose of Red Bull today."
"My palm flower crystal turned black this morning. That means my LDL levels are critical. My only chance is to run it off in Cathedral while trying to avoid the sugar-crazed Cubs, and they just got an extra dose of Red Bull today."

Katharine: I see your point and raise it: We are also the country that invented Turduckens and 24-hour Sprinkles cupcake vending machines. There is no point in arguing that Americans invent truly bizarre and/or nasty food meant to ultimately reduce each future generation's lifespan until we're living in Logan's Run not because of Carousel but because rampant arteriosclerosis and hypertension will kill us all before we reach the age of 30.

But that does not explain to me how or why anyone could like a Monte Cristo. They are -- objectively speaking -- disgusting abominations. What tastes good about a soggy, hot, aborted deli sandwich dipped in gelled corn syrup?

Craig: I like to see a Monte Cristo as the ultimate American statement, like the atom bomb: "We have powdered sugar and aren't afraid to use it."

Think about the Double Down in 2010. It was so uniquely American that it horrified people to their core it seemed, but all it was was some of our most treasured foods slapped together in a really scrumptiously horrific way. I don't see a Monte Cristo as anymore offensive than veal, foie gras, or McNuggets. Or even the Sweet & Spicy Crispy Pig Ears at Hay Merchant. Whatever suits your fancy, floats your boat, and all that.

Think of the Monte Cristo as that Katrina & The Waves song, "Walking On Sunshine."  

Patrick Bateman demonstrates an alternative use for the cheese on your Monte Cristo sandwich.
Patrick Bateman demonstrates an alternative use for the cheese on your Monte Cristo sandwich.

Katharine: All I think of when I hear that song anymore is American Psycho (which could actually still go to your point). Anyway... Scrumptious? No. Horrific? Yes.

You still have not answered the burning question: Why does a Monte Cristo taste good? Does it taste good solely because it tastes of American excess and diminishing returns? Or does it have some actual, legitimate, inherent deliciousness to it that I'm completely missing?

I mean, the Double Down does not inherently taste good. It's a giant joke. I honestly feel that the Monte Cristo is that same joke, except that it's been going on since at least the 1960s, when absurdities like this often went utterly unappreciated and unacknowledged because we were too busy sending shit to the moon.

Craig: The Monte Cristo tastes good for the same reason that people get garbage at Subway toasted, because hot garbage tastes better than cold garbage. It makes it a meal in a real sense. Cool, foot-long tuna and cheese sandwich.... But if you put it inside an industrial toaster, it's suitable for your dinner and you can go to bed happy that you aren't a 21st-century hobo.

I think absurdity is why you and I both have fields of art to write about. Lady Gaga? Absurd. A food truck that serves lobster? Doubly absurd. But these are both things that warm my heart and my belly.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Photo by Mike Saechang

Katharine: Considering the fact that Monte Cristo sandwiches made up roughly 50 percent of my mother's diet when she was pregnant with me (the other half was all liver and onions, which I love almost as much as I hate Monte Cristo sandwiches), I'll concede the point. Monte Cristo sandwiches are absurd. But without them I wouldn't be who I am today.

Craig: Just as I wouldn't be my chubby-faced self without a full gallon of milk in my family's fridge every day after school. Or Pam's tuna casserole, which, made with colby jack cheese, egg noodles, butter, and more butter, makes a Monte Cristo look like a wilted gas station ham and cheese sandwich.



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