A newcomer to Union Square, an area bustling with college and post-graduate students hungry for a quick bite at an affordable price, La Maison Du Croque Monsieur fits right in with the crowd. While the name seems overly French and slightly complicated for some to pronounce, the menu quickly puts to rest any fears of foreign ingredients and scary combinations. The name of the shop pays homage to the signature French sandwich, the Croque Monsieur. The original sandwich, which graces the top of the menu, is simply a ham and cheese panini. The Monsieur’s wife, the Croque Madame, puts a twist on the classic with a lightly fried egg on top of the sandwich, which creates a slightly more decadent version of the dish. But even still, simplicity and the best ingredients are the keys to success.
La Maison Du Croque Monsieur understood that we, Americans, need a few more options in our lives then just ham and cheese with the occasional fried egg. Listed under the category “New Croques,” the restaurant creates a section of whimsical paninis for those willing to break the French mold and include other types of meats, cheeses and vegetables between the two slices of crispy bread. For all of those vegetarians out there, a small section of the menu is dedicated to these sandwiches that throw away the conventional pairing of meat and cheese to make room for vegetables to act as a suitable replacement. In addition, a variety of Cheese Only Croques gives new life to a traditional grilled cheese.
In order to ensure the highest quality of products, La Maison enlisted the help of Murray’s Cheese, a well-known and respected NYC cheese purveyor. The partnership allows for all customers to breath a sigh of relief knowing that slices of prepackaged Kraft cheese will not be served on pieces of Wonder Bread.
I met Dan for lunch here on a rainy Thursday afternoon. The place was crowded, attracting individuals seeking refuge from the rain with their laptops carefully tucked under their arms, in addition to the groups of talkative friends gathering for a quick bite; the epitome of Union Square dining.
After having stared at the menu until my eyes hurt, I ultimately decided to steer away from the classic and instead try Mr. Antonin, a gourmet twist on a Thanksgiving leftover sandwich. Dan opted to order the Mr. Gore, a vegetarian sandwich with goat cheese, portobello, sun dried tomatoes and pine nuts. I felt as if we were speaking in fancy sandwich terminology, referring to each sandwich as Mister. (Cue Fake Dialogue: I’ll have the Mr. Rupert! Oh No, the Mr. Otto seems splendid today. That Mr. Gonzalo is a little too wild for my liking. Oh well, Mr. Lawrence hits the spot every time). After a brief pause, my AP French skills came flooding back, as we remembered that Monsieur is the French word for Mr., hence the titles of the sandwiches.
We ordered our sandwiches and Iced Coffees receiving a number at the bottom of the receipt, which would be called when our food was ready. The restaurant has two small tables downstairs and additional seating on an upper level. We snagged one of the few tables upstairs, ears perked up for the number “85” to be called. Not too long after sitting down, we marched back downstairs to retrieve our sandwiches.
Each sandwich is served in a convenient brown paper bag, with the sandwich name and ingredients written on a distinct white, circular label on top. This made it easier to distinguish rather then guessing wrong. Once settled upstairs, I dug into the brown paper bag to fish out Mr. Antonin.
This well crafted sandwich starts out strong with the sweet crunching sound of the golden brown bread. Then you hit the prominent roasted turkey and hints of sage, followed immediately by the sweet cranberry sauce. Slightly bitter and tangy notes from the provolone comes through just at the end, leaving the lingering taste until you take another big bite. Unlike any Thanksgiving Sandwich I’ve concocted at home, this sandwich is relatively compact and neat to eat. The ingredients are plentiful, but not excessive.
Half way through my sandwich, Dan and I switched so I could have a taste of the Mr. Gore (not pictured). The vegetarian version had goat cheese slathered on both sides of the crispy bread, and a generous sprinkle of pine nuts scattered over the cheese. Grilled pieces of meaty portobello mushrooms, and slices of sun dried tomato make up the bulk of the sandwich. Unlike the Antonin, this sandwich was slightly messier to eat with goat cheese finding a spot on the corners of my mouth and big pieces of portobello trying to stay between the two slices of bread. Despite the messier nature of the sandwich, it was delicious and a lighter alternative which highlights vegetables and cheese.
La Maison Du Croque Monsieur has made a name for itself in the Union Square area in its short life. It’s constantly crowded, and the prices are definitely right with all sandwiches under $9 for generous portions and great ingredients. Plans to expand are already in the works and I’m crossing my fingers that the Upper West Side, especially the West 70s makes its way onto the list. (It could be slightly dangerous to have a location so close to home.) I’m already beginning to plot my next venture back to try other combinations, and of course the classic Croque Monsieur.
La Maison Du Croque Monsieur – 17 East 13th Street – New York, NY