Tour de Croques! Croque Guidelines, Category Winners + Overall Champion.

A friend and I got into a discussion about Croque Monsieurs [no egg] and Madames [egg], as these are the kinds of things my friends and I like to talk about.
We’re both food-lovers and writers, and we decided a discussion wasn’t enough; we needed to embark on a Tour de Croques in Denver [Boulder will get its own TdC].
We narrowed the field to 3 spots – 1 new, 1 classic, and 1 known for their croque.

1. Olive & Finch [new]
2. Bistro Vendome [classic]
3. Le Grand Bistro [known for]

The term croque is inspired by the French verb croquer – to crunch – and this makes the grilled part absolutely necessary.
To me, there’s no question regarding adding an egg, and my friend felt the same way, so each of the ones we got were Madames.
Here are 6 key elements of the classic Croque Madame [5, plus a bonus category], notes, and the winner of each category:

1 / Bread
For any sandwich, anywhere, the bread makes it or breaks it.
That’s just the sandwich bottom line.
Of the three we sampled, each had a different bread.
O&F’s was on baguette, Vendome’s was on brioche and Le Grand’s was on sourdough.
The bread should be grilled, or at the very least toasted, which all three were.
The baguette and deft application of the mornay and cheese, allowed us to eat the O&F croque out of hand, which you normally aren’t able to do.
Not only was the bread itself fantastic, but the handheld aspect was surprisingly great.
The baguette won this round, so the bread round goes to Olive & Finch.

2 / Ham
Le Grand hit this out of the park and they did so because not only do they make their own ham in-house, but it’s rosemary ham.
And, they slice it thin, which makes all the difference.
I want a good ham to bread to mornay ratio.
The others’ ham was sliced thicker, and while tasty, took away from the overall balance of the sandwich.

3 / Cheese
It has to be Emmental or Gruyere, and while this is found in the mornay sauce itself, some also add a layer of cheese, as both Olive & Finch and Le Grand did.
O&F spread a generous layer of mornay on the baguette, followed by a generous layer of ham, then melted Emmental cheese, with the poached eggs on top.
O&F’s cheese was gooey and melty and delightful and wins this category.

4 / Egg
I think absolutely the egg has to be poached.
You simply need that runny, gooey yolk.
Some would say a fried egg is fine, but in my world a fried egg, on this kind of dish, is most definitely not fine.
Each attempted poached eggs, with varying degrees of success.
Bistro Vendome’s egg was the most perfectly done poached egg, and once the yolks were broken, they swam over the sandwich itself, with extra mixing with the mornay on the bottom of the plate, pooling into the most delightful enriched sauce, that we kept dipping forkfuls of the croque into.
It makes a big difference whether you can get that yolk to run.
Have I made my point that a runny yolk is key?
Ok, let’s move on.

5 / Mornay Sauce
Mornay is a classic béchamel, with all gruyere or all emmental, or a combination of the two added.
Vendome does a Dijon mornay that’s interesting.
In this dish, I typically want a straight moray, but I do love Dijon, so it wasn’t off-putting at all; just unclassic.
Both O&F’s and Le Grand’s were classic mornay.
Now, let’s talk mornay distribution – or MD – for short.
This is key.
You must be generous with the mornay.
If you’re not, it makes me angry, and I don’t like to be angry when I dine.
You don’t want the sandwich swimming in it, but you don’t want any semblance of dryness either.
Bistro Vendome wins this category for both flavor and MD.

6 / Side[s]
Sides count.
This is a bonus category, because they aren’t a component of the actual croque itself, but the whole plate is either exciting or not, based on the croque AND side[s].
Though traditionally served with frites – not to be confused with normal French fries – these are not as thick as a traditional fry, but not as thin as a matchstick fry.
They’re somewhere gloriously in between.
O&F offers a side salad, which was a fresh take.
Vendome does sweet and savory frites that they dust with both salt and sugar.
Le Grand had the most traditional frites, which helped them lead the category, but they took things a few steps further with their accoutrements.
They offered thinly sliced housemade pickles, vinegary red onion with thyme, as well as aioli to dip the frites in. [Vendome also offered aioli with their frites]
Le Grand wins.

Bread: Olive & Finch
Ham: Le Grand
Cheese: Olive & Finch
Egg: Bistro Vendome
Mornay: Bistro Vendome
Sides: Le Grand

A true 3-way tie.
Until…

The Croque and side[s] matter, of course, but what makes an Overall Champion includes hospitality, service and environment.
Le Grand won this absolutely hands down.
They engaged us on social media as we were planning our TdC.
They greeted us warmly and generously with a glass of rose when we arrived.
The Sous Chef, Edwin, personally delivered the croque.
The atmosphere was convivial and lively.

Note: As of this writing, Olive & Finch no longer has the croque on the menu, though let’s cross our fingers that they’ll bring it back.
It would be the right thing to do.

You can read more about Le Grand in this post: https://hungryinboulder.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/a-love-letter-to-legrand

You can also read my TdC partner-in-crime, Emily’s, take on the Tour here: http://goutaste.com/the-best-croque-madames-in-denver

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