Two bloggers. Three Restaurants. One mission: sample the best Croque Madames in Denver.
The Croque is a French classic. Make it at home, or have it at a local bistro – there’s nothing quite like the combination of fresh bread, melty cheese, fresh sliced ham, and a sultry Mornay sauce (that’s a cheesy Béchamel, my loves). And if you’re really looking for a treat, don’t forget the egg, which makes it a Madame instead of a Monsieur.
A few great Croques have popped up on menus around town in Denver recently, so Christine of Hungry in Boulder and I decided to embark on a (suicidal?) journey to try out the town’s best all in one morning. We called it Tour de Croques. No, there was no cycling and yes, there was a hashtag ().
Sampling the Croques side by side made us realize how different (and delicious) all the approaches were. There really is a Croque Madame for everyone:
For the Bread Lover: Olive and Finch
Although untraditional, the use of a fresh Le Trompeau baguette in this Croque makes it a bread lover’s dream. Enjoy it open faced or like a big juicy sub, the bread soaks up all the yolk and Mornay on the interior, leaving your hands clean and your mouth watering for the next bite. It’s enough to make you think the whole sliced bread thing is overrated.
This sandwich is one of my favorite things at Olive and Finch, but it is only on a rotating special. Extra props to the kitchen for whipping up the now off-menu Croque on the fly, with no warning. Chef Mary, you’ve got a great and accommodating team back there, making magic happen.
For the Traditionalist: Bistro Vendôme
Brioche, Mornay, Ham, Cheese, Egg – they got it. Bistro Vendôme delivers exactly what you think of when you’re imagining a Croque, and it doesn’t hurt that they serve it with their almost-too-good frites either.
There’s just a touch of dijon flavor in the Mornay, too, which makes for another great dipping sauce for the frites when you run out of the house-made aioli.
For the Carnivore: Le Grand Bistro
UPDATE: Le Grand Bistro Closed Permanently 5/25/2014
If you love ham, you’ve come to the right place. This Croque is all about its amazing, 12-hour in-house rosemary roasted pork shoulder, thin-sliced and piled high between two slices of sourdough (that’s a lot of love for a $12 sandwich). It looks like something right out of Canter’s Deli… but you know, French… and definitely not kosher.
You’re also getting some side-action here, with accoutrements like pickled onions and zuccinis that can add a whole other taste profile to the Croque you thought you knew.
Props to Chef John Broening for such intensive pork work at a restaurant not going after the nose to tail trend.
For Christine’s perspective on the Tour, check out the Hungry blog.
The above three were our favorites, but Vert Kitchen, Le Central, Cheeky Monk, and Parallel 17 also Croques on the menu… and then of course, there are the great French restaurants of Boulder, CO. Who’s up for a round 2?