Like the ice cream sundae, chicken and waffles, or the Crab Louie salad, the exact origins of the Monte Cristo sandwich are a mystery. It is said to be a variation on a French ham sandwich called the croque-monsieur, but how it came to be battered in egg and dipped in sweet sauces is unclear. It makes an early appearance on the 1941 menu of Gordon’s restaurant in Los Angeles and has been a favorite at Disneyland since the mid-1960s, but a definitive history has not been written.
Turkey is commonly included, and cheddar sometimes accompanies the typical Swiss. The batter can either be confined to the bread or coat the entire sandwich, and in the latter case the sandwich is liable to being deep-fried. You’ll find the Monte Cristo is alive and well in Anchorage if you take a closer look.
Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant 4333 Spenard Rd.
Gwennie’s definitely qualifies as old Alaska, having formerly been a brothel and gambling den in the early 1970s. Today, Gwennie’s carries a family-friendly atmosphere, including a stuffed grizzly bear greeting patrons at the front door. Locals and tourists alike flock to this Spenard landmark.
Erickson: At first sight I was sold on this sandwich, arriving encased in egg batter and fitted with pineapple slices. I was able to look past the inadequate half-ounce jelly tubs, but I couldn’t ignore the subtle tang hiding in the folds of turkey. Ultimately, I devoured the entire sandwich, proof of my devotion to the Monte Cristo.
Vigoren: Something seemed strange with the first few bites, but it really clicked when Erickson compared the turkey’s taste to a dirty dishrag. I gave up shortly thereafter and filled up on fries.
City Diner somewhat convincingly transports patrons to a bygone era of old-fashioned eateries, causing one to wonder if Marty McFly or Biff’s cronies might be lurking nearby. You won’t find the decay of Anchorage’s long-standing diners here, but you might feel some sort of nostalgic sensation.
Erickson: This one also had a complete coating of batter and a nice finish. The contents sealed within were perfectly cooked — fluffy, then cheesy, then meaty, and then strawberry preserves ruptured in my mouth and my brain released happy chemicals. City Diner gets my pick for best sandwich.
Vigoren: City Diner had by far the best presentation of all five restaurants we visited. The liberal dusting of powdered sugar was almost too much for me, but any slave to the sugar gods will be more than pleased.
Leroy’s Family Restaurant 2420 C St.
Complete with hanging wicker lamps, built-in canary yellow place mats and a carpeted wall, not much has changed at Leroy’s since it was founded in 1968. This 24-hour mainstay caters not only to the drunk crowd, but to all the stragglers, misfits and diner veterans of Anchorage.
Erickson: I admit I had my first Monte Cristo at Leroy’s and have had more than a couple late night encounters since. When I first saw sugar all over my ham and turkey sandwich and a side of strawberry sauce, I asked the cook if there was some sort of mistake. I was so naive. Leroy’s is amazing.
Vigoren: I was dressed as Madonna the first time I tried the Monte Cristo on a late Halloween night. My first bite was a confusing combination of breakfast and lunch. Leroy’s does a double-decker with the perfect ratio of meat and cheese and the strawberry sauce makes my taste buds scream, “Yes!”
Kay’s is an Anchorage newcomer but no stranger to Alaska, having operated for 26 years in Fairbanks as the Bakery Restaurant. The restaurant is relatively small, though it serves as the frontispiece for an imposing Quonset hut adjacent to the Spenard Department of Motor Vehicles.
Vigoren: Kay’s felt less like a diner and more like a nursing home — not necessarily the atmosphere I would expect when hunting down the best Monte Cristo. The service was great and the sandwich was enjoyable, but nothing about it blew me away. If Leroy’s was the Ryan Gosling sandwich, Kay’s would be his less-handsome awkward friend you hang out with to get closer to him who is still pretty cool, just not Ryan Gosling.
Erickson: I was looking for an excuse to come here. Dull ambiance aside, this sandwich works really well with the bread battered independently and the meat and cheese balanced, very similar to Leroy’s.
Lily’s Family Restaurant 1440 E Tudor Rd.
Lily’s does not put on airs when it comes to serving up American-style food. This diner gets an A for service and laid-backedness, providing that comfortable numb feeling we have come to expect.
Vigoren: Lily’s sandwich was as skimpy as a harlot on a 90-degree afternoon. Breadth aside, it tasted scrumptious dunked in the perfect strawberry sauce.
Erickson: This diminutive Monte Cristo almost looks like an hors d’oeuvre next to some of the Spenard heavies, but after using it as a shovel for the wonderful strawberry sauce, I was able to accept it into my life.