Let Me Count the Ways
Gary Tucker - September 2014
New York City—As if we were in danger of running out of single-item eateries, with a list that includes macarons, cupcakes, potato dishes, meatballs, French fries, mac and cheese, risotto, and cannoli, you can also add that revered French favorite, the croque-monsieur. The grilled ham and cheese sandwich, said to have originated at a cafe on the Boulevard de Capucines in Paris in 1910, quickly rose in popularity to become one of most iconic of Parisian snacks. It was so beloved that, along with the madeleine, it was mentioned in Marcel Proust’s À la Recherche du Temps Perdu as a menu choice for the author and some of his friends after an evening at a concert.
Alberto Benenati and Yves Jadot, longtime New York City restaurateurs (The Peacock, for cocktails and upscale dining; The Raines Law Room speakeasy, with its requisite unmarked door; a cocktail parlor called Dear Irving; and several locations of the Belgian-themed cafe, Petite Abeille) celebrate the sandwich at La Maison du Croque Monsieur in Greenwich Village.
It’s housed at 17 East 13th Street, the former home of erotic diarist Anaïs Nin and her wealthy banker husband, who had fled Paris in 1939 to avoid the war and German occupation. Although bidding adieu to her stable of French lovers—painters, sculptors, musicians, and writers—she continued her bohemian lifestyle filled with passionate love affairs. She also installed a manually powered printing press so she could publish her own poetic dreamlike works.
At La Maison du Croque Monsieur, 15 of her paramours receive tribute in sandwich form—with offerings including Mr. Henry (the classic with jambon de Paris, creamy béchamel, and Gruyère), Mr. Rupert (sausage, bacon, egg, and cheddar), and Mr. Antonin (roasted turkey, fresh sage, cranberry sauce, and provolone). There’s also a small section of sides and beverages.
All in all, the tiny boîte seems to have imported two thoroughly French concepts: delicious food and passionate lovemaking.