by Cheryl Baehr
The croque madame seems to be the sandwich of the moment, showing up on even the most decidedly non-French menus around town. For this week's Thursday Throwdown, we're looking at two interpretations of this fork-and-knife sandwich: an updated sweet and savory offering from Panorama (1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-655-5490) at the Saint Louis Art Museum, and one with a German twist (and a funny name) from Urban Chestnut's Grove Brewery and Bierhall (4465 Manchester Avenue; 314-222-0143).
One of the highlights of Panorama's retooled menu is its croque madame, a rich, slightly sweet take on the classic. The chefs at Panorama begin with griddled sourdough bread, then pile on thinly shaved ham, cooked apple slices and a dash of sage. Gruyère cheese melts over the top, and an over-easy egg crowns the dish. As if this weren't enough decadence, the good folks at Panorama ladle creamy béchamel sauce over the whole thing.
Urban Chestnut Grove Brewery and Bierhall
Urban Chestnut's Strammer Max (ahem) arouses our appetite with its Black Forest ham, pungent Comte cheese and over-easy egg. Saxon for "stiffy," the Strammer Max is the bierhall's German take on the croque madame. Served open-face, the griddled rye bread soaks up the yolk like a sponge and infuses the dish with spicy caraway notes.
The Winner: Panorama
We appreciate a good twist on a classic, and Urban Chestnut's Strammer Max is a delicious interpretation of the French staple. We loved the caraway flavor on the crispy, butter-soaked rye bread, and the open-faced presentation made this like an oversized ham and cheese bruschetta. However, the apples and sage on Panorama's version paired wonderfully with the sweet ham, and the rich béchamel sauce turned this sandwich into a gooey, knife-and-fork treat. Now, if we took beer pairings into consideration, we'd be singing a different tune.