The Iconic Theme Park Monte Cristo Sandwich Is Even Better Made At Home

Our take on the Disney classic (which includes ham, cheese, and so very much butter) is also some once-in-a-lifetime kind of magic.

Side view of a monte cristo
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

In a previous life, I traversed the country every other week with the goal of identifying the very best food available in each of America’s most beloved theme parks. (For work. I did this for work.) I ate things I hope everyone gets the pleasure of eating (Dollywood’s cinnamon bread crusted with apple butter). I ate things no one should ever, ever eat (what I can only describe as “frosted soda” exclusively available in the bowels of Hersheypark). I ate things that stick with me to this day simply because they are core memory-type things, like Knott’s Berry Farm’s boysenberry-laden funnel cakes and turkey legs from…well, everywhere. I ate so many fucking turkey legs.

And then there's Disney. 

One of the things I most often think about having gotten to eat is Disneyland’s Monte Cristo, specifically the one available at Café Orleans. I first had one in 2018 under golden faux firefly glow on a blistering Anaheim midday, seeking reprieve and real sustenance in a way Dole Whips and mousey beignets had not yet provided, and dear god, it was that and more. A Monte Cristo—that Monte Cristo—sits with you for a bit, both emotionally and physically. You don’t need much else for more than a minute once you’ve accomplished it. Trust me! I’m...I'm a theme park expert, and so, so far from a doctor!

side view of a stack of monte cristos
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

Many reading this won’t be surprised that there is a storied relationship between Disney and this particular sandwich. In fact, most people I surveyed believe the Monte Cristo to have originated in the parks. (“People” being the eight self-identified Disney adults in my life and however many you have in yours, I’m confident.) Their Monte Cristo—a lot of ham, a little less turkey, so much Swiss cheese, fried, powdered sugared, all distinctly chopped into tall triangles for better blackberry preserve dipping—is still served in its original 1940s recipe form at Café Orleans, smack in the center of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. It has been offered consistently at different Disney restaurants since at least 1966, according to the 100th anniversary edition of Delicious Disney: Disneyland

And while Disney serves what people assume is the OG, the company doesn’t actually claim the Monte Cristo. “While most fans identify the Monte Cristo with the Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square at Disneyland, the sandwich is not from the Crescent City,” Pam Brandon explains in the Disney-produced Delicious Disney: Walt Disney World: “[It’s] believed to have originated in Southern California. That may explain how it made its way to the commissary menu at The Walt Disney Studios in 1940.”

I love that, but I can’t find a single person to authoritatively tell me where the damn thing actually originated. Disney reps pointed me back to that first aforementioned cookbook! What’s Cooking America says a Parisian cafè was responsible! Others assume a beefed-up, cheesier version of the croque monsieur must’ve just arisen around the same time the croque monsieur became popular in the early 1900s (though le monsieur’s origin story is unclear as well). Once the Monte Cristo was already popular, presumably because of the Disney boost, Bennigan’s, god bless them, triple-deckered the sandwich somewhere in the aughts, making it even more popular and giving it a sweeter flavor profile via honey wheat bread and raspberry preserves. I’ve found it’s the latter version that has trickled out across the country, and that the best greasy spoon diners slap browned breakfast meats between two slices of shredded cheese-covered French toast and then point you to pre-packaged table jellies for appropriate dipping.

The truth is, nobody really knows where the damn thing—because I’m not sure what else you call “griddled, slathered, and cheese-coated protein squished betwixt thick eggy toast slices” besides the damn thing—came from, nor is there a “correct,” standardized version. As with most things, the best version of the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the haze.

To develop the version of the Monte Cristo presented here, our test kitchen created a focused and salty handful of a sandwich that excludes the turkey and goes hard on the mustard. These choices were born of dedicated testing: Our test kitchen cooks felt the turkey skewed the sandwich closer to turkey club or Cuban sandwich territory, while the stronger hit of mustard offered a needed pungency and umami to offset what is otherwise just too dang supersuper sweet. 

Overhead view of dusting with sugar
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

Once assembled, the whole thing is battered and pan-fried to the expected level of golden perfection. A small amount of baking powder whisked into the batter raises its pH to promote browning. It also creates tiny air pockets in the batter that form once heated. These tiny bubbles break up the texture of the batter for a lighter, crisper coating that I’m certain Disneyland would approve of. 

The sandwich pairs perfectly with raspberry jam, or you could dip it in Dijon to double down on that mustardy tang (this latter option was preferred by some in our test kitchen). It is decadent, it is memorable, it is buttery (but not overly so), and, boy, is it a mess. Do yourself a favor and wait a few minutes before carving into it to avoid molten cheese oozing all over your cutting board. While I can attest that it's surprisingly great in swampy heat, sure, one could probably enjoy it on a chilly day too.

And if you’re still sitting here wondering why anyone would want to eat such a combination of things, you need to trust the process: the Monte Cristo is for vibes and thrills—a beautiful thing everyone should get to experience every few years until they are emotionally prepared to eat the next one…and/or financially prepared for their next trip to Anaheim. 

Editor's Note: This recipe was developed by Catherine Jessee; the headnote was written by Tess Koman.

For the batter: In a shallow baking dish or pie plate, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg until combined. In a small bowl, whisk milk and egg until combined. Whisk milk mixture into the flour mixture until a smooth batter is formed. Batter should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon; set aside until ready to use.

Overhead view of mixing batter
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

For the Sandwiches: Place 4 slices of bread on a clean work surface. Spread 2 slices with mayonnaise and 2 slices with mustard. Set aside.

Overhead view of adding mustard to bread
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

Layer 1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) of the cheese on each mayonnaise-coated bread slice, top with the ham, divided evenly between the 2 slices. Top with the remaining cheese (1/4 cup per sandwich). Close each sandwich with the remaining bread slices, mustard side down. Press firmly to adhere.

Two image collage of layering ham and cheese onto bread
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

Working with 1 sandwich at a time, use a fish spatula and hands to dip and turn the sandwich in the prepared batter to coat evenly. Transfer the sandwich to a large plate and repeat with remaining sandwich.

Overhead view of dipping sandwiches in batter
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium heat, swirling to coat the pan evenly, until foaming. Carefully transfer the sandwiches to the skillet and cook until golden brown on bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Using 2 spatulas, carefully flip the sandwiches. Set a cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven directly on the sandwiches to press them. Continue to cook until the bottom side is golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Two image collage of flipping sandwiches
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

Transfer sandwiches to a clean wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and let cool for 5 minutes. Cut sandwiches in half and dust with powdered sugar, if using. Serve with raspberry jam on the side, if using.

Two image colalge of sandwiches cooked and being dusted with sugar
Serious Eats / Victor Protasio

Special Equipment

Dutch oven, fish spatula

Notes

For less mess and for ease of handling, cut sandwich into halves or quarters before dredging.

Using two large fish spatulas to flip the sandwich (over/under) carefully in the hot oil is the most seamless way to do it.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Once the sandwiches are dredged, they should be prepared immediately. Batter and sandwiches, however, can be prepared ahead of time separately.