More bread, meat, and cheese than any human should consume: find out more about the Tour de Hamdel here.
Friends come and go like old books piled on shelves and long forgotten—even those friends that have faded from immediate memory tend to reemerge exactly when you need them. As a kid, I loved Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers—at least the movie and made-for-television versions. Eventually, I bought the book, a weighty tome bound in blue cloth, complete with a fancy ribbon to mark your spot. Shoved into my bookcase, The Three Musketeers languished for a half decade before I finally started reading it. I discovered that reading Dumas’ dry prose is no easy task and that some books are better left on shelves until the reader gains a certain degree of maturity. All this Dumas drama unfolded when I was 12—maybe now it’s time to pull The Three Musketeers out of retirement and try again. A story of loyalty, political intrigue, and romance seems perfect for a student finishing his sophomore year of college, a time when high school friendships continue to atrophy and newly forged college friendships come under fire.
As a high school senior, I found Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo a much more entertaining read than The Three Musketeers. After reading Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which uses Monte Cristo as a framing device and supernarrative structure, I tackled Dumas with renewed vigor. Although I still found his style stodgy, the text’s romantic leanings resonated with my late adolescent self.
This week, I returned to the Monte Cristo, at least in its sandwich form. At Hamdel, the Monte Cristo comes with turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato on a hero. Of course, Hamdel’s Monte Cristo derives from an iconic ham and cheese sandwich that usually substitutes French toast for bread. In fact, the typical Monte Cristo comes battered and fried like a slab of pain perdu stuffed with ham and Swiss. Regional variations aside, the French toast battering eggy custard element seems essential to the Monte Cristo identity—the Hamdel variety appears more like a BLT with ham and turkey, or a ham and turkey sandwich with bacon. Not exactly a Monte Cristo, not exactly an entirely distinct creation, Hamdel’s Byronic hero occupies a border territory between sandwich worlds.
Despite its lack of French toastness, Hamdel’s Monte Cristo is a thoroughly enjoyable sandwich. Thin slices of rosy ham rest on a moist bed of turkey—strips of smoky bacon run lengthwise down the hero, and a measured melt of Swiss adds cheesy sweetness and charm. Today, the hero bread itself tasted particularly fresh, soft and loveable with just chewy crust. If only for a little less lettuce and tomato, this hero might easily make a best of Hamdel list.
I never ate Monte Cristo sandwiches growing up, so my Hamdel hero of the day didn’t take me back to a long lost friend. Instead, I simply contemplated the (human) friends I’ve lost along my pseudo-Joycean path from adolescence to adulthood. Sure, these nostalgic trips to a land of reminisce exemplify Dumas’ romantic stylistics—but I think that the act of remembering need not include excess emotion. There’s a time and a place for schmaltz, and it’s in my bubbe’s kitchen.
Readers of The Three Musketeers inevitably identify with d’Artagnan, the text’s center of subjectivity and not one of the titular characters. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis adopt d’Artagnan into their fold of friendship; I’d like to think that my own circle of (four) musketeers has remained largely intact over the years. I would order the Monte Cristo again, though a few hot peppers would add some excitement.
Next: the Big Bird (smoked turkey, sliced chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, coleslaw, and Russian dressing on a toasted hero).