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Semiotics of the Monte Cristo – Maple Tree, Oak Park

David Hammond | Nov 9, 200212:57 AM

It’s good to have goals in one’s life, and my goal is now clear: to eat a Monte Cristo sandwich at every location in Oak Park that serves them.

Today’s venue for the new object of my affections was Maple Tree, which serves the Monte Cristo in what I call the Middle Style: Swiss, ham and turkey (distinguished from the Essential Style, which is just ham and Swiss, and the Decadent Style, which features ham, turkey, Swiss, plus bacon and perhaps even additional elements -- what all styles have in common is cheese, ham, and French toast). The Maple Tree version includes shaved ham and chunky turkey – a new configuration! (Now that I’m a collector of Monte Cristo experiences, I thrill to each variation on the theme).

As I munched my Monte, I reflected upon the semiotics of the sandwich – the archetypal sandwich, that is, the Platonic vision of Sandwich. Though the sandwich is historically the result of culinary theorizing by the leisure class (e.g., the Earl of), the traditional sandwich signifies the working man’s lunch, something you eat with your hands during the busy workday. Think of any regular old sandwich shop, and my guess is that it’s not open for dinner – and that’s because people usually eat sandwiches during the 30-60 minutes vouchsafed by their employer for that purpose. The sandwich is a signifier of life-on-the-run, the gotta-grab-a-bite-and-go Western culture that, Dub-yuh willing, will eventually exert dominion over the globe and eventually the whole frickin’ galaxy.

But back to the grub.

Today, I, Western workingman, held in my hands the sign of all that stuff, pondering the complexity of this particular creation and all that it signifies. This eponymous sandwich is itself a metaphor of its literary namesake, the betrayed and finally triumphant Count of Monte Cristo. As you may recall from the Dumas novel, the innocent young sailor of humble origins transforms himself into a dashing nobleman. So, in the Monte Cristo sandwich, do we see the simple working man’s fare, the humble ham and cheese, dressed out in fancy French toast finery, warmed and metamorphosed into a multi-layered almost-confection, perhaps even requiring a knife and fork, and looking so fine and sophisticated. Even the name is fancy-pants, proud and preening as compared to lunch counter peers, Sloppy Joe, Dagwood, and Patty Melt.

So my point here (and I do have one) is that there’s a lot going on in a Monte Cristo.

Maple Tree
1034 West Lake Street
Oak Park, IL 60301


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