As the sulphur clears from the Oklahoma air and tidings of independence continue to run through our veins, let us look forth to the next major remembrance of historic national revolt: Bastille Day.
While a treatise about cake might be more clever, I'm instead going to take this opportunity to examine the croque monsieur, our Sandwich of the Month.
When it comes to food, you don't argue with the French. Right or wrong, they are to food what the U.S. is to basketball.
Croque monsieur is a standard bistro item throughout France. To find this prototypical fast-food item in Oklahoma, I asked around. Chef Kurt Fleischfresser responded without hesitation.
"You have to go to La Baguette. They make a better croque monsieur than they do in France," he said.
Chef Alain Buthion and his brother, Michel, have been among Oklahoma's chief liaisons to French cuisine for more than a decade. With La Baguette Bistro, 7408 N May, and now La Baguette Restaurant, NW 6 and Dewey, the Buthions have brought all elements of French technique to the local restaurant scene.
The brothers originally worked for and eventually partnered with Johnny Jazzar in Norman. Jazzar still owns the two La Baguette locations in Norman, and his industrial bakery supplies restaurants, grocers and delis across the city with dough as well as baked goods.
The Buthions took ownership of the N May location about 10 years ago and recently converted their Soleil Restaurant inside the Colcord Hotel into another La Baguette.
Alain Buthion said the croque dates to the early 20th century when street vendors sought to satisfy the appetite of workers with something simple and affordable. The name means something along the lines of Mister Crunch, absolutely no relation to the Cap'n.
"It's very simple," Buthion said. "A nice piece of bread, in France perhaps brioche. We start with the sourdough bread. Then some ham and a sauce bechamel, which is flour, milk, white pepper and a little nutmeg. It's very creamy. Then top it with cheese. In France, some people use Gruyere; we use Swiss here. Then, we cook it in the broiler."
Sounds simple because it is. Take one bite, and you'll ask what other wonders might be found through simplicity.
The croque is a slice of balance: crisp and creamy, savory and a hint of sweet. Made in the kitchen of a chef such as Alain Buthion, the croque is a little work of art. Add fried eggs to this open-face mini masterpiece and you've got croque madame. The bistro also offers an Oklahomafied version with sausage and eggs on top.
La Baguette in Norman also carries the croque on its menu. Their croque sausage includes bacon, sausage, cheddar and Swiss with bechamel over sourdough.
Perhaps we have more in the common with the French than we suppose. We've got Fourth of July; they've got the Fourteenth of July. We had a tea party; they demanded cake (could've been tea cakes). Heck, they're even pretty good at basketball.
But just as French basketball is to the NBA, so is our humble grilled cheese to the croque monsieur.
8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday
8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday