The Monte Cristo sandwich is a very curious thing. Named for the Alexandre Dumas novel, some say the sandwich dates back to 1910, to an obscure French dish. Others say its origins only go back to the fifties, and that it comes not from an exotic European kitchen, but the Disneyland theme park.
On paper, everything about the sandwich seems wrong. There are many variations, but most start with a simple blend of ham, turkey and cheese on white bread. Then the whole thing is dipped in egg batter and fried (!),topped with powdered sugar (!!) and served with some sort of preserves for dipping (!!!).
When I was growing up in Southern California, it seemed that every restaurant had this on their menu. Then one day last week, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t seen one in forever.
What triggered this case of culinary recollection was a trip over to the EW Drive In, an eclectic little restaurant in Wailuku. Because of the hyperactive, often unstable dining industry on Maui, we’re forever describing new restaurants in terms of what used to be there before. In EW’s case, it’s in the old Fiesta Time spot in Wailuku (the old restaurant name is still scratched into the concrete at the front door).
EW, which sells all manner of local plate lunches, noodles dishes, seafood and sandwiches, sells a Monte Cristo. It’s served on bread dipped in egg batter with turkey, ham, cheese and tomatoes. Though there’s no powdered sugar on top, it does come with preserves for dipping. It’s also really tasty.
That a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint like EW would have such an unusual sandwich as the Monte Cristo isn’t all that surprising. EW—which stands for “East-West”—is a little restaurant with a giant menu. They offer Shrimp Scampi, spaghetti, Luk Fun, crispy won tons, Chicken Parmesan, chili con carne, Shrimp Asparagus, Gon Lo Mein, Sausage & Peppers (both in sandwich and in actual sausage & peppers form), shrimp with lobster sauce, ginger chicken, steamed mahi, Kung Pao Shrimp, Loco Moco, meatloaf with mushroom gravy, noodles, New York Pepper Steak, a Panko Ono sandwich, calamari steak, roast pork, various fried rices (pineapple, Yang Chow, curried and local style) and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember right now. It’s a dizzying mix of cultures and culinary tastes, sometimes in the same item.
Mostly, I’ve gone in for the sandwiches. Served hot or cold, on white or wheat hoagie rolls with Swiss, provolone or cheddar cheese, they’ll fairly good sized and reasonably priced. You can get them will all the usual sliced meats, and there’s a BLT, tuna and the aforementioned Panko Ono.
EW sells mac salad as well as “waffle fries,” which are quite good, but every sandwich comes with a special kind of “tropical coleslaw” made with pineapple that’s extremely good.
No matter what you order, please save room for dessert. EW Drive In also makes cakes to order, these incredible little tarts—chocolate, coconut custard, strawberry—and something wickedly good called a chango, which is a kind of “burrito” with cheesecake filling that’s covered with caramel sauce, sliced bananas and strawberries. MTW