Croque Famous Sandwiches is certainly not the only hoagie shop in North Scottsdale, but it probably is the only one — not just in the area, but the Valley itself — where it's possible to get a turkey bacon club with a bowl of bibimbap.
Not that the restaurant's Korean element is readily apparent. Its logo, the French moniker (pronounced "crock") with a cartoon mascot of a grinning crocodile holding a knife and fork, does more to inspire visions of Nickelodeon programming than East Asian cuisine. And when you enter Croque's tiny, bright green room, chances are you'll note the elegant black-and-white photographs of European settings hung along the wall before the soy and teriyaki sauces in the kitchen, the wall menu's listing of deli meats before its Korean proteins of barbecued steak and spicy pork, and, perhaps, the free samples of chocolate cookie on the counter before a daily special simply marked "Fusion Ramen."
Blame Croque's secret Seoul on owner Lilian Park.
Croque Famous Sandwiches in Scottsdale: A Sandwich Shop with a Korean Kick
Croque Famous Sandwiches
13610 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Bulgoki sandwich (6-inch): $6.99
Grilled spicy pork sandwich (6-inch): $6.79
Brie sandwich (6-inch): $6.39
Park came to Los Angeles from Korea when she was 19. In 2003, she moved to Gilbert to find work and ended up operating a bagel shop in Chandler (now closed) for four years. Six years ago, after giving herself a year off to be with her two daughters, Park found the North Scottsdale Croque, which, at the time, had a second location in Arcadia (now shuttered). She decided to make a go of it.
"When I bought the place, I noticed there were flags of different countries — Germany, Italy, France, and America — representing the sandwiches on the menu," says Park, "but no Korea. So I thought, why not?"
To Croque's already established sandwich shop offerings, Park added Korean components used in the dishes she made at home: cabbage kimchi, grilled and marinated beef (bulgoki), and her homemade gochujang, or red pepper paste. She also introduced a selection of bowls, more health-minded creations, served atop pressure-cooked rice.
"There is no Korean community here," Park says, "but when customers try the Korean-style dishes, they like them. And because the area is very health-conscious, I use white chicken breast meat — although my favorite is the dark meat of the thigh."
The Korean portion of Croque, while the most interesting, is also the restaurant's smallest, the heavy lifting here done through more familiar ingredients of deli-style meats and cheeses, vegetables, and sauces layered onto sandwiches, wrapped up in tortillas, and assembled into salads, soups, and bowls. The latter categories are perfectly acceptable – well balanced and crafted with care — but it is the sandwiches you've come for. Served atop small cutting boards, they are simple yet supremely satisfying. Their flavors, neatly arranged on pillowy soft baguettes with a crisp crust from Capistrano's Bakery in Phoenix, mingle together perfectly for globally inspired hoagies (Korea included) you'll probably remember long after lunch.
There are 20 hot sandwiches on the menu, available in 6- and 12-inch sizes, as well as a build-your-own cold sandwich section. Each of the hot sandwiches is marked with a small flag signifying its country of origin, which, in the case of the French-flagged Madame and Monsieur, makes sense, but in some instances, such as the BLT and tuna salad by way of Italy and Germany, respectively, are rather bewildering.
If Park's husband, David, is manning the counter, he probably will suggest the Bulgoki sandwich, and you should order it. Layered with sweet and salty thin-sliced beef, grilled red peppers and onions, tomatoes, and provolone, it's more or less Korean barbecue by way of a deli. You'll want it on a white baguette (versus the multi-grain option) and with Park's heady homemade garlic sauce — not just because the combination elevates the Bulgoki's flavors, but because it's spectacular enough that once you've had it, you'll want all your Croque sandwiches this way.
There is an excellent Korean pork sandwich as well. Spicier than the beef, the grilled and marinated meat, made with Park's chili pepper paste, is layered with onions and cheese for a hearty sandwich with a kick. And although Park makes her own teriyaki sauce, you can't help wishing that the meat it clings to in the chicken teriyaki sandwich came from the more traditional skin-on, pan-fried chicken thighs and not the less flavorful (albeit healthier) strips of grilled white breasts.
For more traditional sandwich seekers, there is the Croque Special, an Italian-style creation of delicately spiced capicola, salami, tomato, feta cheese, and pickles; and the Madame, a variation of the classic French sandwich put together with ham, salami, egg, tomato, and mozzarella cheese. Park uses a cranberry sauce for the Turkey Breast sandwich, which makes it taste like Thanksgiving, as well as the Brie, where the sweet purple flavoring meets with the mild and creamy cheese, as well as ham and tomato, for something like a French picnic you can hold in your hand.
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Park pays as much attention to her sides as she does her sandwiches. Of the Korean elements, there is a nice, moderately spicy cabbage kimchi and Park's own pickled veggies. The homemade potato salad gets added sweetness thanks to an addition of honey mustard and extra pickles, and the obligatory dull pasta salad is anything but here, courtesy of ingredients like red wine vinegar, garlic, and sweet basil. If you order the tasty and perfectly portioned fries, they arrive via a ceramic boat whose bow holds the ketchup.
You can try the bibimbap, the Korean mixed rice dish, and, if it's the advertised special, ramen here as well, but know they are more Americanized versions utilizing the ingredients Park has available in her tiny kitchen. If David is on hand, he will make sure the veggies, kimchi, bulgoki, fried egg, and homemade hot sauce in your bibimbap are mixed together like a pro — most likely by doing it for you — so that the dish's ingredients come together in each spicy bite. And although the fusion ramen probably won't be winning any awards for a rich, beef-based broth, it's laden with enough vegetables and spicy grilled pork to make it as gratifying as any of Park's homemade soups. David will insist you eat it as soon as it's served ("The noodles can get soggy, like cornflakes," Park says), and will even pack the noodles separately from the broth if you, like many of Croque's customers, order it to go.
Park says that she and David have considered opening a Korean restaurant in the area, one that would feature her barbecued meats in an all-you-can-eat setting. But at this point, she says she's busy enough. A self-confessed control freak, she insists on doing all the prep work herself to ensure that the vegetables are cut to her liking, the sauces are just so, and that her sandwiches deliver on their harmony of flavors.
"Whatever I make, it has to satisfy me first," says Park. "I have very high standards."