Everybody loves Reuben

Posted by Anita on 03.27.08 7:57 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**There’s a strange thing that happens in Seattle. (OK, there are many strange things that happen there, but this one is food related.) Some restaurant — usually a reasonably popular one — puts a relatively obscure but approachable item on the menu, and before you can say “hamburger with a fried egg on top”, said item pops up on menus everywhere, from divey diners to haute-cuisine haunts.

Thus it is with the Reuben, the sandwich some might call Seattle’s signature. And it’s no great mystery why: There’s something irresistibly naughty — not to mention entirely un-Kosher — about a deli sandwich that combines salty corned beef, gooey cheese, zippy Russian dressing, and crunchy sauerkraut between two slices of butter-grilled rye bread. A Reuben is the perfect antidote for drizzly, chilly Northwest weather, an overstuffed slice of golden sunshine on a plate. Served with a garlicky dill pickle and a ramekin of good potato salad, there’s hardly any better cure for grey-day blues.

Child of the sunny Southland that I am, it’s entirely possible that I had never eaten a Reuben before we moved to Jet City. I quickly made up for lost time: Fremont’s Red Door tavern used to make a pretty good example, as did our old ‘local’ pub, the 74th Street Ale House on Phinney Ridge. Once we moved across town to Madison Valley, it was only a matter of days before I discovered the heavenly Reuben — and his turkey-licious sibling, Rachel — served on just-baked sour rye at the Essential Bakery Cafe. I could probably fill an entire post with Seattle Reubens I Have Known and Loved. (Thankfully, I managed to avoid the vegan one!)

Once we moved back home to San Francisco, I don’t think I ever encountered a Reuben on a restaurant menu. I’m sure Reubens exist somewhere within our seven-by-seven grid, but so far we have yet to cross one another’s paths. It’s a sad truth that moving from city to city often means leaving behind foods (and friends) you’ve grown to love.

Luckily, once you have the right ingredients, it’s easy to make your own fabulous Reuben. Sure, you can pick up pretty good deli meats around town, but one of the the best reasons to make your own corned beef is that you’ll have plenty of leftovers. Leave the little trimmings and end bits for tomorrow morning’s hash; the best and highest use of that glistening chunk of pink, lipid-laced meat lies between two slices of good bread. Shave it thin with your sharpest blade, and don’t stop until you’ve got a goodly pile.


Knowing there were Reubens in our future, we picked up a loaf New York Rye from Acme and a hunk of Spring Hill’s Portuguese cheese, which makes a better-than-decent stand-in for Swiss. We thought we would be out of luck finding local sauerkraut, until fate intervened. The good news: Not one but two of our favorite local purveyors has just recently started brining their own ‘kraut. Fatted Calf sells a chunky, tangy variety, and Alexander Valley Gourmet sells a crisper, finer-gauge flavor. Happily, both are excellent, and equally well suited to Reuben-making.

The bad news: Neither brand is (yet) available in San Francisco. Fatted Calf sells theirs over the counter at their Oxbow shop but, alas, not at their market stands. Alexander Valley is wrestling with the classic shelf-space squeeze: So far, no San Francisco shop has made room for their newest product. (There’s hope, though: Alexander Valley’s fresh pickles are already available at Whole Foods, Rainbow Grocery, and Andronico’s; if you want the ‘kraut, too, leave a note for the manager asking that they stock it. So far, the new Napa branch of Whole Foods is as close as we’ve been able to locate it.)

With two containers of locally made sauerkraut in the fridge, all that remained was the Russian dressing. We stirred together some homemade mayo, a bit of last summer’s tomato jam, a blob of local horseradish, a few chopped pickles… and got ready to griddle. Sure, Thousand Island dressing would have done in a pinch, but we decided that making a 100%-local sandwich was worth a few minutes of extra prep.

And let me tell you: It was a Reuben to make you forget all the others.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

The Perfect Reuben Sandwich

Here’s the part where I would normally explain exactly how to craft the platonic ideal of a Reuben sandwich. But frankly, there’s no way I could possibly improve on the recipe we found on Epicurious, as transcribed from Arthur Schwartz’s New York City Food.

If you think the Zuni Cafe mock porchetta recipe is detailed, let me assure you: It ain’t got nothin’ on Schwartz’s step-by-step tutorial on building the proper Reuben sandwich. The devil may be in the details, but the details are in Schwartz’s Reuben.

Dark Days challenge, locavore, lunch, Seattle



Comment by Madam Chow

I’m constantly amazed by how people, thousands of miles apart, get a hankering for the same food! We just made some tasty Reubens a couple weeks ago. Great picture!

Posted on 03.28.08 at 5:50AM

Comment by Jennifer Hess

I’m pretty sure I need to have a Reuben sandwich for lunch today. ;)

Posted on 03.28.08 at 7:34AM

Comment by Jennifer Jeffrey

Oh, Ruben… just when I thought he was out of my mind for good, you bring him right back to the forefront with pictures like these. Sigh.

Posted on 03.28.08 at 7:43AM

Comment by cookiecrumb

Well done!
Have you ever made your own prepared horseradish? It’s a cinch, but you need gas masks.

Posted on 03.28.08 at 10:10AM

Comment by sam

Everybody ‘cept me likes ruben.
I’m still crying from the horseradish I grated last weekend. I tried Happy Girl but they didn’t have any.
lovely pics as usual

Posted on 03.28.08 at 2:36PM

Comment by aforkfulofspaghetti

Reuben rocks! Pity about my arteries… ;)

Posted on 03.29.08 at 5:07AM

Comment by Anita

Madam C: Well, I suspect it was the spate of posts about corned beef (if not the actual leftovers) that had us both on the same page :)

Jennifer H: Well, you are in the -other- Reuben capital of the world. :D

Jennifer J: Give Reuben another chance. He promises to be good.

Cookie: Thanks. And yeah, I have, but it was ages ago. But I’m happy to let someone else wear the gas mask and pay the markup. :) We didn’t realize that Knoll Farms had any until last week (when we went looking for it, after Happy Girl Kitchen told us that’s where they’d gotten it… come to think of it, they might not have had any to sell 2 weeks ago, if they sold a lot to HGK).

Sam: Always the contrarian, eh? ;)

AFOS: Everything in moderation… including moderation!

Posted on 03.29.08 at 7:34AM

Comment by Natalie - The Liquid Muse

If you know what’s good for you, never give me your home address. I’ll stalk you ’til you make me a Reuben.

Posted on 03.29.08 at 5:34PM

Comment by Tana

Long ago, I did a weekend workshop (category: “personal growth”), and when lunchtime came around, the leader suggested we eat something we would never, ever eat. So I ordered a Reuben sandwich with a dark beer.

Nothing ever tasted that good in my life. It was just fantastic and I became a convert. Of course, now it’s hard to find meat that I consider clean enough.

Loved this post, and tell Natalie I know where you live, so you can expect a new stalker. Heh.

Perfect photography: I’m drooling.

Posted on 03.31.08 at 10:01AM

Comment by Kathy Casey

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. We in Seattle love our Rubens!

Posted on 03.31.08 at 11:45AM

Comment by maryeats

Next time you are up this way you have to try the Reuben at Paseo in Fremont. AMAZING.

Posted on 03.31.08 at 11:47AM

Comment by Kevin

That reuben sandwich looks so good!

Posted on 03.31.08 at 12:42PM

Comment by Tea

Dare I admit that I’ve never had a Ruben in my entire life? Even after a year in Seattle? I think you really need to visit now, so we can correct this gross lack in my NW education.

(and dude, KC?)

Posted on 03.31.08 at 11:06PM

Comment by Tartelette

Being a foreigner and all, I am relatively new to the Reuben and already addicted to it! I can only imagine how it must taste with pancetta!

Posted on 04.02.08 at 9:53PM

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