I forgot to mention this yesterday, but the Reuben I had for lunch at the Blue Moon Café was fucking outstanding. The last few years, I’ve become something of an amateur Reuben connoisseur, always trying out the variations offered at local restaurants when I stop in for the first time. A sandwich as big and sloppy as the Reuben looks difficult to screw up, but there is a right way and a wrong way to make one.
As a purist, I prefer my Reubens made in the traditional way, on rye bread. Some places try to dress up their Reubens by serving them on pumpernickel or some variety of swirl rye. That doesn’t cut it, man. I want rye bread, and I want it to have some bite to it. The Reuben at the Blue Moon yesterday, that had some good bread. The Reuben at Gandolfo’s, next to Martin’s on Wesel Boulevard, not so much. Gandolfo’s is a lovely place, and Ashley and I go there all the time, but it’s their Reubens that give them away as not a truly authentic New York deli. (That, and the fact that they don’t have a location in New York.) Not only is the Rockefeller Reuben at Gandolfo’s made with soft swirl rye instead of dependable ol’ regular rye with the consistency of sandpaper, it’s served un-grilled.
Such a no-no.
The Reuben must be grilled. Grilling melts the Swiss cheese, heats up the corned beef and sauerkraut, and causes the Russian dressing to run out all over everything. If you can eat a Reuben without getting your hands wet and sticky with Russian dressing, it wasn’t made properly. Grilling also toasts the outside of the bread, giving the Reuben a satisfying crunch, and keeping the bread from turning to mush too quickly.
Ideally, a Reuben should also be piled up to the goddamn gates of heaven with corned beef and sauerkraut. During my Reuben-making phase two years ago, my most common mistake was to under-make them. The sandwich should not be easily eaten. When the plate is first set in front of you, it should make you feel a little ridiculous, like you suddenly have no idea how in the hell you’re going to eat it. Pickled meat and cabbage should be spilling out from all sides. Picking up that first half should require a little thought, a moment to figure out where’s the best place to put your hands — because if it’s a good Reuben, you will need both of them.
And it’s got to come with fries. No other side dish will do. Perhaps you prefer an order of unsalted potato chips, or some crispy raw vegetables. Any restaurant worth going to will be able to accommodate you, but if this is the case, I would advise you against ordering the Reuben in the first place. If you are so health conscious that you’re worried about eating a plate of fries alongside your steaming heap of corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, this sandwich is not for you. A healthy Reuben would be like non-fat ice cream — a faint echo of the real thing, and unnecessary to boot, since neither Reubens nor ice cream should be a staple of your fucking diet. If you want to live past the age of 40, I’d suggest not having a Reuben for lunch every day. Make it an occasional thing, something with which to reward yourself for getting a raise at work, coaching your kid’s little league team to the regionals, or making your wife come really fucking hard.
Here in the Washington County area, my favorite Reubens are the ones to be had at the Red Bird, between Sharpsburg and Boonsboro. They aren’t quite stacked to the ceiling, but they’re served hot and messy, with a side of fries and a pickle, and they’re just about perfect. That one yesterday at the Blue Moon, though — that’s a close second.