Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

100 years of Reubens

City club spreads the news about sandwich that had an inauspicious beginning / D14

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Man shall not live by ground round alone.

Tim Turner is the co-ordinator of Burger Club Winnipeg, a faction of foodies whose mission is to determine which diner, drive-in or dive delivers the best patty in town.

For burger lovers, Burger Club Winnipeg (burgerclubwinnipeg.blogspot.ca.) has become as much a public service as snow-clearing and land-swap audits. But the guild wouldn't exist if not for its palatable predecessor -- the Reuben Rabble.

Four years ago, one of Turner's chums ordered a clubhouse sandwich at a downtown greasy spoon. Turner scoffed when the fellow told him later it was the best clubhouse he'd ever tried. To prove his buddy wrong, Turner organized a search party to figure out which restaurant in town served Winnipeg's king of clubs. (The winner and still champion: The late, great Wagon Wheel.)

"After we were done with clubhouses, one of the guys said we should keep the group going but try something different," Turner says. "In the end we decided on Reubens."

 

Excellent choice, especially because the venerable, German-flavoured sammie turns 100, this year.

According to restaurant lore, Arnold Reuben, owner of New York City's long-gone Reuben's Delicatessen, created the sandwich by accident in 1914. The story goes that a noted Broadway actress popped into Reuben's one evening for a bite. Except the night she picked had been especially busy and Reuben didn't have much left in the fridge. Undaunted, the restaurateur grabbed everything he could find -- corned beef, sauerkraut, cheese and some Russian dressing -- and slapped the lot between two pieces of grilled, rye bread. The rest is history.

Before reinventing itself as Burger Club Winnipeg, the Reuben Rabble hit 10 spots in total. Turner's troupe determined the top three Reubens they tried were at Bailey's Restaurant ("great flavour and a soft bite"), the now-closed Paladin ("juicy but crisp") and the Pony Corral ("I know -- who would have guessed?").

"To tell the truth, the Reuben wasn't a sandwich that really appealed to me at first," Turner says. "But by the time we were done I absolutely loved them. When you get the right balance of corned beef mixed with the right type of sauerkraut and cheese... man, it's just wonderful."

OK -- you've sold us. To toast the 100-year anniversary of the Reuben we hit the streets in search of this city's most interesting takes on the age-old favourite. Here's a bit -- burp -- of what we turned up.

BAILEY'S RESTAURANT & LOUNGE, 185 Lombard Ave.

It's listed as Bailey's Famous Reuben Sandwich on the tony establishment's menu. No small boast: Bailey's has been serving Reubens for close to 50 years.

Manager Leo Groumoutis got a job washing dishes at Bailey's when he was 12 years old, back when the restaurant was known as Oliver's.

"In those days we were prepping 200 Reubens per day; our lunch menu had five items and Reubens were the No. 1 seller, by far," he says, noting he graduated to cooking when he was 15.

Bailey's Famous Reuben ($12) is made with grilled pumpernickel bread and includes fries and cole slaw.

"A lot of places try to complicate things by adding this or that," Groumoutis says. "But to me, anything extra takes away from the sandwich, instead of keeping it close to how it was invented."

MTS CENTRE, 300 Portage Ave.

It's a toss-up who the top rookie at MTS Centre has been this NHL season -- Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifele or the downtown rink's Reuben Panini.

"We just added (the Reuben panini) to our concession menus this season and it is just starting to take off," says Brian Selmon, assistant general manager of Centreplate, the arena's food supplier. "It's available at our carvery locations on the main and atrium levels and at booth 321 Voyageur on the upper level. We are hoping it begins to rival the Jumbo Jet Dog, giving us a second signature product."

The Reuben panini ($14) comes with potato chips, apple fennel coleslaw and a pickle spear.

FUSION GRILL, 550 Academy Rd.

Scot McTaggart calls his restaurant's New Reuben an "innovative reworking of the Gene Telpner classic."

"Necessity was the mother of this creation," says McTaggart, who opened his acclaimed dining spot in 1996. "We had a pile of grass-fed beef brisket to use up so our chef, Lorna Murdoch, created this modern take."

At Fusion, sauerkraut is replaced by pickled ginger aioli, Golden Boy Gouda cheese takes the place of Swiss, and instead of rye bread, Fusion's New Reuben sits on grilled sourdough bread baked fresh at Lilac Avenue's The French Way.

"We make our corned beef without the traditional pink salt so it's brown instead of red, which throws a lot of people," McTaggart says. "We put our first New Reuben out as a lunch special; the demand was so great that I couldn't put it on the printed menu because we couldn't keep up."

IRA'S DELI, 111 Lombard Ave.

Ira's Deli has been dishing up Reubens since the downtown nook opened in 1995. About 12 years ago, Ira's wife Susan told her husband their menu needed something with pizzazz. And calories.

Ira's Deli's New York Reuben is a triple-decker behemoth that comes stacked with a quarter-pound of corned beef, a quarter-pound of pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and the Bricks' homemade Reuben sauce.

"It reminded us of something we'd seen on a trip to New York City," Ira explains. "It kind of makes people's eyes pop when they see it hit the table."

Not that you need more food -- Ira says most customers take half of their sandwich home in a doggy bag -- but the New York Reuben ($12.99) includes your choice of cole slaw, potato salad or soup.

BOON BURGER CAFE, 79 Sherbrook St. (second location at 141 Bannatyne Ave.)

Chef Andrew Campbell is the brains behind the Reuben Rebel Burger, a vegan version of a Reuben sandwich available at Boon Burger's two Winnipeg locations.

Not long after the first Boon Burger opened, Campbell was experimenting in the kitchen, trying to come up with vegan takes on traditional dishes.

"I've always been a fan of Reuben sandwiches and I was simply trying to emulate the taste," Campbell explains, adding he nailed it "pretty much off the bat."

The Rebel Reuben ($8.50) comes on a whole wheat bun and consists of sauerkraut, tofu bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and a variation of a Russian dressing, served on top of a mushroom-rice patty.

"The only thing we don't use is cheese but otherwise all the key flavours are there," Campbell says. "We ran it as a special for a few weeks and it did so well we ended up putting it on the menu as a permanent choice."

OAKWOOD CAFE, 660 Osborne St.

The Reuben has been a staple at the homey Oakwood Cafe ever since the south Osborne hotspot opened in 1992. Five years ago, owner Peter Paley was in touch with a friend from Minnesota when the latter told Paley he should start serving a Rachel, too.

Serve a what?

"I know, I'd never heard of it either," says Paley.

The Oakwood's Rachel is exactly the same as its big brother, except roasted turkey takes the place of corned beef. "A lot of people see it on the menu and are naturally curious," Paley says, adding when his new menu comes out in a month or so, it will include a Reuben burger, as well.

The Oakwood Cafe's Rachel ($12) comes with a choice of fries, potato salad, cup of chili or cup of soup.

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 D13

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