A tale of three Reubens

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morts 300x300 A Tale of Three Reubens
Courtesy of TC Jewfolk
Mort’s: Majestic in its sheer size and strength.

The Reuben. By nearly all accounts, the crown jewel of the sandwich universe. Legend has it that Archimedes, having slipped into that fateful bathtub, took the first bite of a corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on Marble Rye1 and proclaimed, “Eureka!” which roughly translates to, “What a sandwich!” Later that evening, he dipped the second half of his invention into a bowl of Thousand Island dressing, which spilled over the edge, thus discovering the displacement of volume. History has muddled the details, but the Reuben has been central to our culinary consciousness ever since.

Five hundred years and eons of food trends later, the sandwich has transcended any one category; it can be found in most diners and sandwich shops. Indeed, with such delicious ingredients, it’s difficult (but not impossible)2 to screw up. Its ubiquity, for some, obscures the importance of its preparation, and fosters a kind of laziness. Some establishments simply throw together a random deli meat and what tastes like McDonald’s secret sauce, and dare to call the result a Reuben. But to the avid connoisseur, there is most certainly a science, nay nuance, to its composition.

There’s not enough Internet for me to expand upon the right way to make a Reuben.  My goal for this column is to boil down the best of the best here.

Many may disagree with my selections of locale,3 which are of course subjective. On a recent Sunday afternoon, I undauntedly set out to sample three of my favorites: Mort’s Delicatessen in Golden Valley, Crossroads Diner in Minnetonka and, it goes without saying, Cecil’s in St. Paul.

Here in brief, is my Tale of Three Reubens.

MORT’S DELICATESSEN (525 Winnetka Ave. N, Golden Valley)

The flashiest of the three by far, Mort’s menu is infused with Chicago style fare, with a lot of heartland ingredients mixed in with the East Coast stuff. I can’t say that the Reuben was anything less than spectacular, however. A glorious display, the sandwich was served open-faced (a massive face, let me tell you, that took up the entire plate) with cheese aplenty. But its size overwhelmed the delicateness of the dish; the subtle flavor balances were ultimately lost in the vast scope of the sandwich. Incredibly delicious, but it certainly was the All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet of Reubens.

CROSSROADS DELICATESSEN (2795 Hedberg Dr., Minnetonka)

crossroads 300x240 A Tale of Three Reubens
Courtesy of TC Jewfolk
Crossroads-style. Upon request!

For regulars, the Crossroads is home. Nestled almost secretly off Cedar Lake Road in Minnetonka, the place seems to have grown a community all its own. Certainly the demographic is a bit older, which yields some pretty great conversation over-hearing.4 In keeping with the family aesthetic, the ever-changing menu caters to the preferences of the patrons. Non-deli foods abound; daily specials rapidly turn into regular items. But the Reuben is unshakable, and undeniably solid. Here was certainly a welcome size downgrade from Mort’s, with leaner corned beef and more cheese relative to size. I’d give Crossroads the nod for top cole slaw. Certainly not the best, but worth it for Sunday brunch in the ‘burbs.

CECIL’S DELI (651 Cleveland Avenue S, St. Paul)

I won’t beat around the bush: Cecil’s wins, hands down. This should come as no surprise to Twin Cities natives– the St. Paul mainstay, it seems, has been almost universally crowned top-deli. A breath of fresh air for a New Yorker, the open deli counter, on-premesis baking, and Kosher foods retail area all smack of (but do not even approach) Katz’s in NYC. Family owned and operated, “tradition” and “history” are words that come to mind as you enter the joint. The behemoth of a menu leaves nothing left to be desired, hitting every possible option. And the Reuben? Per. Fect. The leanest corned beef. The dark, toasted Rye subtly cradling a closed-face. Just the right amount of sauerkraut. Interestingly, Thousand Island dressing is replaced by a “secret” sauce, which I believe was sour-cream based, but whose recipe was not shared upon request. Oh that I could have bottled some of that sauce! It made this most delicious of Reubens almost legendary.

As I drove home, I pondered my day of paraReubendise.5 The true takeaway was simply a profound appreciation for the sandwich. So beloved by foodies everywhere, it brings Love, Family, History, and Friendship to tables everywhere.

cecils 300x300 A Tale of Three Reubens
Courtesy of TC Jewfolk
The Cecil’s classic. Unlike Rome, this was built in a day.

Eureka!

Email me at lastjewstanding@tcjewfolk.com

  1. Yeah, Marble Rye. A.K.A. goyische Rye. He wasn’t Jewish, so we’ll give him a pass for not grabbing a loaf of caraway.
  2. I’m talking to you, Caffrey’s! I’m getting sick of asking for corned beef in my Thousand Island dressing sandwich.
  3. Please disagree! Most of you (with the exception of Martha and Jim in St. Paul, you two are so great!) have not yet gotten around to emailing me. If this subject doesn’t compel you to email me in disagreement, you all clearly just forgot your email passwords.
  4. “Jim, how do I know if there’s salt in this egg salad?” Or, “Rachel has to understand, if she brings the Shegetz boyfriend to her grandmother’s birthday party, she’s un-invited to Sukkot.”
  5. Copyright! Suckers!

This post was written by Max Leibowitz and originally published on TC Jewfolk. Follow TC Jewfolk on Twitter: @tcjewfolk.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/17/2014 - 10:31 am.

    Sandwiches

    I have to confess that the Reuben doesn’t even show up on my radar as a sandwich to try, let alone worship. The ingredient list doesn’t sound appealing and I don’t recall ever having tried one in my fifty-plus years on this planet. It sounds like it’s a heart attack waiting to happen.

    Now if you want to talk about the perfect BLT, I’m your man!

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/17/2014 - 01:03 pm.

    Purist

    Growing up in Noo Yawk, we didn’t mix milk and meat (this is called gastronomic Judaism) in sandwiches. The standard was a corned beef or pastrami on rye or pumpernickel, with a jaw straining thickness. Slaw or kraut was a side dish (often paired with potato salad), not part of a sandwich.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 12/17/2014 - 11:49 pm.

      It’s all subjective, Paul…

      I spend a bit of time in New York, and I have no qualms about ordering my pastrami on rye with a slice of swiss…nor have I been ridiculed by anyone at Carnegie, Katz’s or any other deli that I’ve dined at. Never been a fan of slaw, so the Reuben isn’t my thing, but all the best to those that love it.
      As I can’t attest to the reuben, I have had pastrami at each location and I have to say the Mort’s is as close as it comes to a New York experience. Crossroads and Cecil’s are okay, but not seasoned or cut properly. The defunct Pastrami Jacks out in Minnetonka had a good run and my fellow pastrami fans that were reuben aficionados rated it pretty high. I haven’t been to Brothers in the skyway in years, but I heard they had a decent one.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/18/2014 - 10:00 am.

        May be a time question

        I’m thinking of the forties and fifties; not recent history.
        I can’t remember anyone going into the Tower Deli on Kingsbridge Road and ordering a Reuben (or even a corned beef and swiss).

  3. Submitted by chuck holtman on 12/17/2014 - 04:13 pm.

    I’d have to respectfully differ as to Cecil’s

    I went there a few years back with great anticipation but the unannounced “secret sauce” ruined my Reuben experience. The beauty of a great Reuben lies not in piling on the fat, but in just the right interplay of taste, texture and moisture level among lean corned beef, tangy sauerkraut and just a bit of sweet Russian dressing. One feature of good traditional deli cuisine (ref. Mr. Hintz above) is that it doesn’t rely on the crutch of just melting a generous portion of cheese on top of everything. In the Reuben, the melted cheese needs to integrate the other ingredients without dominating them. The sour cream-based replacement for the Russian dressing teamed up with the melted cheese to obliterate all nuance of texture and flavor in favor of something that just seemed designed to head straight for the arteries. Haven’t been back.

  4. Submitted by Brian Simon on 12/17/2014 - 09:58 pm.

    O brothers

    The Brothers Deli, downtown Minneapolis, gives Cecils a run for the money for best reuben. And the potato salad is incredible. Which itself is an admittedly implausible sounding sentence. But try it.

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