I ride my bike to the windy city's hidden gems, lost goldmines, new kids on the block, and old standbys then tell you what to think and what to order. Check, czech, Česká it out...

Friday, March 11, 2011

Street (Food) Fight: Part 4, Reuby Tuesday

It's been said that the Reuben is the only entirely invented* sandwich**. With Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen you get a close rendering (in spirit as well as ingredients) of Reuben Kay's original invention. With Grahamwich you get a jazzy update of the invention. In other words, what we have here is a classic battle between tradition vs. innovation.

When I go to an old school deli, I don't order the Reuben. Never have. Why? Because I don't like Thousand Island dressing, I consider sauerkraut an annoyance, and Swiss cheese is, like, 11th or 12th on my favorite cheese list (it keeps flip flopping with gorgonzola). I love pastrami and I love rye, so I usually order the pastrami on rye (along with a bowl of matzo ball soup and a bottle of Manischewitz for the table). But this comparison is all about tradition. So, out of respect for tradition, I give you... the Reuben (and a side to go with it).

The Breakdown:

Manny's has earned its reputation as a Chicago landmark by unwaveringly offering the same kosher comfort food since 1942. Chicagoans love Manny's for this reason. Politicians, cops, and your grandparents love Manny's for this reason. It is Chicago's restaurant in the way that only a deli/coffee shop/cafeteria can be.

-Manny's Reuben:
Rye: a good hearty rye, not gourmet but grilled to perfection; crispy on the outside, tender on the inside (like my ex... nevermind).
Swiss: it was completely melted but somehow didn't compromise the consistency of the bread, this is a very tricky trick and I'm still not sure how they did it.
Sauerkraut: again, I'm not a big fan of this sloppy German import but if you think I'm going to leave it off a Reuben then, comrade, you don't know me very well. The best thing I can say about Manny's sauerkraut is that it adds a quiet and somewhat pleasant sour note to the flavor of this 'wich.
Meat: in this case, Corned Beef. Three and a half inches of Corned Beef. The guys put a metric ton*** on the bread before it goes on the grill then, just when you think they're done, they toss another heaping helping of it on and slide the now 5 lb.*** sandwich across the counter to your waiting arms. Normally I'm a pastrami man (like my father and his father before him) but am I gonna argue with Manny's Reuben recipe? Fagetaboutit. It should be noted that the sheer volume of corn-enhanced-cow borders on comical; the rest of the components were an afterthought, the bread (usually the vehicle that carries ingredients) was hanging on for dear life.
Dressing: the Thousand Island is served on the side so I had the choice of dipping or dumping, again, showing why Manny's is the delicatessen of the people! As far as taste, this was text book deli shit: Creamy and tangy with a hint of paprika. It added some much needed diversity to this monster of a sandwich.

-Manny's Side:
The Potato Pancake: These are a must have when going to Manny's. The ingredients are simple: pureed potatoes, salt, pepper and breading.  They're fried. They're delicious. 'Nuff said.
(Here's an idea, take two potato pancakes and put mustard and pastrami in between, voila! Latke'strami™.

Grahamwich is a brand-spanking-new sandwich shop from Graham Elliot who is the executive chef/namesake of Graham Elliot (confused? check out the link). Grahamwich has Mr. Elliot's keen sense of contemporary/funky verve written all over it. The sandwiches range from Vietnamese (bahn mi) to Mexican (jabarito taco) to classic mid-American (grilled cheese).

-Grahamwich' Reuben:
Rye: a thick cut marble rye that the sandwich dudes took great care in selecting. They then grilled it separately from the ingredients.
Swiss: really starting to get creative here. Instead putting a slice of swiss on the sandwich and then grilling it these wacky sandwich scientists keep the cheese in a state of constant fonduey readiness. On top of that they use the snazzy French version of swiss known as GruyereTrès gourmande.
Sauerkraut: Graham had the clever idea to substitute shabby drabby cabbage with a hip and happening root vegetable, that's right friends, I'm talking about the rutabega. Long neglected in favor of its more attractive cousin the turnip, or relegated to overcrowded vegetable stews, this tuber is having a coming out party in part thanks to Graham and his sandwich minions. This stuff was packing heat, and by heat I mean zing and by zing I mean tang.
Meat: nothing but pure unabashed pastrami here. And, like the cheese and the bread, this component was heated independently of the rest of the sandwich. In this case a convection oven was used to bring the meat up to optimal temp. Well played, Elliot.
Dressing: straightforward Thousand Island here. In the final product the gruyere fondue and dressing blend together and drip all over your hands and clothes in a way that's so wrong but yet so right (if you catch my meaning and I think you do).

-Grahamwich' Side:
Popcorn: more specifically, g'wich popcorn. It's doctored up with parmesan, chives, sea salt, black pepper and truffle oil. If that sounds like a lot of flavor it's because it is.
Too much.
This stuff should be regulated by whatever government organization regulates plutonium. It is food plutonium; if mishandled it could end civilization as we know it. You HAVE TO mix this stuff up before eating it because all of the seasoning just sits on top waiting, just waiting, to decimate your unsuspecting taste buds.

-The Winner:
Despite my initial bias I have to give this one to Grahamwich. It kills me to write that because I have such respect for Manny's. But, in the end the G'wich Reuben proved its worth by being innovative without gimmickry. Every ingredient played well with its neighbor (with the exception of that popcorn which would only play well with a can of FourLoko). The flavors were loud and complex and made me think that somebody really put some thought into making this classic sandwich better.

Manny's tried and true set up is better: two pickles, one huge halved sandwich, and a potato pancake. These things just work together, gastronomically speaking. The food at Manny's is comfortable, reliable and reassuring in the way a good pair of underwear should be. Furthermore, Manny's is untouchable, and no runner up reuben is going to change that. Mazel!

*I'm not sure what this phrase means either but I saw it in the movie Quiz Show and thought it would be fun to throw in.
**Debate is hot on whether it was invented during a poker game in Omaha in the 1920's or by a German deli owner in New York City circa 1914. Personally, I'm rooting for Omaha in this one.
***these weights are used for comedic effect only, I don't actually know what a metric ton is.

Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli on Urbanspoon
Grahamwich on Urbanspoon


  1. a metric ton is 1000kg, and relevant even if astronauts are eating a manny's ruben in space, as metric units use mass as opposed to weight. an important consideration when packing for the ISS to be sure.

  2. rachael- finally a solid answer to my metric ton query.