Some foods are classic for a reason, but that doesn’t mean chefs won’t try to improve upon them.
Take the Reuben sandwich, the deli fixture that combines corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing.
Ilyse Fishman Lerner certainly grew up on the Reuben, consuming more than her fair share at the deli across the street from her high school. Now that she has her own sandwich shop, On Rye, she’s paying homage to her memories with several types of Reubens.
“There’s a lot of ways to play with them,” Lerner said.
Her most traditional take still includes the original corned beef, but she upgraded the meat to Wagyu, the high-end beef from a Japanese breed known for its marbling. Its leaner brisket, however, remains a less in-demand cut, which is why Lerner can afford to use it in her sandwiches. She also offers a Wagyu pastrami Reuben, in addition to one with turkey.
The most radical departure for Lerner: vegetable Reubens, which “have been very popular,” she said. She makes two meat-free options, one with roasted beets that swaps Gouda for the Swiss and another with portobello mushrooms and broccoli.
Regardless of what the centerpiece is, “you want that right ratio” of flavors, Lerner said.
Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley agreed. “I guess my favorite thing about a Reuben is it’s one of those super-balanced dishes,” she said.
She likes its contrasting flavors (fatty meat and acidic sauerkraut) and textures (gooey cheese and crunchy bread).
Meek-Bradley developed her own riff on the Reuben at her recently opened Smoked and Stacked sandwich shop. It’s called the Messy. Rather than boiled corned beef, Meek-Bradley uses a smoked pastrami (she intends to start making corned beef soon to satisfy traditionalists), and Comte stands in for the similar Swiss cheese. For vegetarians? Smoked portobellos.
Meek-Bradley said she thinks part of the rising interest in Reubens can be attributed to chefs’ adherence to the DIY mentality, from smoking their own meat to fermenting their own sauerkraut and baking their own bread.
But, really, it may come down to one fact: “Everyone loves a Reuben,” she said.
740 Sixth St. NW.
1239 Ninth St. NW.