Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Reuben: sandwiched between the past and present

The Reuben sandwich is far from being a culinary curiosity in Sydney. In fact, it seems Sydneysiders now have a rapacious appetite for the sandwich that has been a staple of culinary life in the US for nigh on a century. Regardless of the myths relating to its origins, the construction of the sandwich using rye bread as its foundation can be controversial as purists insist it must be true to the original deli-style sandwich if it is to be named after the much-revered classic.

Whether tweaked or true to tradition, the Rueben sandwich (snapped here at Hazelhurst Cafe) is a sensory pleasure. 
When New York-born Michael Shafran, of Brooklyn Boy Bagels, moved to Sydney in 2001 he declared the city a Reuben-free zone. Shafran says he first noticed a Reuben on offer at Danks St Depot about a decade ago, and credits chef Jared Ingersoll with making the sandwich a fixture on menus around the NSW capital.
These sandwiches tick all the right boxes when it comes to being sandwiches of substance.
More than a decade on, the Reuben is now a best-selling item at eateries all over Sydney. Following are a few places to enjoy a Rueben that either stays true to tradition or is based loosely on the original with the addition of a few radical tweaks. Reuben snobs be warned: there are a few Rachels masquerading as Reubens, one Rebecca in the mix and even a daring Cuban making a controversial cameo. Call them what you will, what the following options have in common is they are simply sensational sandwiches.

Ruby & Rach chef Tony Gibson raises the bar with his take on the Reuben.
Ruby & Rach
Roll up roll up for the signature Reuben sandwich filled with wagyu corned beef, Swiss cheese, a tangle of sauerkraut, pickles and Russian dressing on rye at Ruby & Rach. Chef Tony Gibson (ex Marque and Four in Hand) has raised the bar with his take on the Reuben: he cooks the wagyu beef in a sous vide for three days, brines it for five, hangs it overnight and smokes it for nine hours over cherry wood and maple. Gibson also takes liberties on behalf of vegos by presenting the mustrami (aka 'the Rebecca' mushroom pastrami sanga).
Pyrmont Growers market (first Saturday of the month) and Bondi Famers Market (all the other Saturdays)

The Bowery Lane serves a Reuben that is both rustic and refined.

Bowery Lane
Bowery Lane makes Reubens that walk a tightrope between being both rustic and refined. Bowery Lane ramped up its version of the West Coast Reuben simply by using the very best quality ingredients: exquisite UK-style salt beef, sauerkraut, high-quality Swiss cheese, mustard dressing and a welcome side of sweet potato crisps. An upscale homage to the humble sandwich indeed.
Shop 1, Level 4, 1 O'Connell St Sydney, 02 9252 8017,

The Not Reuben may not be a Reuben, but it's a revelation nonetheless.

Rueben Hills
This Surry Hills hot spot is a hub for hipsters who enjoy giving their beards a good drenching in horseradish mayo. The Not Reuben is, well, not really a Reuben at all. Thin slices of slow-cooked wagyu brisket are cut with a pickled slaw and horseradish cream and topped with Manchego cheese and horseradish cream. Michael Shafran (Brooklyn Boy Bagels) inadvertently inspired the naming of the Not Reuben after he pointed out to the owner that braised brisket breaks the Reuben rules (to serve corned or salt beef). The next time he visited the cafe, it had been rebranded as the Not Reuben.
61 Albion St, Surry Hills, 02 9211 5556.
The Rachel is not just a haircut named after actress Jennifer Aniston. It's also the sister sandwich to the Reuben.

The Reuben's little sister, The Rachel will be available at Brooklyn Boy Bagels' new Matraville store.

Brooklyn Boy Bagels
The Rachel is not just a legendary haircut named after actress Jennifer Aniston; it's also the sister sandwich to the Reuben. BBB's New York-born Michael Shafran's has looked to both the US West Coast and New York for his inspiration. The Rachel is built between his bakery's house-baked NY Deli rye, elevated with a sourdough culture and mixed with caraway seeds. Shafran also uses pastrami instead of corn beef and mustard instead of Russian dressing. Note: Brooklyn Boy Bagels' new retail outlet is nanoseconds away from opening in the Eastern Suburbs.
448 Bunnerong Rd, Matraville. 02 8540 4595.

The ridiculously good Reuben sandwich at Daisy's Milk Bar.

Daisy's Milk Bar
In Harry Met Sally, Meg Ryan famously faked an orgasm while enjoying a Reuben sandwich at Katz's Deli in New York City. If you want to understand why the sandwich and the deli have an evangelical following then order one from Daisy's, which flirts with fairly faithful flavour combinations. The sandwich arrives toasted and stuffed with corned beef, pickles on rye and a Russian dressing. Daisy's vanilla and malt shake is also a sensual pleasure.
340 Stanmore Rd, Petersham, 02 8065 3466.

Cafe 2042 in Newtown says stuff it with its wagyu beef sandwich based on the Reuben.
2042 Cafe & Deli
Cafe 2042 knows how to woo us with its smoked wagyu beef sandwich, which is based on the Reuben and features sauerkraut, pickles and cheese served on rye. This darling of the King St strip celebrates all that is good about sticking certain ingredients between two pieces of bread. It's worth including on a Reuben crawl because of the smoked beef alone (made by Schulz Smokehouse, Barossa Fine Foods).
403-405 King St, Newtown 02 9550 2500,

Who cares if it's not strictly a Reuben? This construction piled high with brisket pastrami is sandwich perfection.
Lox Stock and Barrel 
This deli diner does a homemade brisket pastrami with Russian coleslaw and pickles on rye that may not adhere strictly to the Rueben rules but tastes ridiculously good all the same. Like most good deli diners in New York City, you can also get bagels and braided challah too. While Sydney's love affair with the Reuben sandwich is hardly over, brother-and-sister team Lianne and Neil Gottheiner of Lox Stock and Barrel aim to do for corned beef, pickles on rye what Dan Hong did for banh mi.
140 Glenayr Avenue, Bondi Beach, Sydney 02 9300 0368,

This is a Reuben that speaks Spanglish thanks to the influence of chef Oscar Gorosito.
Bridge St Garage
This is not a place to take a vegan on a first date. The Bridge St Garage is expat heaven as the sandwich has the Lower East Side stamp of authenticity all over it. Join the swank lines of downtown diners who declare this Reuben (which is again more of a Rachel) a decadent delight: shaved pastrami, loaded with sauerkraut and bacon, Garage sauce, coleslaw and pickles on a light rye sourdough.  Expect a few Latin-American twists courtesy of Argentina-born chef Oscar Gorosito.
17-19 Bridge St, Sydney, 02 9251 9392,

Meltingly tender pastrami is the piece de resistance of the Momo take on the Reuben.
Momo Brasserie 
Momo has made a name for itself for a repertoire that extends beyond the Reuben. The brasserie makes its own traditional New York-style pastrami, rendering its Rachel-esque rendition of the Reuben a comforting composition: warm housemade pastrami served toasted on rye slathered with slaw, pickled cucumbers and American mustard. This is a nod to the New York delis responsible for putting a simple sandwich on a pedestal.
65 Elizabeth St, Sydney, 02 9233 8838,

The Reuben at Reuben & Moore is a thing of beauty.
Reuben & Moore 
You know the Reuben has entered the mainstream when it opens dedicated eateries in shopping centre food courts. This is not such a radical interpretation of the Reuben. And there's no arguments about the attention to detail given to sangas served up at this dinky chain. The bread is first rate and the contents applied with ceremonious attention, with the rye slabs laden with sauerkraut and drizzled with mustard. Expect other American-inspired favourites on the Reuben & Moore menu.
Level 5, Food Court, 86-100 Market St, 02 8072 9777; Level 4 at The Macquarie Centre, Entrance Via Herring Rd, North Ryde, 02 9870 7608,

This sandwich that is a distant cousin of the Reuben makes cameos on the daily specials board Monty's Sandwich Shop.

Monty's Hot Sandwich Shop
The sangas at Monty's Hot Sandwich Shop have ridden the coat-tails of the Reuben renaissance. The Reubenesque successfully tweaks with tradition with this generously proportioned sandwich made using slow-roasted beef brisket, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, pickles and Russian dressing. The Boston also goes the full Monty with its nouveau Reuben with beef brisket, provolone cheese, caramelised onions and spicy tomato relish. Keep an eye out for a radicalised Rueben (wryly observed to be served on white bread, not rye) on the specials board.
141 Glenayr Avenue, Bondi Beach, 52 Spring St Bondi Junction,

The Hazelhurst Cafe has given the Reuben the flick in favour of the Cuban.
Hazelhurst Cafe
Yes Cuban rhymes with a Reuben, but that is where the similarities between the two sangas ends. The Cubano is believed to be a common lunch served to Cuban workers in the late 1800s.  So why did the Cuban make it onto a list of great Reubens when it is a decidedly different beast and has such a disparate culinary history? Because Hazelhurst Cafe executive chef James Watson has tipped a Cuban revolution. Hazelhurst Cafe recently flicked the Reuben from its menu in favour of the Cuban, which comprises citrus-baked pork shoulder, Gypsy ham, mustard, Swiss cheese and house-made pickles. The cafe's Cuban makes a cha-cha to Gymea a must.
782 Kingsway, Gymea. 02 8536 5755.

Do you have a favourite Sydney spot for a Reuben? Or even a Cuban?


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  3. I am originally from Brooklyn, NY and reside in Queens, NY at the moment, and I can honestly say the Reuben at Brooklyn Bridge Deli on Bridge Street reminds me of home. There haven't been many things in Australia that remind me of the food or ambiance of New York, with the exception of this place. Food is amazing, especially the Reuben and Philadelphia (Philly) Cheesesteak sandwiches. If you want to experience a taste of authentic New York food try the Reuben. The cheesesteak, although invented in Philadelphia, it was perfected in New York and you should certainly try it here. Don't forget to look around and see some of the memorabilia and authentic feel of the New York subway tiles that adorn their walls. I feel of home in such a far away place....

    1. that's good to hear Tm. Where is your favourite place for a reuben in New York CIty?

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    1. thanks Kevin. Next time you are in Sydney, you can tick them off, one by one. : )

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