Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Episode XLII: Woolman Café (ATL)

The café at work has come a long way since Episode XIV. A few months ago the whole place was remodeled and the menus updated. “Fresh Sushi” seemed to be the tagline.  My go-to is the off-menu Buffalo Chicken Wrap, extra tomatoes, provolone instead of blue, spinach wrap please. If I want to change it up, and feel well hydrated, I get the generous BLT. Once I made sure I could still get these, I was ok with the new layout and look.

One of the revamped stations features daily Panini. Word got to me pretty quickly that there was a Reuben on the menu but it wasn’t there every day. You have to check the menu at the beginning of the week. It seemed to be competing with the Cuban for the Panini shelf space.
I was in the café one Friday and the deli line was long so I walked over to the Panini station to see if the Reuben was there. I was in luck. Three Reubens, pre-pressed, were stacked high and looking right at me. The guy behind the counter popped one in the oven and the timer showed 00:45. 45 seconds?!?  The scorching Reuben came out and it was time to get down to business.

Reuben Panini

Appearance – (3.7/5.0)
This presentation is a causality of its little fry carton.  The top bread has started to fall off, exposing empty bread and a line of 1000 island. The way it is falling also draws your eyes to the Asian side salad that comes with the sandwich.  I have a feeling they don’t consider the featured sandwich when they come up with the side. I don’t see an Asian salad going well with a Cuban either.
Those Panini grill marks really steal the show. From what I can tell, only one side of the Panini press has those grooves.  Look at the bottom piece of bread. Totally smooth.  If you have to plate this in a fry carton, I would make sure both Panini groove sides are facing up.

The side view is not much better. This really exposes some issues with the Panini approach. The visual of sauerkraut/meat ratio is way off.  Universally thin cuts of meat suggest pre-package, pre-sliced.  It is also difficult to spot any cheese from this shot. I would think melted cheese would be a big plus from a Panini.

Quality Of Ingredients – (4.2/5.0)
The quality of the individual pieces was not bad. If I ever feel like a break from my buffalo wrap, I head to the salad bar. It is expensive, but what makes a good salad bar is solid individual selections.  This place definitely has that.
The problem wasn’t the ingredients that they used, it was what they did to them. Not many food combinations would do well when you press them in a Panini, let it cool, and then throw it in the oven. A piece- by-piece breakdown on this is coming up in taste.

Price – (3.8/5.0)
Long gone are my days at Bain Capital with free Odwalla drinks and heavily subsidized scratch-made meals. The café at work is run by a publically traded company. They know I had a choice of either bringing my lunch, going out to get lunch, or coming to their café. If I didn’t care enough to bring my lunch then I probably am not the most price conscious. If I didn’t go out to lunch then I probably don’t have lots of time. Crunched for time and money to spend means you drop close to $10 once you are all in with chips and a drink.  This is not exactly Dollar Taco.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (3.6/5.0)
The romantic in me really was excited about trying the Panini. I was skeptical, but hopeful that a good Reuben could come out of that. I was wrong. The JNSQ potential quickly evaporated.  This sandwich definitely got me thinking about what should and should not go into an oven and/or a Panini press.

Taste – (7.9/10.0)
The side Asian salad was just not very good. We can leave that one there and focus on the sandwich.
Given the ingredients, I think they could have produced a satisfactory Reuben. The temperature changes just doomed the whole operation. I have talked before about how a Reuben is not something that does will in a doggy bag. You have one shot to enjoy it!

Corned Beef – This is probably the least affected by the temperate swings.  These slices are too thin to lose too much juice anyway.
Swiss Cheese – Also, largely unaffected.
Sauerkraut – This is the issue folks. I wish I would have taken more chemistry in school but I didn’t. I do know that the pH levels in this stuff has something to do with why it doesn’t age well and should not be subjected to temperature swings.
1000 island – This just seems like a bad idea given that it is a mayonnaise based sauce.
Rye bread – The bread loses some of the crunch from the Panini when it is in the oven. This gives you the weird sensation of bread that is warm, somewhat firm but not toasted.

Overall – (23.2/30.0)

This is not the café’s best dish. I will stick to my buffalo wrap or salad bar. I may even try the sushi but I doubt it could be better than H-E-B sushi!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Episode XLI: Food 101 (ATL)

The Hoppy Monk is going to be tough to beat, but nevertheless, we press on. There are some fancy lunch places in Atlanta, and sometimes a nice restaurant and fancy ingredients can allow you to let your guard down when ordering a Reuben.  The Reuben at Food101 fell short on something you wouldn’t think could trip up a Reuben.

I have to say, I was in a good mood on my way there. President’s Day Weekend 2016 was going quite well for me.

-          Friday was Profit Sharing Day
-          Saturday we took Danny to a birthday party for a girl in his class. He was the only boy invited. No big deal…
-          Sunday we went to the bar to see Tottenham Hotspur beat Manchester City 2-1 and my wife let me count this outing as our Valentine’s Day date!

Monday I was off work and one of my wife’s friends from college happened to be in town. She asked if we wanted to meet up at Food 101 in Buckhead. I checked the menu, and when I saw that they had a Reuben, I said yes.

NY Style Reuben
“House Made Pastrami, Sauerkraut, Gruyere, 1000 Island, Marble Rye ”

Appearance – (3.7/5.0)
We have a situation here where they are trying too hard to fit something into the sleek plate design.   Doesn’t it look like they plated the fries first, then one half of the sandwich, and then the poor guy didn’t know what to do with the other half?

“Hey Charlie, is this how I’m supposed to plate this?”
“Looks good to me!”

You really lose some of the magic of the marble rye when you only see half of it. Then you are trying to find images in each half. Do you see the Robin?

The ketchup is also not great. Look at the dimple in the middle of the cup.  That tells me they squirted from a bottle anyways.  If that is the case, just put the bottle on the table and use the extra space for more fries!

Quality Of Ingredients – (4.0/5.0)
The house-made pastrami was a solid cut of meat for sure. What caught my eye about this Reuben was the Gruyere, and I have to say it worked well. The marble rye was nothing special and there will be more on that later

Price – (3.8/5.0)
$14! We are in Buckhead here and some people might say that this is a reasonable price. I’m sure lots of time went into making the house-made pastrami, but it still seems a bit steep. A 3.8 is not a horrible score, but I don’t think it’s a great value.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.0/5.0)
The Reuben actually earned a decent JNSQ score, and I think it was the Gruyere. Maybe this is evidence that restaurateurs out there are trying to game the system by adding fancy, French-sounding ingredients to boost their JNSQ scores. In this case it worked.
Other than the new cheese, there wasn’t much left to the imagination when it came to this Reuben.

Taste – (7.8/10.0)
Not horrible by any means but there were some flaws. First off, there was way too much butter on the bread. I know why places do this. It gives the bread some flavor and color when you put it on the flattop, but I think they were heavy handed here. I could not really taste the rye in the bread and that is an important part of the Reuben equation.
Also, I thought the pastrami was just a bit too salty. Maybe that’s why they don’t feel the need to put the ketchup on the table. You already have all of the sodium you need.

Overall – (23.3/30.0)
Would I order it again? No. There were some other really good looking lunches on the table that I would try before going back to this sandwich, such as the fish tacos, crab cakes, or even something called the triple grind burger.

I liked the place and the company was even better. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Epiosde XL: The Hoppy Monk (ELP)

Welcome to Episode XL of the Reuben Ranger. Not only do we now get to use the Roman numeral L, but we can also - well… I guess that is the only thing that is changing. 40!

I was back in El Paso for a quick weekend trip and I knew I wanted to try out The Hoppy Monk. I had been to the location in San Antonio for drinks but the original is in El Paso. There is not much going on in El Paso, and the fact that we have a hip microbrew pub is a big deal. El Paso is not the place I left 14 years ago, it’s way better.

“boar’s head corned beef + fried pickles + house made caraway beer mustard & russian dressing + jewish rye + swiss cheese + sauerkraut”

Appearance – (4.5/5.0)
Wow.  This is a towering sandwich with those two little toothpicks so close together. It reminded me of the John Hancock Center in Chicago.

As much as I complain about toothpicks, sometimes you can argue that they are functional. This Reuben was not cut in half which means the toothpicks really are useless and a public health hazard.  Maybe the Reuben is so tall the toothpicks are just keeping the bread centered and secured on top. If that were the case then one would do. 

The rest of the presentation is smooth. I like the chic newspaper fries, very bistro. The visible green seasoning on the fries give the whole plate a fresh feel. The thick cut corned beef almost looks like bacon! You also get a flash of melted cheese just below the lip of the top bread. 

Quality Of Ingredients – (4.6/5.0)
I was really pleased with the ingredients that went into this Reuben. I read lots of reviews online before going, and one theme was how pleasantly surprised people were with the quality of the food. Everyone knows the beer selection is ridiculous but the quality of the food brings the whole place to another level.

When you talk about a Reuben it starts with the corned beef. I have to look into how you can source Boar’s Head corned beef because that can sometimes be a major letdown.  Remember Episode VI? Some places that advertise Boar’s Head serve it as uniform cold cuts. This was not the case here.  This was thick cut, non-uniform pieces of meat. Can you buy the whole brisket from Boar’s Head? I would think they would have some kind of brand control over when and how places use their name in the product.

Whatever they used, it was great!

Price – (4.0/5.0)
$11.  I remember going out to dinner at Bella Napoli in El Paso as a little kid and the entrees were $5.95. In my mind, anything over that, especially in El Paso, is expensive. I should probably snap out of that thinking.  Double digits in El Paso is not cheap, so it needs to have something to justify that price.  In this case, I think $11 is a good value. The place was hoppying (See what I did there) the whole time we were there.  It can’t be cheap to keep so many beers in stock.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.5/5.0)
This Reuben was something special. I think it was the snow white sauerkraut. It really put me in a daze. Also, without getting too much into taste, it was not as heavy as you would think by looking at it. I felt like I could just keep eating even as I was almost done with it.

The atmosphere of the place also helped. I was there with my Dad watching the NFL playoffs. I emailed ahead that day to make sure they had TVs. There are snobby micro-brew places out there that make a point of not having TVs because the beer should be enough to entertain you. Yeah, I am not that kind of beer drinker and I am glad the Hoppy Monk is not that type of place.

Taste – (9.6/10.0)
When you tell people that you write a Reuben blog, and they realize that you aren’t joking, they always ask, “So where is the best one?”  Up until now I usually mention The ATL Chop House or Candler Park Market.

This one is right up there in the conversation. Wow. It wasn’t too salty; it had great body and bite. It was the whole package. This is where I know I’m an amateur because I can’t really articulate how good it was. Trust me, it is one of the best out there.

Overall – (27.2/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes!  I will forgive them for the toothpicks. I even hear there is a Lengua Reuben at the San Antonio location! I can’t wait to check that one out.

Thank you to everyone was has supported the Reuben Ranger thus far. Here’s to another 40!
The Hoppy Monk Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Episode XXXIX: Rainforest Café (SAT)

I was back in Texas for the Christmas holiday and my nephew Matthew was very excited for us to arrive. He had been telling us for days about volcanoes, jungles, snakes, and dinosaurs.  You parents out there probably know that he was talking about the Rainforest Café and he wanted to go back. We packed up the family in the car and headed down to the San Antonio Riverwalk to see what all the fuss was about.  It was our lucky day. We got a table right by the Pandas!

Rio Reuben
“classic reuben with corned beef, melted swiss cheese, steamy sauerkraut and thousand island dressing on grilled marble rye”

Appearance – (4.6/5.0)
This Reuben experience started well when the Reuben arrived at the table.  I like the sleek black slate and the double stack presentation, even if it did require a vampire stake.
This presentation does not surprise me at a corporate location like this. The whole restaurant is carefully planned like an amusement park or a casino.

Quality Of Ingredients – (3.7/5.0)
You know, I wasn’t thrilled with the individual ingredients here. I could go down the list and all of them would fall under the off-the-sysco-truck category.  If this was Vodka, it would be one step above Mr. Boston but not quite to Smirnoff.

Price – (4.0/5.0)
$13.95. On the surface this does seem like an expensive Reuben. You have to remember that you are paying for more than the sandwich, you are paying to listen to the volcano go off every 15 minutes. It freaked both of the boys out, by the way. Danny got up from the table and said it was time to go home the first time it went off.  It is also right on the Riverwalk in downtown San Antonio. So all-in, it is an ok price.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (3.8/5.0)
The Reuben itself had little mystique but what the Reuben was lacking was made up for by the Pandas.

Taste – (7.1/10.0)
This Reuben was just not very good and it upsets me. This blog is trying to introduce the Reuben to a new generation and bad Reubens like this one puts people off.  When you have acidic sauerkraut, Caraway/Rye, corned beef… These are strong flavors and need to be handled with caution. It’s like cooking Meth, things can go very wrong. Labs can explode and people die if you don’t know what you are doing.    

Overall – (23.2/30.0)
Would I order it again? No.  Am I going back to the Rainforest Café? Yes. The kids love it and now I know not to order it again. The Sushi tower my sister got was pretty good. Danny loved his hotdog and Matthew ate all of his dinosaur chicken nuggets.

I have a feeling will be right back there next time we are in town. 
Rainforest Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, December 18, 2015

Episode XXXVIII: Candler Park Market (ATL)

And I’m back in the game! 

Budget season is behind us, finally. Right…  Jeff, Charith, could you please confirm that?

That means I can get back to the Reuben Ranger.  First though I have to give a shout out to a fan of the blog we lost this week. Don Giovanni, the family Golden Retriever, died this week back in El Paso.  That dog never met a stranger.  His father, Don Juan, also lived with us before he died 4 years ago. So the bloodline had been with the family for 15 years! We loved them so much and we know they loved us too, and anyone else that happened to be holding a tennis ball.

Back to the blog! A slow Friday at the office meant I was home at 4:00! The early arrival threw off Danny’s routine. He is usually so excited when I come home but he knows he gets to watch Sesame Street at 4:30 and sensed that my early arrival would somehow jeopardize that. He politely suggested I go back to work. So we let Danny watch the show, then we headed out to the Candler Park Market. I was looking online for a Reuben close to work and came across great reviews of this place instead. 

Here we go.

Reuben (Hot ‘n melty!)
“pastrami, swiss, kraut, 1000 island, spicy mustard”

Appearance – (4.4/5.0)
Clean cut, simple appearance here.

The small deli basket does not lend itself well to the middle cut shot.

 Here it is:

Look at the kraut (I’m using their term from the menu). You may have noticed this Reuben had spicy mustard and it gives the kraut a jaundice tint.  It kind of looks like a Moons Over My Hammy, and I’m OK with that.

Quality Of Ingredients – (4.8/5.0)
I was very impressed with the quality all around, and not just in my Reuben. My wife had the Firehouse Italian and everything in there was top flight as well. What struck me first was the kraut. I asked the server behind the counter and she said it was sourced locally. She said, “If we don’t make it here, then we source it locally”.  

The kraut tasted like it came from an episode of My Grandmother’s Ravioli, old world. You need those slightly bitter and vinegary elements in a good Reuben. Some people don’t like this and that is why you usually see this part of the Reuben most commonly substituted for Cole Slaw or some other less offensive green. 

The 1000 Island was not quite as noticeable given the spicy mustard laced kraut but it was still a plus. They did a good job of constructing the Reuben by keeping the 1000 Island below the pastrami and the kraut above it. As a result of the 1000 island being on the bottom of the sandwich, you get some drops of it in the basket which made it easy for me to try it by itself. It was smooth and tangy, and our friend behind the counter confirmed that they make it in-house.  

Price – (4.7/5.0)
$7.25! That rounds down to 7! No complaints here. I think the portion size was just right for the price. The Firehouse Italian was $7.75 and also a great deal. The biggest value proposition might be that this place is in the back of a mini-mart. So you get your ticket from the deli and pay up front at the register. On the way to the front I picked up some BBQ chips for Danny (“Orange Chips”) and the three of us shared a huge fountain drink. Take that Bloomberg! So instead of restaurant margin pricing on the drinks you get 7-11 big gulp value pricing.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.6/5.0)
This place is a Deli counter in the back of a neighborhood mini-mart, and by counter I mean counter. There are no tables. There are some stools at the counter and that is it. Like most of the ITP neighborhoods in Atlanta, Candler Park has some nice parts and some not so nice parts. This mini-mart was a microcosm of the neighborhood. The aisle with the chips and cereal is a nice up-and-coming part of the store but if you go over two blocks to the cheap wine aisle, yikes… You may not want to walk home down that way. You have to take the good with the bad and that is part of charm of living ITP.

Taste – (9.6/10.0)
Classic Reuben taste and it really was Hot ‘n melty! The cheese was flowing over the side and I got to have a few bites that were just melty cheese. The pastrami was thick cut and I think it worked well here. You got some substance in the meaty bites. It was warm but not falling apart tender. Sometime you get meat that is so thin and so tender you don’t even have to chew. I think this goes back to my Texas brisket roots, you need some thick warm cuts of meat to really enjoy the flavor. 

Overall – (28.1/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes! It was a great way to get back into the blog. This is really the essence of what this blog is all about. It is an adventure to find gems in the back of a neighborhood mini-mart.  The Mean Green sounds awesome too for my next meat-less Monday.

Well done Candler Park Market! 
Candler Park Market Deli and Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Episode XXXVII: The Pig & Pint (ATL)

Sometimes a Reuben can sneak up on you. That was the case when I went out for lunch with my co-workers at The Pig & Pint

One of the folks on the team was moving to another position within the company for those I like to call the “Creative Types.” Anything in the Marketing, Loyalty, Sales, wannabe Mad Men, I refer to as “Creative Types.” These are the people that come up with brilliant ideas then act shocked when you tell them how much it will cost. They also justify everything with “brand” and “experience”.  This was a work sanctioned lunch outing so there was no way I was going to miss out. I have not been the best about going out to lunch.

At the end of last year I had to take a training course at work called “Take Back Your Life,” and it was dedicated entirely to Outlook management.  Anyone constantly battling a full inbox knows that it can take over your life, but still, it seems a bit ambitious for the name of a day-long training course. As part of the class, the instructor suggested that you block off time for yourself on your calendar, because everyone knows that there is no way the boss will book a meeting over a time blocked off on your calendar. I blocked off an hour-and-a-half every other Friday to go out to lunch. It has not gone as planned because I have pretty much been stuck at my desk all day every day. I even stopped wearing my FitBit because it just got to be depressing how little I was moving during the day.

Things are getting better and I was happy to be out with the crew. I didn’t even know this place had a Reuben!
“Shaved corned beef, pickled red cabbage, 1000 island, Swiss cheese, grilled sourdough”

Appearance – (3.9/5.0)
The plain, somewhat-grilled sourdough really takes over here. That is not something I am used to seeing with the Reubens.  There is so much color inside, with the red cabbage and corned beef, trying to get out but it just doesn’t seem to be making it all the way through. Rye has more color to it, especially when it has the marbling going on. This was probably done in an attempt to lure non-Reuben eaters to order this dish. This whole sandwich is a RINO (Reuben In Name Only) and the white sourdough is advertising it.

Once you get past the sourdough the presentation is nice.  I would have liked the stacked approach to show off the inside of both halves but at least they took the time to slice it and separate the halves.

Quality Of Ingredients – (4.3/5.0)
Well done here. The pickled cabbage and 1000 island dressing tasted homemade. The shredded cabbage was not cut uniformly, which usually lets me know that it was done by someone in the back and not by a machine. The color on it really popped too. The other dishes around the table looked like they were homemade as well. I did not get the sense that anyone in the kitchen was cutting corners. The place just smelled good when you walked in so you knew something good was going on back there.

Price – (3.7/5.0)

$10 may have been a bit much given the small portion size. The server did not charge me for my Club Soda, so I will give them credit for that, but I think this one could have been in the $9 range.  $10 is really a psychological break point and you need something special to charge that.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.4/5.0)

It was nice to rediscover this place. I had been here years back, before it was the Pint & Pig. There were not too many good Happy Hour places around the office before this came along. There is a smoky Irish Pub, a smoky beach bar, and a smoky seafood dive bar. You see the trend. I don’t mind a smoky bar when I’m in Vegas, but sometimes you want a chill place to have a margarita after work where you won’t have to change your shirt when you get home. They have some good drink specials and I hope to come back for lunch or Happy Hour soon.

Taste – (8.8/10.0)
This was a good RINO and I am glad they did not try to hide it by giving it an appropriate name. They took away the rye and sauerkraut. I don’t think Swiss cheese is as polarizing as these two.
The pickled cabbage had enough vinegar to give it a kick similar to that found in sauerkraut. The sourdough was a mild variety and very well could have been white bread.
What really brought this whole sandwich together was the homemade 1000 Island. It was creamy and it was used in just the right amount.

Overall – (25.1/30.0)
Would I order it again, yes, but maybe not on my next visit. There are a few things on the menu I would want to try first, like the pulled pork. This place smelled just enough like bbq smoke to get your mouth watering. Then you see the pulled pork come out and it looks as good as it smells. Once I’ve tried the pulled pork then I’ll be able to make an informed decision on where to go from there.

Click to add a blog post for The Pig & The Pint on Zomato

Friday, July 3, 2015

Episode XXXVI: Bagel Palace (ATL)

My friends, it has been too long.

First I have to apologize to Flat Branch Pub & Brewing in Columbia, MO. I had a great Reuben there back in March but did not get around to writing the formal review.  Things at work have been hectic lately but we are finally adding some staff so I should have my life back soon.

A Friday off from work seemed like the perfect time to get back in the game and try another Reuben around town. The Bagel Palace is pretty well known in the Reuben community of Atlanta.  I was not sure what to expect as the reviews for this place on line are hit or miss.

45. Corned Beef Reuben
This is all the menu says.  Apparently, no introduction is necessary for this Reuben. I think this is this first Reuben on this blog that did not have any kind of description.

Appearance – (3.5/5.0)
No frills here.  This place seems to go out of its way to avoid any flare. Even when I ordered Danny a hotdog off the kid menu our server said she just needed the number. Ok. Could I please have a #5?
The one bit of flare was the florescent lime green shirt our server had on. Other than that, this plate sums up the appearance of the whole restaurant.

Look how good it could look with just a tiny bit of effort.

This is the same sandwich!

Quality Of Ingredients – (3.7/5.0)
I don’t have a good place to start. There was no description! If a restaurant tells me there is homemade 1000 island dressing I will get excited about it. Is there something special about the cured Corned Beef? Couldn’t tell you. Maybe this is an indictment on the sophistication of my palate. I’m at a loss here.

Let this be a lesson to all of those restaurateurs out there, you can plant seeds! If you get your clients excited based on what is in the menu, maybe the food will taste better.
There were no obvious weak links but nothing really stood out either.

Price – (3.2/5.0)
$10.69? That is real money. I can look around and tell there is not a whole lot of money going into maintenance and overhead. It looks like the decoration budget didn’t get approved this year. I am not sure why $10.69 is the right number. 

Sometimes you go to a bar for trivia or to watch a game and you pay $8 for a beer but you are ok with that because you are essentially paying rent for the bar stool. You are paying for the satellite bill that is letting you watch the game.  When I saw $10.69 I kept looking around to see what else I was paying for.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (2.7/5.0)
I was thoroughly disappointed when it came to the JNSQ of this place. The space was tired and dated. There was nothing welcoming about the environment; there were no decorations on the walls.

Oddly enough I think they might like it this way. There were lots of elderly couples eating there that seemed to know the server by name. One of them even told our server he wouldn’t see her tomorrow because he was going to spend the 4th of July with his grand-kids. If the target demographic likes good food with  no frills, then more power to them.

Taste – (8.6/10.0)
The taste itself was not bad. No crazy reinterpretations of the dish, it was just a straight up Reuben. I think the sauerkraut could have had a bit more kick but overall it was good execution.

Overall – (21.7/30.0)
Would I order it again? No.  If I happen to be in the neighborhood and I need a place to pick up some bagels I would come back. We did get a few bagels to go and they were pretty good. Are they better than the Einstein Bros Bagels across the street? I don’t know.

A restaurant does not have to be all things to all people. This place seems to be doing just fine serving old school food to a very loyal client base. I am glad I took the time to see and experience it for myself.


Click to add a blog post for Bagel Palace Deli and Bakery on Zomato