Thursday, December 15, 2016

Episode XLIX: City Café Dallas (DAL)

I am a food blogger, not a Foodie. I would love to be a Foodie, but with a 5 year-old at home it is next to impossible.  When it’s Danny’s turn to pick where we’re going, chances are we end up at Chick-fil-a.

City Café in Dallas might be just the place to ease me back into the Foodie scene. It boasts menu items like Shishito peppers and Scallopini Milanese (neither of which is recognized by spell check in MS Word) as well as Bliss potatoes, and Shallot vinaigrette.

All of that will have to wait because there is an $18 Reuben on the menu.

Deli Style Reuben
“Corned Beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese, and Whole Grain Mustard with French Fries & Kosher Dill Pickle Spear”

Appearance – (4.3/5.0)
The first impression is good with clean, crisp lines on the plate. I had a good view of the chef at the window and he seemed to meticulously wipe the edges of each plate before it went out. He must have been ok with the mustard playing peek-a-boo out of that little hole in the bread. The coloring around the hole suggests that maybe the peek-a-boo was initially an eruption that was scaled back for service.

The bread looks perfectly grilled/toasted. If you start from the edges, you see a healthy burn that transitions to soft white, then a golden brown in the middle. Someone had their eye on that bread the entire time.

Quality of Ingredients – (4.7/5.0)
When I heard we were going to this place for lunch, of course the first thing I did was check the menu online to see if they had a Reuben. The description from the online menu matches the sandwich that was served and is what I included above. Here is what the menu at the restaurant had in print, “Pastrami, Rye Bread, Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese, and House Dressing with French Fries & Kosher Dill Pickle Spear”.

Here is the comparison:
In-person print menu
Pastrami, Rye Bread, Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese, and House Dressing with French Fries & Kosher Dill Pickle Spear”.

Corned Beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese, and Whole Grain Mustard with French Fries & Kosher Dill Pickle Spear”

This is a different group of ingredients and I am really curious as to how, when, and why these changes were made.  Have they not gotten around to changing the print menu? The print menu is a standard Reuben. (Corned beef is the classic but Pastrami is an accepted “standard alternative” for lack of a better term).  It looks like they decided to scrap the Rye in favor of Sourdough, go back to the classic Corned Beef, and get rid of the House Dressing to introduce whole grain mustard. Fascinating!

Whole grain mustard is a first for this blog and I had mentally prepared by myself for a mustard Reuben, only to get to the restaurant and find a standard Reuben on the menu. Then the mustard Reuben shows up at the table. Maybe they heard I was coming and were trying to mess with me. This is the burden of food blogger fame.
All of that to say, the whole grain mustard was excellent. The Corned Beef was tender and juicy but the sauerkraut was noticeably muted and tame.

Price – (3.8/5.0)
All week I had in my mind that I was going to eat an $18 Reuben.  That is real money.  When I was living the bachelor life in Boston I used to compare my discretionary expenses to how many burritos I could buy instead. A solid burrito from Anna's Taqueria back in the day was $7.50. So, if I wanted to take a cab back from the bars to Kenmore Square that might be, with tip, ~$15 or two burritos. Was the cab ride worth two burritos, or would I be better off walking home and treating myself to Anna’s the next day? I did this all the time to help make decisions.  I don’t eat at Anna’s anymore but I still try to use this thinking. Today I might think of a monthly payment to Netflix or a trip to Sonic to get Danny ice-cream but the process is the same. Using this logic, I don’t think this Reuben was worth $18.

This is a nice place that is ideal for a business lunch.  It has double white table cloth, good service, and you even get your ketchup served in a personalized gravy boat.  They also should get credit for making what can be a very messy sandwich into something you can eat in front of your boss. All of this seems to be what you are paying for because the sandwich itself falls short of the price tag.

Did I mention there was no pickle spear on the plate? I don’t even like pickle spears but for $18, I am going to want to see it.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (3.2/5.0)
This place was pretty clean cut and mystery free. The biggest curveball was probably the jalapeños in the calamari.  The single biggest JNSQ killer for this Reuben was the Sourdough bread.  A strong caraway seeded Rye is a risk, so when you see plain bread that is perfectly toasted it signals you are entering a safe space.

This rings especially true because they showed their hand! We all know that at some point they had Rye and decided to do away with it and it didn’t stop there. They got rid of the dressing and went with mustard.  I think the classic Reuben was too much to handle for the business lunch crowd and they had to dial the JNSQ way down.

Taste – (8.8/10.0)
Putting aside the menu confusion, it was a good sandwich.  The sauerkraut was not strong and it could have used that acidic kick.  In my opinion, this is another effort to transform the Reuben into something you can put on the tame business lunch menu.  The saving grace was really the Corned Beef and the mustard. The texture of all of the little whole grains was a new Reuben experience I really enjoyed. 

Overall – (24.8/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes, but not the next time I go. There are other things on the menu I would like to try before I go back. I also want to hear the story of why they made the changes.

Sometime the scoring rubric does not suit a Reuben well and that is the case here. It was not a bad Reuben, but a risk-averse product is going to have a tough time racking up a high score here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Episode XLVIII: Subway (DFW)

The Reuben is having a moment right now courtesy of Subway. They tried launching it a few months ago and I tried two different locations and was unsuccessful each time. The first one was “out” and the next week when I tried another location the promotion had ended.  Arby’s tried to push the Reuben a few years ago and I reviewed it in Episode X, but the Subway commercials are ubiquitous. 
My phone started blowing up with messages from friends, family, and fans (ok, so maybe it was just my dad) asking when I was going to try it. I couldn’t let my fan(s) down and decided to give it a go.

Corned Beef Reuben
“Corned Beef, Bavarian Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese, Thousand Island on Rye bread”

Appearance – (3.2/5.0)
Safe to say it doesn’t look like the commercial. I should have asked for double meat and told the lady to make it look like the commercial. This is the “new” Rye bread but you can’t really tell. It is not marbled and the caraway seeds are too small.  Once Danny took the bag of Doritos off my plate it just looked strange sitting next to the side order of banana peppers.

Quality of Ingredients – (3.9/5.0)
I was suspicious going into this review. I know Subway has spent lots of money trying to rebrand with local produce and the new logo, but I still wasn’t sure, especially about the sauerkraut. You may remember the last Reuben had some issues with the sauerkraut. Well, turns out it was not bad. I don’t know what Bavarian style sauerkraut is, but I like it. That seems like something that would be hard to replicate in so many Subway shops around the world. It is such a volatile ingredient.
The Rye was actually pretty good once you got past the lack of visual cues.
The corned beef was also not bad either. What I appreciated is that it was not too salty and seemed to have some good body to it. I thought it would be as flimsy as the thin cut turkey but it wasn’t.

Price – (3.9/5.0)
The sandwich itself was $5.75 but you throw in chips and you are closer to $7.25. Most of the other places I try include fries or a side dish so to keep the comparison fair, we will go with $7.25. Given the small portion size I don’t think it is a great value.  Not to mention, I was in a Subway in Coppell. You are not exactly paying for ambiance.  There are two minimum-wage teenagers providing labor under high efficiency light bulbs.

Also, most of the time after a Reuben, I don’t have to eat the rest of the day.  That was not the case here. This Reuben was just like a normal meat so the cost per calorie was high.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (3.6/5.0)
The JNSQ is low here but it didn’t have to be. There is a great little donut shop just down the road that I go to almost every Saturday to get donuts with Danny. It is not much to talk about. It is literally a mom-and-pop operation with one table. What I love about it, beside the donuts, it that their windows are filled with the posters of all the local high school teams. It gives the place a real small-town feel. Subway didn’t have that. It was more of a planned corporate environment.

Taste – (9.3/10.0)
Despite low scores up to this point, this was one of the better tasting Reubens out there. It really was not bad at all and there are a few reasons why. 

First off, the bread was toasted and was not covered in butter. The butter problem was really starting to feel like an epidemic. This is probably why I wasn’t so weighed down after the meal. The absence of butter really let the Rye flavor come out and I really liked that. Second, the balance of ingredients was right on. This is a benefit of a corporate environment.  You can have anyone behind that counter and it should come out the same every time so kudos to Subway for good operational execution. Third, the temperature was just right. They toasted the bread and melted the cheese perfectly. Look at this shot.

There were no unforced errors and no toothpicks!

Overall – (23.9/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes.  Really? Yes, I would. I thought I would need to pack in the banana peppers to save it but it wasn’t necessary.  I had those for dessert.

This is another good introduction Reuben. I have so many people tell me they have never had a Reuben. This is a good place to start. If your deli/pub can’t beat this then they should probably rethink having the Reuben on the menu.

Thank you to Subway to helping push the Reuben to the forefront of pop culture.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Episode XLVII: Cindi's New York Delicatessen (DAL)

After a long summer, the weather finally broke in North Texas. Mary Alice and Danny were out of town and I had a beautiful fall morning to myself, so I went for a run. There is a great network of trails in town and I just felt like running. Before I knew it, I had been out for an hour and worked up quite an appetite.  Next on the docket for the day was to try a Reuben. There were a couple of places in town that popped up when I searched for delis in Dallas, and Cindi’s was at the top of the list. They have a few locations around Dallas and the menu seemed very legit. 
I walk into the deli and I take a seat at the bar…

New York Reuben

“Choice of Corned Beef, Pastrami, or Turkey Grilled on Rye with Sauerkraut, melted Swiss Cheese and Russian Dressing on the side”

Appearance – (4.4/5.0)
Wow. I don’t even know where to start. There is a lot of food here. I really appreciate that they cut the Reuben and put the cross section on display. You can clearly see the melted Swiss, lots of corned beef, and even more sauerkraut (more on this later). This, like other Old World Reubens, has the dressing on the side. They also threw in some slaw and more sweet potato fries than I could eat. I don’t fancy pickles but it rounds out the deli presentation.

Quality of Ingredients – (4.0/5.0)
Take another look at the sauerkraut. There is lots-o-sauerkraut on the Reuben and…. it was not the best. (even more to come later). The corned beef was very good. I don’t think you would have multiple Cindi’s around DFW if they didn’t, so something right on the meat.   I found myself picking it out of the sandwich and eating it solo. I like the rye bread, no-nonsense rye here. It tasted like rye and there were no unnecessary swirls or marbling.  The Russian dressing did not really knock my socks off. It is almost an afterthought on the plate.

Price – (4.2/5.0)
This whole plate was $10.95. I think that is pretty good. I ended up taking home almost all of the fries. We are in North Texas here, home to the $30k millionaire, so things can get expensive for no reason.   But we’re still in Texas. Things are big and cheap.  

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.5/5.0)
This was not quite like some of the Old World delis I have been to in Chicago and Cincinnati for this blog, but it has its own character. When I walked in, there was a counter with all kinds of bagels and treats around. You can order some bagels from the counter or you can sit down for traditional table service OR you can sit at the fully stocked bar! I went for the bar. 

They have pretty much anything you can imagine at the bar as far as liquor or beer. I kept it simple with a club soda. There was an old lady to my right and she did not seem too interested in small talk; she was pretty occupied with her game of Candy Crush. The guy to my left was a regular and asked for his usual breakfast. It was corned beef and hash with a side of pancakes, and he ate everything! The rest of the place was filled with old people and young families alike. Truth is, I took a seat at the bar because there was a long wait for any table.  It is a great little place and it is worth reading the story of Cindi’s.

Taste – (8.7/10.0)
Great looking plate, fun place, good meat, but the sauerkraut really killed this one. Have you ever bought a big jar of sauerkraut? There is lots of (acidic) liquid in there.  I can tell Cindi is putting lots of time and effort into the corned beef, and I appreciate that. If she wants to go store bought with the sauerkraut, that’s ok but she should probably go easy on it. They really piled it on. Maybe they could just put it in a dishtowel and squeeze some of the water out like you do with frozen spinach. Anyone knows that if you don’t squeeze all of the water out of the frozen spinach you are in trouble. 

I took matters into my own hands and flipped the sandwich upside-down.  The sauerkraut dripped through the bottom bread, so that was gone. The open faced Reuben with the Swiss cheese, corned beef, and generously applied Russian dressing was awesome. There is potential here for sure.

Overall – (25.8/30.0)
Would I order it again? No. I want to come back here but I want to get the corned beef hash the guy next to me had. I already know they have the whole corned beef thing down, so that makes it a relatively low risk choice. Cindi’s story is real-deal American dream and I’ll be back for sure.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Episode XLVI: D'Lox (ELP)

Wedding Season!

The whole family was back in El Paso to cap off the 2017 Wedding Season.  One great thing about being home is that there is no shortage of babysitters for the little guy. I love spending time with Danny but it is nice to get out on a date every once and again.

I started looking for Reubens online in El Paso and it was not easy to find one. Lots of the pubs and bars you would hope would have one simply didn’t. So what did I do? I asked my mom.  She told me about D’Lox, a great place where she meets her friends for lunch and she knew first hand that they had a Reuben.  The only difficult part was trying to understand her over the phone saying D’Lox.

Spicy Reuben
“Shaved corn beef & sauerkraut on grilled rye. Served with imported Swiss spicy Reuben sauce.”

Appearance – (4.0/5.0)
Lots of fries and there is a Reuben down there somewhere. These are what I like to call Country Club fries. The El Paso Country Club has these and I can remember eating them in the club house as a kid. They have that extra egg batter on them and are super good.

You can see there is lots going on once you get down to the Reuben,  visible sauce, good cross section of meat, and non-uniform cut sauerkraut. There is only one toothpick and at least it is easy to spot. The bottom half is stabilized by the top half and the toothpick is holding the top together. It seems to be functional but I would just like to think the sauce is enough of a binding agent/adhesive to keep everything together.

Quality of Ingredients – (4.4/5.0)
I was very pleased with the quality of everything on the table, even the lime wedges they brought me for my water. The sauerkraut tasted fresh and was not bitter or too acidic. I don’t think anyone sells Spicy Reuben sauce so I assume they make it in-house.  It wasn’t spicy but still awesome in its own right and seemed to be homemade.  The little pepperoncini pepper had a good snap too. I don’t think anyone makes those so it is a good test to see how much they are willing to spend on pantry items.  

Price – (3.8/5.0)
$12.00! I know this is the Westside of El Paso but it is still El Paso. $12.00 for anything in El Paso that does not have a T-bone in it is expensive.  The portion is generous and it includes lots of fries but it is still steep.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (3.8/5.0)
This is the place in El Paso for ladies who lunch. The décor is warm but I thought the music was just a bit too loud.  As much as I don’t like toothpicks in my food, at least this one really calls your attention to it. It is adorned with a pickle wrapped around a pepper.  If that doesn’t say El Paso deli, I don’t know what does.

I was let down just a bit by the lack of spice. If something is advertised as spicy on the border you expect them to deliver.  This place is relatively new and definitely not around when I was growing up. I like that El Paso keeps growing and adding cool new places.

Taste – (8.9/10.0)
I could tell from the first bite that this was going to be a great Reuben. The only thing that kills me is the soggy buttery bread. This is turning into a theme on this blog. My theory is restauranteurs are trying to mask the flavor of the rye bread to market the Reuben to the masses. I don’t understand it. I found a stray Caraway seed and it was great all by itself. The rye flavor is there but you lose some of it with the butter.

Now the butter can be good to add just a bit of flavor and give the bread a nice color on the grill but that is it. The butter should be a condiment or garnish, not an ingredient. This is not a grill cheese where the butter is pretty much the reason you eat the sandwich.
The shaved corned beef was just tender enough where you could pull it apart but still had enough body to give it great flavor. If you pull up to a Texas meat market, walk away with a huge brisket, and don’t plan on turning it into barbeque, you better have a good plan. I would say the folks at D’Lox did the brisket proud.

Finally, the non-spicy sauce really brought everything together. Sometimes the fat kid inside of me just wants to devour something when it is good. I really have to pace myself, put down the sandwich, take a drink of water, make eye contact with my wife, try to pick out something from the last thing she said and ask a follow-up, then throw in a “is that right?”. You get the idea. This was a good one and I had to remind myself to go slow and enjoy it.

Overall – (24.9/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes, if I was coming for a weekday lunch AND I would ask the chef to go easy on the butter.  I don’t know if I would order it again if I came for a weekend brunch though. It would be hard to pass up the crab benedict or even the chilaquiles. 

Reubens might be hard to find in ELP but they are great when you do.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Episode XLV: The Grill House Cafe (DAL)

It can be tough being the new guy. I have been at this new gig for almost a month, but I’m still learning all the new-guy stuff. Where this room is, what that means, who reports to whom, etc…  You also get friendly people who want to get to know the new guy and even take him out to lunch. That was the case here, as one of my co-workers invited me out and, of course, found a place close by that has a Reuben.

Grill House Reuben
“Corn beef piled high, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread”

Appearance – (4.1/5.0)
Pas mal. Ignore the ticket in the basket for a minute and look at the distribution of meat. Almost looks like a diagram out of a geology textbook showing a cross-section of a mountain. The corned beef is the rock and the Swiss cheese is the snow cap. The Parmesan cheese on the fries is puzzling. I wasn’t sure what it was until I tasted it. At first I thought they had gone nuts with the fancy sea salt in an attempt to boost their Quality of Ingredients score. The score could have been higher without the ticket, but there are no toothpicks and good cut-and-show presentation.

Quality of Ingredients – (4.2/5.0)
It turns out it wasn’t sea salt and the Parmesan was actually the weakest link here. The bread was great if only because it was not soggy the way the last two have been.  The cheese held its own, and I would not be surprised if they told me the Thousand Island dressing was homemade.  I don’t think the meat was made in-house judging by the uniform pieces and cuts, but it was still a solid product.

Price – (4.6/5.0)
$7.45. The cost of living in Dallas is great. There is a ketchup dispenser on each table and free refills on the drinks.  It is super close to work and the service was quick. Overall, this is a great value proposition. You do drive right by a Whataburger to get here though. I really love Whataburger. I thought that maybe, after being back in Texas and eating it a few times, the novelty would wear off. Nope. Still love it and eat it probably more often than I should.  This Reuben definitely gives the #1 with cheese a run for its money.

The best part is that my co-worker picked up the tab. The big boss at work has this thing where he wants his managers to have lunch together and has challenged us to get out there and network. As a result, this was a “working” lunch. So thank you to The Man for picking up the tab.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.0/5.0)
I checked out the website before we went, and I really thought this place was going to be fancy. Afterwards, I realized I was looking at the website for Grill House Café in San Diego. That place is Mediterranean (I managed to get close enough to “Mediterranean”  for spell check to know what I was going for. The worst is when even spell check can’t figure out what the heck you are doing.) Anyways, this place is more mom-and-pop than I expected, and I liked it. It is pretty unassuming from the outside, located in a strip mall just off I-35E. When we got there it was pretty empty but had filled up a bit by the time we left. The folks in there seemed like regulars too.

Taste – (9.0/10.0)
It is nice to know I have a great Reuben close to work. Remember how disappointed I was with the Coppell Deli that was so close to my house? (My editor really thought I let them off the hook for the sub-par Reuben there). This Reuben really was fantastic and it is the simple product of good ingredients and even better execution. Let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start. The bread has to be good, and it was. It was toasty and crunchy!  This is really the only chance a Reuben has for a contrast of textures. The contrast of flavors is all over the place by design, but if you don’t have toasty bread, you’re done.

This Reuben was also not too salty. The weird fries and the out of place stack of pickles were not as good as the sandwich itself. I think you can hold the pickles on a Reuben plate. I am sure the cook in the back has been told to put pickles on every plate as it comes out. I will work out a cheat-sheet for him next time to help him out. We can barely get young people to eat Reubens as it is, and they want to start showing them with pickles.

One of the other reviewers on Yelp mentioned the homemade sauce and I believe it. The Thousand Island for me really did make it.

Overall – (25.9/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes.  Even if it meant driving by a Whataburger to get there? Yes. It was that good and it is even better knowing that I have it close by.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Episode XLIV: Coppell Deli (DFW)

Moving to a new city is stressful. Moving in general stinks. Whether it’s moving from a dorm room into storage, or moving a three bedroom house halfway across the country, nobody likes to move. You have to take the good with the bad though. One good thing about moving is that you have a new city to explore. I really look forward to scouring all of North Texas looking for the best Reuben. Coming off a great farewell Reuben in Highland Park, I was excited to try my new hometown deli here in Coppell.

The Coppell Deli has been around since 1944, but was really put on the map by the Dallas Cowboys during their Super Bowl-winning years. The seller’s agent of our soon-to-be home in Coppell even mentioned it as one of the selling points of moving to the neighborhood. I had high hopes going in, and Father’s Day weekend seemed like a great time to try it out.

Reuben Sandwich
“Corned beef w/Sauerkraut and Swiss cheese on Rye”

Appearance – (3.7/5.0)
This one did not make the best first impression. Once I realized those were actually Caraway seeds and not ants marching around the edge of the Rye bread, my attention was grabbed by the renegade 1000 Island dressing that escaped. I was wondering if this sandwich would have dressing when I ordered it because the 1000 Island was not listed on the menu. Maybe they were just trying to surprise me.

This whole sandwich has short-order cook written all over it. This makes sense once you see the menu and realize this places serves breakfast. My theory is that the 1000 Island is usually dispensed out of a plastic squeeze bottle with a single tip. For whatever reason, the 1000 Island got put into the squeeze bottle with a tri-tip. The tri-tip bottle should really be used with caution. They are relatively new and are really designed more for food trucks. I cannot be certain that this is how it happened, but I can only assume.

Quality of Ingredients – (3.6/5.0)
The quality was really not that great. They don’t advertise anything homemade or made-from-scratch. It seems to be a store bought Sysco operation. I wouldn’t say anything was poor quality but nothing really top-shelf either.

Price – (3.8/5.0)
The sandwich plus tots was $11.49. This is not super cheap, even when you consider the other items on the menu. For that same price you can get a bacon cheeseburger.  For less than that you can get a Patty Melt or even a Gyro! I realize Coppell has some high property taxes and they have to pay the bills, but this seemed steep for the product and compared to what else was on the menu.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.2/5.0)
This place was saved by the JNSQ and it starts when you walk in the door.  The walk from the front door to the register passes through what looks like a walk-in fridge stocked with beer. It had a pretty good selection, too, anchored by Shiner, of course. It also had lots of TVs which made watching Euro2016 easier.  I was afraid a Texas Deli made famous by American football would not have soccer on TV. I was happy to be proven wrong. Texas has changed quite a bit in the 13 years since I left.  The Reuben itself did not spark much curiosity other than trying to spot the tri-tip dressing dispenser.  

Taste – (8.1/10.0)
The Reuben is all about how the ingredients come together and balance. This Reuben was almost impossible to score because I could literally not get my hands around it. I reached down into the basket and for the life of me could not find the bottom bread. The top bread was toasty and firm and I was momentarily relieved that I would not have another soggy Reuben to deal with. Unfortunately, I then realized that I had reached the bottom of the sandwich but the bread was so soggy I couldn’t differentiate it from the moist corned beef. I had to eat this Reuben with a fork! That is a first for this blog. I think the short-order cook had the Reuben on the flat top, squeezed some water around it and covered it with a hood to melt the cheese. It looks like he used the tri-tip too...

The taste was largely consistent with the ingredients. It was ok, nothing spectacular. I ate the whole thing so that must say something.

Overall – (23.4/30.0)
Would I order it again? No. I have to say I was disappointed that what is probably the closest restaurant to my new place does not have a decent Reuben. I do want to come back and try the breakfast and the Gyro for sure. 

This place also has a liquor license and TVs, so I can see myself escaping here to grab a drink and/or watch a game in the future. The menu has standard bar apps and the tots were great but I think it’s impossible to mess up tots. They have to be the most standard food out there. There seems to be only one maker of tots that supplies every restaurant and cafeteria in the world. From Napoleon Dynamite’s cafeteria to the Coppell Deli, they are all the same. 

The Ranger is coming for you North Texas.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Episode XLIII: Kuby's Sausage House and European Market (DAL)

“Go west, young man”

The time had finally come for me to move back to Texas and truthfully,
I was not sure it would ever happen.  The family is starting a new
adventure together in Dallas of all places.

A new job became available with a company I have always wanted to work
for. My old company was great but I can tell already that they are
different. Remember that Taylor Swift video where there are two
Taylors? One is the cheerleader driving the red sports car with jet
black hair and the other is the glasses- wearing marching band Taylor?
That is the situation here. My old company was cheerleader Taylor.  I
am not complaining about cheerleader Taylor. I know I had a good thing
going, but marching band Taylor is more my style.  She is a good girl
with a warm heart, sense of humor, and does not take herself too
seriously.  The only part of this metaphor that bothers me is that
this makes me the guy with boy bangs…

I have to give a quick shout out to the Reuben at Folk Art in Atlanta.
This is a fun little place in the Inman Park neighborhood. We went
there to celebrate the big news. I ordered the Reuben but had to step
out to talk to our Realtor when the sandwich came. I took a bite then
my phone rang again, this time from the relocation specialist. It was
a hectic first few days putting everything in motion. Anyways, I was
not able to give the Reuben the attention it deserves, so I promise to
go back and try that one again. The one thing I can tell you is that
it was just a bit too salty. Unfortunately, this is a common flaw.

Back to Dallas! On my first day after I finished the paperwork I saw
my desk. It was decorated with pictures of Reubens! My reputation as
the Ranger now precedes me. Who would have thought? It wasn’t long
before it was time to go to lunch. They told me we were going to a
German restaurant that had a Reuben. Works for me!


“Kuby’s haus [sic] made corned beef topped with a mound of German
sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, then grilled to perfection”

Appearance – (4.1/5.0)
Clean presentation of the Reuben here with no obvious flaws. Take a
look at the Swiss cheese. It looks like it has been softened but not
completely melted. It is resting on the sauerkraut, a layer away from
the warm corned beef. This caught my eye and I will come back to this
in the taste section.

The pickles provide some color and balance for the plate.  The German
potato salad looks pretty good too. It is not exactly a Texas-sized
portion but I do appreciate that you can see the mustard seeds.

Quality of Ingredients – (4.2/5.0)
The haus made corned beef was well worth the time they put into it.
The seasoning balance was just right too. We are in Texas here, so
sourcing quality brisket is probably not an issue, it's what you do
with it. The menu does not mention it, but there was 1000 Island or
some kind of dressing on the sandwich. You can even see a little blop
on the picture. I don’t remember it making a big impression on me and
I don’t have anything in my notes about it. Usually when a dressing
has a kick or I can tell it is homemade it sticks with me.  I did not
detect anything special about the bread either. The marble is nice but
suggests it was mass produced. I think this was off-the-shelf bread.

I will give them a break on the bread because of the potato salad.  It
was obvious it was made-from-scratch with top notch ingredients.

Price – (4.7/5.0) 

$7.95 God Bless Texas and the German immigrants that
decided to make it their home. This is a great deal for $7.95! There
was plenty of corned beef in there and I can’t really complain too
much about the small portion size of the potato salad. The potato
salad was good and it left me wanting more.  Cost of living here is
great and I may have to recalibrate my thinking on price. For the time
being, I will keep this high score on record and have to keep this in
mind going forward here in the DFW Metroplex.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.6/5.0)
This place had loads of JNSQ. The meat-market in the front was nice
and the decorations in the main dining room were authentic. Our server
even had a German accent that I’m pretty sure was real. The potato
salad also really perked my interest. I got great vibes all around.

Taste – (8.7/10.0)

When I picked up the Reuben a clump of corned beef fell out. This was
the perfect opportunity to really see what the haus made corned beef
was made of. It had great flavor without being too salty!  I looked
around to see where I should attack the sandwich first. I didn’t want
to take a bite where the corned beef had just fallen out because it
wouldn't have the right weight and balance. (See what I did there all
you AvGeeks?)

I spotted a good one on the corner and went in. This was a respectable
Reuben. The corned beef was great and the Swiss and sauerkraut really
held their own. The Swiss was a thicker cut and it worked because it
was not completely melted. This makes it less messy to eat but also
gives it more body.  The menu does not say it, but I think the
sauerkraut was homemade. The reason that I think this is because some
bits were more acidic than others. The bread was just a bit soggy but
had decent flavor once you got past the texture.

Overall – (26.3/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes. There were some other great things on the
table and lots of things that would be fun to try to pronounce on the
menu. I’m excited for the new gig and glad to finally be back home in
Texas! Texas Forever.

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