Saturday, September 30, 2017

Episode LV: Pat's Wedding (PSM)

This is it; it’s time. The Reuben Ranger in its current form will ride off into the proverbial blog sunset. “Thus far you shall come, but no farther”

This blog started for a very specific reason - things in life were horrible (medulloblastoma). Sauerkraut, corned beef, and Celexa helped me dig out of the rut. Slowly things got less horrible. Moving back to Texas was a new beginning for the family. Things have been better now, much better, and it is time to shake things up.

This is not a decision I took lightly. Things are different now. I spend my weekends coaching Danny’s soccer team or taking him to swim lessons. It has been five months since I last posted an entry and that might be a good thing. Life has gotten in the way and gently nudged the blog onto the back-burner.

This is not to say the blog is dead; it is just changing form. The last entry was LIV (Live!) and the Reuben kicks off the new era with LV (Love!) The Reuben Ranger will evolve to post submissions from you, the fans. My friends and family have been sending me pictures of Reubens for the last five years.  Keep it up! (I will start posting in this form as well). With the picture of the Reuben send in a simple review of 1 to 5 stars and up to 140 characters. (I know Twitter just upped the character count but the challenge is to be concise. I would have written a shorter blog post if I had more time.) So this is just adios and not goodbye.

Here is an example from the last Reuben I had

Sandwich Corner Reuben (PSM) ****
Beautiful presentation, ratio off (too much kraut not enough corned beef). Perfectly grilled, great flavor

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Episode LIV: Treasure Island Supper Club (DAY)

Have you ever been to a supper club? Do you know anyone who still even uses the word supper? The Reuben seems to be a generational thing but you may have to go back another generation to find the supper club crew. Well the supper club scene is alive and well in Dayton, OH. The Treasure Island Supper Club is in the shadows of the shuttered manufacturing plants of Dayton. The old car factory next door and a refrigerator plant down the street remind you of another time.

The Treasure Island Supper Club is an unassuming building on the outside but as soon as you walk in there is a vibe about this place. It is dimly lit, low ceiling, Vegas style lounge. (For my Atlanta fans, this place is just like Johnny's Hideaway without the dance floor). We were there with my wife’s family and sure enough one of her aunts saw an old friend at the bar. This is a place where regulars have their own table. The servers know your order. It would be strange if you didn’t see someone you know. The only thing the people here love more than coming is bringing an out of town guest to experience the magic.

Oh, and they have a Reuben.

Reuben Sandwich
“corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on Rye”

Appearance – (3.6/5.0)
Evenly toasted bread, big pickle, there is nothing crazy going on here. The chips are really what struck me. Part of the conversation at the table was that they feature local chips. These look like Lay’s to me, they tasted like Lay’s too. There is plenty of cheese but you can tell it was melted but then cooled and solidified. That is not a great sign. 

Quality of Ingredients – (3.9/5.0)
The solidified cheese was not bad and the sauerkraut was surprisingly mild. Usually when I have an old world Reuben or a Reuben served by/for the old world crowd, the sauerkraut is intense.  The first ingredient that is substituted out when a Reuben is re-imagined is the kraut. You can throw in coleslaw or even just a milder, less acidic sauerkraut. The Corned Beef was tender and not too salty, checks the box.

Price – (4.7/5.0)                                                      
$7.95! There we go!  This is a good deal. The portion itself was not huge but you get unlimited crackers and you are paying for the atmosphere. Rents in this part of town have to be pretty low so I am glad they are passing it on to the customers.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.7/5.0)
The JNSQ is really the value proposition of this place. The food is simple and honest. You come for the crackers, stay for the corn fritters, come back for the people.  This place has survived generations and economic cycles. It is not going anywhere.

Taste – (8.5/10.0)
The solidified cheese was hard to get past. I think what happened is that they wanted to bring everyone’s food out at the same time. It was a big group and most groups at this place are. Have you ever ordered an appetizer as your entrée and they ask if you want them to bring that out first? Maybe they should do that with the Reuben. The rest of the sandwich was also not quite up to temperature. The bread was toasted just right and the Reuben as a whole was ok.

Overall – (25.4/30.0)
Would I order it again? No. There was lots of other really good food on the table. Did I mention the corn fritter? I am really happy I had the chance to go. I could tell this place was special to all of my in-laws and it makes me happy that they go out of their way to share it with me. I will be back in Ohio soon.

“If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” - WILBUR WRIGHT

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Episdoe LIII: The Pioneer Woman Mercantile (TUL)

Oh what a beautiful morning! Well, not really. It was shaping up to be a rainy weekend in North Texas so we wanted to get out of town. The flights to Tulsa looked good so we decided to have a go.

I never thought I would spend this much time in Oklahoma. I grew up out in West Texas but, up until this year, I had never made it across the Red River to the Sooner State.  Danny and I took an overnight trip to OKC earlier in the year and this time Mom was coming along. The flights to Tulsa looked open and we thought it would be nice to drive the open range and check out Pawhuska. 

It is a small town in northeast Oklahoma that has been put back on the map by my TV wife Ree Drummond, aka the Pioneer Woman. Her family bought and renovated a building in downtown and created a real destination. There is a full restaurant and general store and they call the whole thing The Mercantile, or “The Merc”. I love Ree and redheads in general.  When Mary Alice was pregnant we decided not to find out the sex of the baby. I really thought it was going to be a girl. Who knows why but I had it in my heart it was going to be a girl. I kept asking Mary Alice if she thought we could get a redhead. She said no. No one in her family has red hair, but I kept asking every once and again anyway. I wanted a little redhead daughter. It was not in the cards but life turned out just as it was supposed to.

Beef Brisket Reuben
“This brisket has to sit on rye bread or it will fall apart before it gets to your mouth. Topped with creamy sauerkraut slaw, Thousand Island dressing and melty Swiss Cheese.”

Appearance – (4.6/5.0)
Golden brown, just like me.  The sauerkraut slaw has a pretty rustic cut to it. The homemade chips look great too but I think they could have fit a few more on the plate. Those little pickles (I’m being told they are called sweet midgets) really give some color. There is a good portion of brisket in there but it is not sliced the way you usually see in a brisket sandwich, in Texas anyways. By the way, Danny did the most Texan thing ever and chose to wear his "Texas is Calling" shirt on our trip north of the Red River. So proud!

Quality of Ingredients – (4.8/5.0)
Ree has spared no expense. The brisket, chips, slaw… it was all top notch. The kitchen is visible from the dining area and you can tell they are doing things right.

Price – (4.2/5.0)                                                      
$11. Anywhere else in NE-middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma I would say this was expensive but here I think it is a good value. We even got a picture with Lad, Ree’s husband, so that is worth something! 

The folks at The Merc are also really nice to you while you wait in line. It was more than two hours for us. They bring you bottles of water and freezer pops. They also have umbrellas for you when it’s raining like it was when we were there.  All of these things add value to the experience.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.8/5.0)
This really is a destination. I got to spend some time in the general store and had fun looking at all of the little trinkets and widgets they had. It is a cross between a William Sonoma and Cracker Barrel. The restoration of the building itself is amazing. There is the original exposed brick juxtaposed by state of the art kitchen with stainless steel hoods and all the works. There is an original advertisement from the National Biscuit Company that is two stories tall! The whole place is just fun.

Taste – (9.1/10.0)
This is an awesome brisket sandwich but no doubt a Reuben In Name Only (RINO). When people ask me what’s the best Reuben I have ever had, I won’t say this one because it is not really a Reuben. I loved it but I think it has strayed too far.  The brisket was excellent but the flavor is very different from Corned Beef or pastrami. Also, the sauerkraut slaw was more coleslaw than anything else. It did not have the acidic taste of sauerkraut. To me, those to me are cornerstones of the Reuben.

Overall – (27.5/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes. Would I fly to Tulsa, drive an hour, stand in line for two hours, just to order it again? Probably. If the flights are open! Did mention we rented a Jeep for $28 bucks a day. All taxes and fees included. Plus we did not get to see Ree this time so I really hope to see her when we go back.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Episode LII: Weinberger Deli (DFW)

It has been too long, my friends; I have missed you.  Reuben aficionados have been wandering the streets not knowing what to do or what to order.   For those of you who lost faith in the Reuben and ended up playing it safe and ordering a Turkey Wrap, I apologize. You should never have to do that.

I’m back and I hit up a Reuben next door in Grapevine at Weinberger’s Deli. This place has 180 Google Reviews (4.5 stars), 293 Yelps (4.5 stars) so I am not discovering a hidden gem here, but they seem to be known for the Italian Beef and not necessarily the Reuben.  It’s a big risk ordering a Reuben when apparently the Italian Beef is so good and fun to order.

“Hot Corned Beef and Pastrami, Melted Swiss Cheese, Russian Dressing, Sauerkraut, Grilled Marble Rye”

Appearance – (3.7/5.0)
Nothing spectacular here.  I think the chip portion could have been more generous. I held it up to give a better view. It looks like the volcano of sauerkraut has displaced the section of meat and shifted it over.  The Swiss cheese is present and accounted for and there is just a hint of the dressing. 

Quality of Ingredients – (4.4/5.0)
I was really pleased with all of the ingredients on the plate. I even ate the pickle and I’m not usually a pickle person. The Russian Dressing really stood out. I thought it gave a great kick to the Reuben. There was a lost diced onion piece on the first picture of the Reuben. I thought it meant the product was homemade. Then I looked up at the shelf.  Nope.  They must have a good supplier but for some reason keep the label hidden. Company secret.  

The meat and cheese is also bought and displayed in a deli case when you walk in the door. The Swiss Cheese was thick and good.  I was impressed they were able to get a good melt on all the cheese without completely burning the bread. I like a bit of char but it’s a slippery slope.
The sign said Corned Beef AND Pastrami.  I can’t really tell if I got both. I know. I’m a fraud. I think it was Corned Beef. Either way, I liked it.

Price – (4.2/5.0)
$8.99 is pretty good. I think a few more chips could have gone a long way here. The portion of meat is fair but not huge. We are in North Texas but in “downtown” Grapevine so I understand if the price is a bit higher.    

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.7/5.0)
This place has a great vibe. I don’t know of too many Chicago delis in town (Don’t call it a New York Deli). The owner was very friendly and it had a great Mom-n-Pop feel to it. There are signs everywhere about the Italian Beef so I felt strange not ordering it. It also gets extra points for the super melty cheese stretching across the table as I took the first bite.

Taste – (9.5/10.0)
Hello! So it may not be much to look at but this was a great Reuben. Solid execution and put together with love. You don’t need excessive piles of meat or needlessly fancy ingredients. There are a few basic ingredients that they handled well. The Panini press was used to perfection. It melted the cheese and warmed the meat up just right.

Overall – (26.5/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes, but I may have to come back for the Italian Beef first. I got a taste of the Rachel on my way out the door and that was great too. They put it on Pumpernickel bread.  Downtown Grapevine is a great little place, Main St USA. I hope to be back soon!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Episode LI: The Hoppy Monk (SAT)

I celebrated my 33rd birthday last week and the crew from work wanted to take me out to lunch to get a Reuben. I said thanks, but no thanks. I had a trip to the Hoppy Monk in San Antonio coming up that weekend and I couldn’t be distracted by another Reuben.  We had some great Mexican that day instead.

The Hoppy Monk in El Paso was featured on Episode XL and I often cite it as one of the best Reubens I’ve had. The location in San Antonio has a Reuben de Lengua, which had been on my radar. It was time to check it out and let the world know what happens when you put beef tongue and sauerkraut together.

“ten-day cured wagyu beef tongue + muenster + sauerkraut + russian sauce + marbled rye”

Appearance – (4.6/5.0)
Lovely stacking.  The marbled rye looks like a cut out cross section of a bullseye. The sauerkraut gives a great visual contrast and the bottom piece has the Russian dressing seeping out.  They may have forgotten the dressing on the top piece. You can also see the salt crystals on the lengua meat and the tiny bits of moisture it pulls out. The fries are generously seasoned with fresh herbs that put some green on the plate.  A flimsy sword/toothpick keeps it all together but overall, a great looking dish. 

Quality of Ingredients – (4.7/5.0)
This one was encroaching on RINO territory (Reuben in name only), by swapping out the corned beef and Swiss cheese, but still had the sauerkraut, marbled rye, and Russian dressing to restore credibility.

Great ingredients and an even better job of marketing them to the customer. The menu and website direct lots of attention to all of the local suppliers and I think that makes the food taste better.  They have the placebo effect working for them here.  When you take a bite, you say to yourself, “Oh yeah, this tastes like it came from that farm I drove by last week in the Hill Country.”  They also have an amazing house made ketchup. Remember, we are in Whataburger country here, so anything that can compete with Whataburger Ketchup and Whataburger Spicy Ketchup has got to be pretty amazing.

This place talks the talk and walks the walk. 

Price – (4.0/5.0)
$11. So this is not cheap, especially for South Texas, but I think the dish as a whole is a good value. For one thing, you know you are paying for the local ingredients.  Another is that they are not shy about bringing you more of the ketchup when you ask. You also know you are paying for the ambiance. There is an awesome beer tap fountain outside and the inside is a long room with community tables so it has the feel of a European beer hall.   

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.4/5.0)
Anything that has lengua is going to have a high JNSQ score. I just like this place. I came here a few months back for drinks with friends and that is when I discovered their special Reuben. That was a late night stop with the guys drinking beers and this time I was with my son and two nephews right when they opened early in the day. This place is versatile. The owners are from El Paso, so they have that going for them too. 

Taste – (8.0/10.0)
What happened?! It was too salty for my taste. This might be by design, a marketing trick as old as time.  What do you need with a salty snack? Something to wash it down. The drink menu here is 20 pages long.

I was a fat kid growing up and will be a fat kid for life. I have to watch what I eat (and drink).  I know I can only consume so many calories at a time and I prefer to eat my calories. I realize that this is a microbrew and their whole thing is the beer, I get it. I also grew up in a house where my mother was scared of only three things: scorpions, garlic, and salt. It’s weird. My mom uses very little salt when she cooks and no garlic. So my tolerance for salt is lower than others. What I wanted to do was order a nice local beer, rinse the lengua in the beer to remove the excess salt, then reconstruct the Reuben. I think that would have been awesome. The lengua itself was great and prepared really well. It is a tough cut of meat and usually requires a slow cooker or a pressure cooker to really break it down.  

Overall – (25.7/30.0)
Would I order it again? No.  I had some of my wife’s burger and it was amazing (Burger blogs are a dime a dozen, you can find a write up there); I am getting that next time.  Or maybe the next time I go I’ll drink my calories and get a flight of Texas beer. Either way, I can’t wait to go back.  

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Episode L: Zenzero Kitchen (DFW)

Welcome to the Golden episode of the Reuben Ranger.  L! We made it. Unlike the NFL, we will continue with roman numerals until the end of time. I don’t know why I like roman numerals but I do. Maybe it was traveling through Europe as a kid and seeing the landmarks dated with them or maybe it was in high school when the Y2K was going on and MMs were the candy to have. Any kind of esoteric academic thing that annoys other people, I’m usually all about it.

A lunch date with my sweetie at Zenzero Kitchen was the perfect opportunity to try a Reuben at a cozy little lunch spot in town. I was trying to fight off a cold but I had enough in me to give this one a try.
Here’s to another L to get us to C.

Reuben Panini
“Corned beef cooked in-house with swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Served on jewish rye bread with house-made potato chips”

Appearance – (3.9/5.0)
The Reuben looks great but it doesn’t look like a Panini. I appreciate the toasty bread but it doesn’t look like this sandwich actually met a press. It also does not have the buttery glow of a Panini. When I ordered, I asked for the Reuben and I assumed they were going to bring me the Reuben Panini, but looks like I got the off-menu Reuben. I am ok with that but just seems misleading.

This Reuben is a good example of what happens when good toothpicks go bad. It seems to have split one half of the sandwich in two. Clean cut. Looks like a Samurai went through it. 
The house-made potato chips look great but they block the center cut cross section view.

Quality of Ingredients – (4.6/5.0)
I have to start with the brisket, corned beef. I have mentioned before on this blog that it is gutsy to serve corned beef in Texas.  You could use the same cut of meat, slather it with mustard, sprinkle on a simple salt and pepper rub and smoke it! The corned beef on this sandwich was not thinly sliced but cut more like you would serve a brisket sandwich. The meat had some body to it but was tender enough to pull apart.

The menu stressed in-house corned beef and house-made potato chips but the Russian dressing, for me, is what really had the home cooked flavor to it. So, they either have a really good supplier or they forgot to mention that.  They did capitalize Russian on the menu and did not capitalize Swiss or Jewish. This place could be the Communist Bastian of Texas.  They had me questioning whether or not they actually smoke brisket. Scary stuff…

Price – (3.9/5.0)
$12. You know it is expensive when the menu uses whole numbers. If you worry about numbers to the right of the decimal, you probably can’t afford this place. It is better than the $18 Reuben at City Café but still seems high.  

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.4/5.0)
There was definitely a “Ladies Who Lunch” vibe going on here. It is a narrow space with Euro style tables that run the length of the room. You can find yourself very close to your neighbor and you have to pretend you are not listening to their conversation. There is a fancy coffee machine in the front and you can pick up the subtle scent of coffee from your table. This atmosphere is hard to pull off in North Texas because if there is one thing the metroplex has, it’s space.

Taste – (9.2/10.0)
The non-Panini caught me off guard and it is expensive, but it was good! I might even say it was worth it but only if you order water. If you have to pay for a drink too, now you are up to ~$14. Plus, they make it so easy for you to tip 15% or 18% with the iPad square app, now you are getting close to $20.

The toasted non-pressed jewish rye really set the tone and corned beef was tasty and not over seasoned. The sauerkraut did its job by bringing balance to the dish but not overpowering the other flavors. If the first thing you talk about is the sauerkraut, you have done something wrong.  The belle of the ball is the meat and this Reuben had that down!

Overall – (26.0/30.0)

Would I order it again? Yes (with water).  There are usually more qualifiers when I say I would order it again, but this one I really would. Of all 50 (Arabic numerals!) Reubens, I have yet to have the same one twice. This is the closest to my house and could be the first one I go back for.