In search of Petaluma’s perfect Reuben sandwhich
I had no idea how many sandwich shops, delis and restaurants offered Reuben's in Petaluma, until it came up in conversation on social media recently. The discussion inspired this food writer and his food crew to try more than a dozen of our local offerings of my favorite hot sandwich.
Overall, the Reubens were great, even though each was different in its own way. Emery of Sarah's Eats & Sweets, home of an exquisite array of Reubens, warned me that unlike other sandwiches, Reubens have a shelf life. It is a sandwich that is best eaten at the point of origin as it tends to get cold and soggy as time passes on the way home.
Typically, a Reuben sandwich consists of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing, piled between slices of rye bread. However, before we start arguing that certain Reubens are not really Reubens, I will remind readers that we are in California, where we tend to pay homage to, but do not feel bound by, strict traditions.
Personally, I grew up believing that pastrami was the correct meat in a Reuben. I have since learned that is closer to a “Rachel,” but because that also substitutes coleslaw for sauerkraut, is not quite the same as a pastrami Reuben. Whatever you want to call it, I prefer the name “Reuben.”
Although the original Reuben was “pressed” with a panini press, with all the ingredients already combined, most shops grill or toast their bread prior to building the sandwich, which allows the flavors to remain distinctive, while making for a less messy sandwich, because the bread is more firm.
There is no question that a Reuben requires sauerkraut and Swiss cheese, and no substitutes have ever been suggested otherwise, but the dressing is a topic of debate. A traditional Reuben calls for Russian dressing, although many sandwich shops simply use Thousand Island, because it is easy to purchase pre-made.
This ryes for you
Many New Yorkers will tell you a Reuben must be made with dark rye bread, but that simply is not true. Notwithstanding each of our personal Reuben rye preferences, a “traditional” Reuben is not married to a specific rye, but uses any rye, whether dark, light or the Petaluma predominant marbled.
Rye bread is made using the flour ground from rye berries instead of wheat, however, do not celebrate just yet, all you gluten-free eaters. Because rye contains almost no gluten-producing proteins, wheat flour is almost always added, at least in small quantities, to create an edible loaf.
Some opt for Pumpernickel, made from pumpernickel flour, which although derived from rye, uses the whole berry, and is therefore quite coarse. It is dark and dense, and has a stronger flavor than the other ryes.
Great meat debate
Both corned beef and pastrami are traditionally made from beef brisket, although Sarah's Eats & Sweets uses beef tri-tip to devastatingly delicious effect. Both are cured, but corned beef is cured with a salty brine while pastrami is cured with a dry rub. Pastrami is also smoked after curing.
Off the norm
Reubens come in several forms, and thankfully, Petaluma has plenty of them on deck. In some parts of the country, a Rachel using turkey is called a “California” or “Georgia” Reuben.
Along with their excellent Reuben, Ray's Deli and Tavern offers the Rachel, and would likely make you a California Reuben if you asked. Sarah's Eats & Sweets offers both a California, as well as a veggie Reuben which blew my mind. I tried it years ago, but either could not remember the ingredients, or wanted to block them out, because I was a bit embarrassed that I actually found a veggie sandwich tasty. It is made with cooked mushrooms, onions and peppers, all things I usually don't enjoy. In fact, I almost did not try this sandwich because I was sure I would not like that combo of ingredients, but was again surprised at how good it was.
Two other not-so-traditional local Reuben's are Mike's at the Crossroad's “Moo-Ben,” which is a Reuben atop one of their burgers; and the “Reuben Dog” at Roy's Chicago Doggery, a dog topped with traditional Reuben tastes.
Down to tasting
At Sarah's Eats & Sweets, they use Full Circle Bakery bread, Sonoma Brinery kraut and pickles and house-made pastrami built from beef tri-tip. “Emery is from California and I'm from New York,” says Sarah, “so it's kind of a mixture of both places.”
They also put the cheese on the bottom, under the kraut, which helps keep the bread from getting soggy. This Reuben, along with their two alternatives, set the bar high.
We then landed at Sax's Joint, where we found our Reuben filled with huge slabs of perfectly cooked corned beef, in between grilled buttered bread, with an outstanding tanginess to their sauce and kraut.