He Said | She Said: Tangy Reubens

Russ: It’s Reuben! Strange sandwich from another planet that came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal sandwiches!
Kathy: Oh, come on; you’re being sillier than usual this time.
R: It’s true! The origin of the Reuben is shrouded in mystery, claimed by short-order cooks and barmen from New York City to Nebraska. Yet what other hot sandwich is so ubiquitous in the delis and taverns of America? It’s super, man.
K: Not a man over here, sweetie. And some of those Reubens out there are pretty mild-mannered. So it’s time for us to separate the heroes from the zeroes.

Kathy’s Reuben profile: Juicy, crispy, gooey, tangy, drippy … in every bite. A sandwich for the senses.
Russ’ Reuben profile: Looking for the transcendent Reuben: all ingredients in balance.

O’Connell’s Pub
4652 Shaw Ave., St. Louis · 314.773.6600
Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to midnight (Bar – until 1:30 a.m.), Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to midnight (Bar – until 3 a.m.), Sun. – noon to 10 p.m. (Bar – until midnight)

K: The meat is tender and good, but I can totally see why there’s cheese on both sides. Something’s got to hold this thing together, and the bread just ain’t doing it.
R: If there wasn’t already something called a “slider,” I’d nominate this; the core of the sandwich is too slippery, and the bread’s too thin. Everything falls right out.
K: It’d be great for the low-carb crowd, though!
R: The thing that baffles me is, why did the Thousand Island dressing come on the side, not on the sandwich? It’s like they knew it was already too oogy, and that adding the dressing would make it impossible to pick up. I also find the lack of kraut disturbing; there should’ve been more.
K: Reubens are the Tuesday special at O’Connell’s, available only once a week. The portion is huge, and the price is great – only $6.50 gets you what’s gotta be more than half a pound of meat on this thing.
R: Ah, so you would say, “Good buy, Reuben Tuesday”?
K: A good buy, yes; but good luck eating this like a sandwich.

Protzel’s Delicatessen
7608 Wydown Blvd., Clayton · 314.721.4445
Tue. to Fri. – 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sat. and · Sun. – 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

R: Oy, Protzel’s – where even if you’re ordering corned beef, you’re gonna feel like a sardine.
K: The atmosphere at Protzel’s contributes a lot to its sandwiches. Lots of places can make a Reuben, but only a real delicatessen gives you that feeling of authenticity. So it’s worth squeezing into the packed aisles to place your order during a busy lunch run.
R: Protzel’s promises it makes “the finest corned beef – anywhere.” That’s a bold statement.
K: But it just might be true. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender.
R: Won’t deny it. But I’ve still got an issue with places where the meat takes primacy. If I wanted a corned beef sandwich, I’d order that. I want a Reuben. That means bring the kraut!
K: The other thing is that the bread appeared dry-grilled. It didn’t seem to have that buttery oiliness that you find at other places. It seemed … healthier, somehow.
R: If you’re already in for the corned beef, throwing in a little butter is the least of your worries.
K: What really sold me was drinking a cream soda and getting free extra pickles. What’s more deli than that?

Lester’s Sports Bar & Grill
9906 Clayton Road, Ladue · 314.994.0055
Mon. to Thu. – 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sun. – 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

R: I’d read some good reviews of Lester’s before we ventured out here, but they don’t do this sandwich justice. This, for me, may be the Reuben pinnacle.
K: It’s blissfully sloppy, but it also holds together. The cheese is oozing out; it’s obviously straight from the grill.
R: I know what I said before about not hanging Reuben solely on the meat, but the corned beef here is like shaved velvet. You wouldn’t think, to look at it, that you could bite through all of those layers with so little effort. And you can really taste the spices that the meat was brined in.
K: The bread is golden and buttery and just right. It holds up under all of that stuff and stays crisp. Still, I’m glad we decided to split this; it’s a monster of a sandwich.
R: I thought so, too, but after finishing my half … I want your half back. I don’t need fries, don’t need a drink … just more Lester’s Reuben.
K: The kraut’s still not present enough to add noticeable flavor, though. Is this some kind of trend? Is St. Louis averse to sauerkraut?
R: I thought there was just enough bite that you’d notice if the kraut was gone entirely. But then I also thought I’d never justify a $12 sandwich.

Sam and Jake’s Pumpernickle Deli
11036 Olive Blvd., Creve Coeur · 314.567.4496
Mon. to Fri. – 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sat. – 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sun. – 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

K: If this was the regular size, I don’t know that I want to see how big the New York-size Reuben must be. This was plenty. I had no trouble polishing it off, unlike some of the monster Reubens we’ve seen. Eat too many of those and you’ll end up …
R: Rubenesque!
K: Exactly!
R: Finally, I’ve found that ever-elusive balance: There is the cheese. There is the kraut. There is the dressing. The corned beef was certainly good, but it’s the combo of all the flavors that really makes an ideal Reuben.
K: There was just the right proportion of everything. If I could make it better myself, I would make it just like this. This is just a bit better than homemade.
R: We’ve got Russian dressing here. Funny how half the places we tried went with Thousand Island, and half went with Russian. If I had to side with one over the other, I think I’d stick with the Russian.
K: It’s tangier, less creamy. It drips just a bit, and it’s a bit thinned out from being heated on the grill with the kraut juice and the meat, which is a delight. It’s just the way I like it.
R: Tangy and drippy?
K: Totally! A Reuben is a mélange of flavors and textures; a good Reuben shouldn’t play it safe and clean.
R: But not fall apart completely.
K: Exactly. Controlled chaos on grilled rye bread. You can’t make it better than that.