Xander and The Reuben
I have no idea if there is a deli in NYC called 'The New York Original', but I wouldn't be surprised if there is. Anyway, I just made up the name and made it purposely similar to places I've been, although it's been a few years.
Rating: PG13 for innuendo.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn't owned by me, nor do I have any claims on the Reuben Sandwich.
"Here it is Faith, the home of the best Reuben Sandwich I've ever eaten." He looked up at the sign and read, "The New York Original, established 1879."
"Aren't we supposed to be hunting a rogue demon?" said Faith. "Original what?"
"Delicatessen, I guess. Anyway, let's go in, you'll like it. Demons can wait."
Even though it was only 11:30AM, there was already a line out the door. Faith took that to be a good sign. The line inched forward slowly, about fifteen minutes later they were shown to a table. The gum-chewing waitress tossed menus at them and snapped, "Ya know whatcha want or shall I come back?"
Xander said, "Yeah, we'll have four Reubens, classic style – three for her and one for me – and a bowl of gourmet fries. And some extra dill pickles."
"And two ice teas," said Faith.
"Comin' ri' up, hun."
"Wake me up when the food gets here," said Faith, lying her head down on her arms.
Five minutes later the waitress was back, "Here ya go, hun! Wakey, wakey!"
Faith barely got out of her way when she slammed the plates and glasses to the table, a little tea sloshing on the table.
Xander switched the plates around so Faith had three and he had one. He took one bite and chewed thoughtfully. Faith took three bites and finished the first half of her first sandwich.
Xander said, "I believe you can tell how good a deli is based on one bite of a Reuben."
"Yes. First thing, notice the quality of the corned beef: it should be tender, but not mushy, it shouldn't have any gristle or huge lumps of fat and it should be fine grained, not too lean, and of course, very tasty. Like this." He took another bite. I once had a purported Reuben made with pastrami instead of corned beef. Now pastrami does make for a good sandwich, but it's not authentic, not truly a Reuben. They even have another name for it, but I forget what it is."
After he swallowed another bite he continued, "The next thing is the quantity. Some places pile on absurd amounts, a full pound of meat, sometimes. Others may use just one or two thin slices. Either way is bad, out of whack; it should be just right, like this one, where the flavor balance between the sauerkraut and the corned beef is as close to perfect as possible. I've noticed that you can't claim there is some secret fixed ratio like 1:2, or 2:3, or 3:5, or anything like that, because it depends very much on the strength of the sauerkraut. A good cook will taste the ingredients, and apply the correct amount to get the balance just so. And just so means harmonious and delicious."
He stopped to finish his first half. Meanwhile, Faith polished off her second sandwich and half the fries.
Xander said, "Try one of these pickles. These are genuine old-fashioned fermented in a wooden barrel dills, which are getting harder and harder to find. Really good when you do find 'em."
Faith picked up a pickle and proceeded to suck the end of it. Xander's eyes got big, but when Faith suddenly chomped her pickle in half, Xander involuntarily clenched his thighs for a moment.
Xander picked up his second half of sandwich. "Now, the next thing to savor is the cheese. I think the very best Reubens are made with Gruyere, that's what's in these. One place served me smoked Gruyere, it didn't really work. There's nothing at all wrong with the more traditional Swiss cheese, as long as they use the imported kind and not some domestic crap. But on the whole, I prefer a good quality Gruyere."
"Ya got it all figured out, huh?" said Faith, with a small lady-like burp.
"Then there's the sauce. Many purveyors of lesser quality use commercially prepared Thousand Island salad dressing. At best, that could be edible, but if you want a sandwich that challenges the heights of good taste, you have to make your own sauce from scratch. Some people use Russian Dressing, and, to be fair, bad Russian is better than bad Thousand Island. But, the very best Reubens are always, in my experience anyway, made with top quality freshly made Thousand Island. The dressing here is, need I say it, made from scratch and it is excellent."
"So Xand, if you're such an expert, how come I've never seen you cooking, or even just making sandwiches?"
"Oh, I can't cook anything except microwave dinners."
"Yeah, I just eat it and criticize it, never make it."
"Okay, that's reasonable." Faith finished off the fries and pickles and licked a little dressing off her finger.
After another bite, Xander said, "Now every part of the sandwich is important, if any one part is substandard, then the whole thing could fall apart, and often does even in otherwise good restaurants, and always in bad ones.
"So, now we come to the bread. One time I had a Reuben served on a giant croissant; it just didn't mesh, a croissant doesn't go with corned beef, much less sauerkraut. Other places have used French or Italian rolls, ciabatta bread, English muffins, and other creative idiocies. A proper Reuben is made with rye bread, either dark or light, or possibly pumpernickel. Nothing else will do, nothing else compliments the flavors of the cheese oozing through the sauerkraut over the corned beef with just the barest touch of sweetness from the dressing. Each ingredient by itself can and should be a very tasty delight. But when you put all of them together and warm it up in a cast iron skillet with real butter, it's pure magic! All the flavors gain something, I don't know how, but all together it's raised to another power of deliciousness!"
"I get it, you like Reubens, right?"
"Yep. I must have eaten ten per cent of the Reuben sandwiches in California, but you know what I discovered recently?"
"Before I had a Reuben here in NYC, I never had a Reuben. All those things out in good ol' sunny Cali that were called Reubens were just placeholders. They may have been edible and filling, but none were the real thing. Now I know what I was missing!"
"Good. You suppose we could go slay the dishwasher now?"
"Nah, wait till after dark, we'll check out his appetite first, then, if only necessary, do it in the alley."
"Good thing it's not the cook."