Friday, August 1, 2014

Episode XXX: Izzy's (CVG)

World’s Greatest REUBENS.  Those words are prominently displayed on the menu at Izzy’s in downtown Cincinnati. Quite the billing that really sets expectations. I was in the Queen City for my brother-in-law’s bachelor party.  My reputation as a Reuben blogger now precedes me and the Best Man, who organized the weekend, was nice enough to suggest this place.



Before we could start daytime drinking across the river in Northern Kentucky, we needed a solid protein-rich meal. Izzy’s was just the place to get the party started.

Izzy’s Famous Reuben
“This is it! Our savory sandwich piled high with Izzy’s famous corned beef, sauerkraut, Izzy’s special dressing, and melted imported Swiss cheese.”

Appearance – (3.9/5.0)
How about that potato pancake? I believe that is a first for this blog. I thought it was a funnel cake that was missing powdered sugar at first. The Reuben itself is ok, no marble on the rye but the seeds are visible.  The bread is not toasted and I think that is to keep it pliable so it can hug the mini-mound of meat underneath. 
I don’t know why they do this center mound instead of evenly distributing the meat.  It reminds me of the probability exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science.  If you drop a marble from the same spot each time and let it work its way through the Plinko studs, you are going to get a normal distribution.  Never fails.



This must be how they construct the sandwich.  Here is the conversation each trainee gets on day one.



“Drop the meat 6” above the center of the bread each time
“But what about the sides?”
“Don’t worry, it will look Normal when you’re done”



Quality Of Ingredients – (4.2/5.0)
There are lots of homemade ingredients on this sandwich which is good for quality.  The corned beef is a secret family recipe they slice to order.  Izzy’s special dressing was solid and the sauerkraut also tasted homemade but the menu does not confirm that. If you are taking the time to make your own ingredients it’s usually because you think you can do it better than what you can find off-the-shelf.


Price – (3.5/5.0)
I ordered the whole for $8.79 which includes the potato pancake but does not include the drink. When it came it looked like I may have gotten the half.  I think I could have gotten a bit more meat for the whole. I almost walked out of the place without paying. They don’t bring you a check; you just tell the guy at the register up front what you had when you pay. I was so excited to get across the river that I had one foot out the door when my brother-in-law stopped me and told me I had to pay. Honest mistake. I never accept free meals from a place. I think it is essential to keeping the integrity of this blog and in keeping with the highest journalistic standards that I continue that policy.


Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.4/5.0)
I have to go back to the potato pancake on this one. What?!? We hit this place just after the lunch rush so the atmosphere in there was pretty calm. It was cool being in a place where people think so highly of Reubens. Downtown Cincinnati is also a great city to walk around and has a nice vibe.


Taste – (8.5/10.0)
World’s Greatest REUBEN? That may be a stretch. World’s greatest potato pancake is more likely. I kept waiting for that bite where my head would explode and I would say out loud, “Wow, this is the world’s greatest REUBEN.” It never came.  Very tasty for sure and most of all it was good execution of all of the Reuben essentials. Good meat, good cheese, put together well, etc… but they may have set the bar a bit too high. Where can you really go from there?


Overall – (24.5/30.0)

Would I order it again, probably not the Izzy. I would come back to try one of the other Reubens they have on the menu. Part of the fun of this blog has been seeing how the Reuben can be reinvented and reinterpreted. The classic is tough to do really well.  There was a Skyline Chili place right down the street so the opportunity cost of trying another Reuben is high.  Overall it was a good experience and I am glad we were able to squeeze it into the weekend.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Episode XXIX: Bennett’s Market & Deli (ATL)

It has been a while since my last post but it was not for lack of effort. I tried to order a Reuben at the Brewhouse Café during a US World Cup game. The place was too crowded and I ended crossing the street to buy a taquito at 7-11. A few weeks after that I had been bumped to first class on my flight from ATL to ELP and they were serving Reubens! By the time the flight attendant got to me they were out and I had to order the Asian chicken salad. So the month of June came and went without a Reuben Ranger blog post.
Back to today. My wife and I had been meaning to try Bennett’s Market & Deli. They dropped a flyer on our front porch and I had driven by it a few times. They claim to be “Your Neighborhood Market”. Grant Park is already a great neighborhood but imagine if I could add a go-to deli within walking distance.  

Classic Reuben"Corned beef on marble rye with melted swiss cheese, sauerkraut & russian dressing”



Appearance – (3.8/5.0)
There is nothing crazy going on here; low risk, low reward. The construction seems to be neat and contained. When you get up close you can see the caraway seeds in the rye.
If the marbling in the rye were an ink blot, I don’t know what my answer would be. Maybe this is the control slide they put out before they show you the butterfly.





Quality Of Ingredients – (4.3/5.0)
The traditional deli counter display lets you see all the different meats. It looks like an old-world deli and the quality of meat lived up to the expectations. The corned beef had enough body and flavor to stand up to the rest of the sandwich. One ingredient I don’t talk about much in this section is the Swiss cheese.  This one had thick cut cheese and it was very good. Too often the Swiss cheese is just a box to check but it can really add something. The sauerkraut was lacking kick.

Price – (4.1/5.0) 
It was $7.99 for the “Atlanta” ¼ lb Reuben and $0.99 for the chips. It is not cheap but considering it is a mom-and-pop I think it is reasonable. They also do a good job of making the meal an experience. There is a bevy of imported specialty foods all around the store. I even had a Mexican Coke with my Reuben. It was fun to walk around and see everything they had while I waited for my food. I factor all of this into the score.


Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.5/5.0)  
I really liked this little place. It makes me happy to know it is in the neighborhood and is doing well.  The lady behind the counter was very nice and even came out to play with Danny when we were done eating. It has only been open since 2013 but has the old country charm. There is exposed brick and ductwork.   

The sandwich itself was interesting as well. It had been put on the press just long enough to toast the bread and melt the cheese but not long enough to warm up the meat. I thought it was genius. Foodies talk about contrasting colors and textures all the time but not so much temperatures.

Taste – (8.8/10.0)

This Reuben had lots of things going for it but not enough to break into the 9s. Most notably lacking was the sauerkraut. New-age Reubens like to substitute out the potent sauerkraut for more universally accepted coleslaw. This sauerkraut was lacking the strong vinegar taste Reuben fans have come to love. The Russian dressing was also muted. The corned beef and Swiss was enough to make this a very good Reuben but it could have been even better.

Overall – (25.5/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes. My wife had the BLT and it was good but the Reuben was good enough where I would forgo my other options. Maybe next time I'll try the Greek salad, but the next time I order a sandwich, it will be the Reuben. 
Bennett's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Episode XXVIII: Slideways (ATL)

Every once and again a Reuben will catch me by surprise. I heard Slideways had a Reuben on the menu but I had never seen it myself, so I was pleasantly surprised to walk in and see that they were featuring one that day.  Slideways is a sliders place but I went ahead and got the full size to really see what this Reuben was made of.

 Reuben
“Smoked beef Brisket topped w/melted Swiss, Sauerkraut, & Russian Dressing.  Full size on Multi grain Bread.”



We have possible RINO here (Reuben In Name Only)!!!

Appearance – (4.3/5.0)
I think the natural outdoor lighting helped this one out. They went with a simple but effective stacked presentation and the tots look great. I know that in the last review I dogged the straight-from-the-freezer- fries, but I really like tots. The Russian dressing and sauerkraut are playing a prominent visual role here which is ok, but I think overflowing melted cheese is more appealing.



Quality Of Ingredients – (4.7/5.0)
No surprise here for anyone who has been to Slideways.  The straight up smoked brisket is an interesting choice for a Reuben. It is the same underlying cut of meat as traditional corned beef but the end flavors are very different. The brisket had good fat content and it was not overdone with smoke.  Unfortunately there was not enough Swiss cheese for me to get a good sense of its quality. The Russian dressing was tangy and homemade. You could see the finely diced pickles in it. The sauerkraut also had a homemade kick to it. The multigrain bread had lots going on but I could not tell if any of it was caraway.

Price – (4.8/5.0)
$5.69! Even when you add the tots and a drink it is only $7.69. Throw in a nice al fresco dining experience and this is a wonderful value. It is very easy to drop more than $10 when you go out to lunch with co-workers. Even $15 after is not out of the question.
The portion size was also just right.  Occasionally I go out to lunch with friends and come home to tell my wife that I am not hungry. This can be very upsetting to someone who had to cook dinner with a terrible-two-year-old clinging to their leg asking to watch another episode of Daniel Tiger.  A reasonable lunch avoids this issue and keeps everyone happy.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (3.7/5.0)
This sandwich lost its mystery when I reached for the top bread to look under the hood. The bread itself was way too flimsy.  Eating a Reuben is not an easy thing to do. It should be right up there with French Onion Soup as far as things not to order at a business dinner. The only thing harder than eating a Reuben is eating one with flimsy bread supporting it. Sure enough it was a messy experience. The allure of the homemade Russian dressing faded when I realized how much of it there was.

Taste – (8.3/10.0)
Wow, this review went south fast.  Such a promising start, too. Please let me explain.  This sandwich is kind of a RINO and you take a risk when you stray from the formula. The smoked brisket was fine but it just did not mix well with the other components. The Swiss cheese was mostly MIA and as good as the Russian dressing was, there was just too much of it. The sauerkraut was also a bit too strong.  Throw all of that on a thin piece of bread and the thing just never had a chance. It was like a team of all-stars that could just not play well together.



Overall – (25.8/30.0)
Would I order it again, no. There are just too many great things on the menu here to pass up. They have red-eye gravy on their breakfast sandwiches! I love Slideways and I will be back for sure.
A couple of tweaks here and there and they could have a great Reuben. First things first, they need to get bread that can stand up to a Reuben. Go easy on the Russian and sauerkraut; throw on some more Swiss cheese and a champion Reuben will appear. This is why the Reuben is so unique. It is all about the balance of the flavors.

Chin up boys! I am still a fan I look forward to coming back.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Episode XXVII: Brambleton Deli (ROA)

When you work for an airline and someone asks, “What are you doing this weekend?” you can get some crazy answers.   Say "Roanoke, Virginia" and it turns some heads. “Isn’t that the settlement that disappeared?” “What in the world is there?”  There is quite a bit actually.

My wife’s little sister is a second year medical resident in the ‘Noke and the rest of the siblings all decided to visit her the same weekend. The Salukes are an eclectic bunch to say the least.  Four very distinct personalities and looks to them, their significant others even more so. The one thing everyone agreed on was that we had to hit a Reuben in Roanoke.  After almost hitting a deer on our way, we arrived at the Brambleton Deli.

Classic Reuben
“Corned beef with melted Swiss cheese, Sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing on grilled rye”



Appearance – (4.1/5.0)
No toothpicks! Think about it, the Reuben already has natural binding agents like Thousand Island and melted Swiss cheese. The sandwich held together just fine without the toothpicks. It looks like a little sports car with a low center of gravity. You couldn’t roll the thing over if you tried.
The main components of the sandwich are visible from each angle. The bright color of the Thousand Island is really the only accent on the plate.  You have a look for the slight char from the grill on the meat but this is a good sign. That is how you know it was made to order. The fries look less than exciting but I can deal with it.



Quality Of Ingredients – (3.7/5.0)
Everything on this Reuben seemed to be “store bought”. The bread probably came out of a bag. I would be shocked to hear it was baked on premises.  The Thousand Island also came straight from a bottle and the meat was uniform in dimensions.  This tells me it was also store bought. The Sauerkraut was fine but did not taste homemade. No one makes homemade Swiss so I will give them a pass there.  This is not to say store bought is poor quality, but it does not compare to some of the great stuff we have seen on this blog before.

Price – (3.9/5.0)
Nice to see an $8 Reuben.  I think this is fair, but not a great price given the list of ingredients. I do not remember how much the beer was because my sister-in-law unexpectedly picked up the tab for the whole table.  Thanks, Emily!

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (3.8/5.0)
The score would have been lower if not for the company at hand and the day we were having.   We had all just come from a beautiful hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia. We also got a nice table outside on the deck but in the shade.  It had been a pretty good day and a Reuben made it that much better.   It will be hard to crack 4.0 with Costco brand fries and store bought ingredients.

Taste – (8.1/10.0)
It was a very good, not great, Reuben.  Despite humble ingredients you can still put out a good sandwich. What can turn average ingredients into a good sandwich is execution and I have to give it to them on that. They charred the meat just right, melted the cheese thoroughly, spread the right amount of dressing, and didn’t overdo it on the Sauerkraut. Any missteps here and this could have gone the other way in a hurry. 



Overall – (23.6/30.0)
Would I order it again, yes, but not the next time.  There were some other good entrees on the table I would want to try first.  This place has potential and could easily boost their score with better ingredients and a bit more love.  The freezer fries have got to go.  Nothing says "I don’t love you" like uniform frozen fries. Hand cut fries are so easy to do, cheaper, and taste better. There are some talented people in the back and a friendly wait staff up front but they need some help from the sourcing manager and owner.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Episode XXVI: Ri Ra (ATL)

One of the greatest things about Atlanta is that it’s an ACC city. I mean that in the literal sense because we have Georgia Tech, although you would never know it walking around town.  SEC polos, hats, license plates, and doggie t-shirts outnumber the ACC gear by probably 3:1.  As a UVA graduate I appreciate having Tech here because that means I get to see my Hoos frequently.  This beautiful spring Saturday brought the UVA Men’s Tennis team to town and I wanted to see if I could get a Reuben before the match. 
Props to RiRa and their PR team because when I typed in “Pub Midtown Atlanta” they are the first thing that popped up. I checked their menu and sure enough, they had a Reuben.

Publican Reuben
“house brined corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss, Marie Rose, grilled rye”



Appearance – (4.5/5.0)
Bravo! Just a little bit of effort on the presentation goes a long way. I like the long plate and the bread has an appealing brown crisp edge. Grilled rye can quickly turn into burned rye but this looks like they got it just right. This side shot looks even better with all of the Swiss coming out but wait! They missed a crumb.  



I have seen enough cooking shows to know that someone back there is supposed to take a napkin and clean the edge of the plate before it goes out.

Quality Of Ingredients – (4.6/5.0)
The house brined corned beef was no joke. The bartender told me they brine it for 36 hours in-house.  I know I have lauded other rye with a nice marble pattern but a good marble does not always mean good bread. This rye was absent the marble but did have the visible Caraway seeds. It was quality bread that was grilled well and held its own. The Marie rose tasted like it was made from scratch from high quality ingredients.  What goes into a Marie Rose sauce? I couldn’t tell you, but I like it.

Price – (4.0/5.0)
An even ten bucks for this Reuben and I think that is fair. The sandwich size is about right for that price and there were more fries than I could eat. What I did not like was six bucks for a pint of Stella. That made me feel like I was back in Boston.  I did appreciate the EPL games they had showing at the bar; however,  they do not have Gol TV much to the disappointment of a German couple at the bar hoping to catch a Bundesliga game.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.2/5.0)
This was kind of a strange place to be at ~11:30 AM on a Saturday morning. The bar had a few soccer fans and the rest of the place was packed with what looked like a young Asian business professionals networking event.  Couple that with the dim Irish pub lighting and it was interesting for sure.  I would love to come back to this place on a weekend night. You cannot beat the location right in the heart of midtown and it is big enough where you could get a good size group. Actually, $6 pints may push this to the last stop of the night where you just order a club soda before you call Uber and enjoy the crazy people around you.

Taste – (9.4/10.0)
The beef in this Reuben looked like it could have gone into a brisket sandwich back home in Texas. It was not thin deli slices but rather big rustic cuts of meat. It still had the classic corned beef taste but the bigger cuts really let the meaty flavor come through.  I think the bigger chunks also keep more of the natural juices in the meat. The Swiss cheese was plentiful and great but the Marie Rose sauce was subtle. It was a little pleasant surprise each time you would get a taste.

Overall – (26.7/30.0)
Would I order it again? Yes. This was a solo trip so I don’t have anything else to immediately compare it to. The rest of the menu did look great but if there is a solid Reuben then there is little incentive to try anything else. The first time I go to anyplace that has a Reuben I will try it. If it is not good then I will explore other opportunities the next time. The risk to reward ratio for a repeat Reuben is optimal.

On a certain level this is what the Reuben Ranger is all about, mitigating risk for Reuben lovers.  Ordering a Reuben has a high opportunity cost because if you are somewhere that serves a Reuben you are foregoing either a burger or a club sandwich of some kind.  This risk is magnified by the fact that Reubens can really be hit or miss. The coefficient of variation on a Reuben has to be bigger than that of a pub burger. If I can help my readers avoid costly mistakes or even better realize gains with a reduced risk profile then I am doing my job. I am here to serve you.
Ri Ra Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Episode XXV: Manuel's Tavern (ATL)

Episode XXV was more than a week in the making. We tried to go out for a Reuben on March 15th and struck out at several places.  I have started calling ahead now because some places have a Reuben on their website menu but will not have it when you order it. This is unacceptable. Manuel's Tavern in Poncey-Highlands came to the rescue. 

I have been in Atlanta for about two years now and I have not been to all of the places but I have at least heard of most. I had never heard of Manuel’s. It had great reviews online and I was craving a Reuben.

Rueben
“Turkey or corned beef on grilled marbled rye with sauerkraut and Swiss. 1000 island on the side."




Appearance – (3.1/5.0)
Not much of a wow factor with this one. I think the Chef would be disappointed to know that my server presented the dish with the sandwich on the far side. It seems distant and you cannot see all of the goodness that is inside. So I helped him out a bit.



There, that’s better. You can also see the marbling on the rye from this angle and the overflowing cheese is almost enough to distract you from the toothpicks.

Quality Of Ingredients – (4.3/5.0)
Good stuff on this one. The sandwich was prepared in what I like to call the Philly cheesesteak style. This makes it harder to really get a grasp of each individual ingredient. The one exception is the 1000 island. I was surprised when the sandwich came and I saw that on the side. I did not remember ordering it that way and I didn’t.  Looking back at the menu it is advertised that way.  Super tasty. I asked our server if it was homemade and he said yes, but he did not seem too sure of his answer.  The rye held its own despite being on the burned side of “grilled”.

Price – (4.7/5.0)
The price point of $8.25 is about right for the portion size but what gives it such a high score is everything that came with it, not the least of which is plentiful free parking. This place has two adjacent lots that are reserved just for Manuel’s.  Furthermore, each table has not one, not two, but three ketchup bottles ready to go.  We sat in one of the large dining rooms and most of the TVs were on one of the NCAA tournament games. The one directly in front of us was on commercial.  Two minutes later I realized it was still on the same thigh/butt toning infomercial. I was starting to feel guilty watching all of these healthy people tone their lower body while my lazy ass was drinking a beer and preparing to dominate a Reuben. Our server changed the channel to the game and all was right in the world.


Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.2/5.0)
This is a great not-so-little neighborhood bar. We got there after the brunch but before the lunch crowd. It was quiet but you can tell the place gets packed. The 1000 island on the side threw me.  Sometimes I get worried I am going to run out of things to write about Reubens and little things like that keep me going. If anyone from Manuel’s is reading this can you let me know if the 1000 is actually homemade?

Taste – (9.0/10.0)
One advantage of having the 1000 island on the side is you can make sure you get some on each bite. The portion they give you is big enough to put a lot on each bite if you want. It tastes great but it is heavy. There was more than enough butter on the bread and that plus the richness of the 1000 island can be too much. After a few 1000 island bites I cleansed by palate with fries and ketchup then I was ready to go back in. Tender beef and lots of good melted Swiss made it easy to enjoy without piling on the 1000 island.

Overall – (25.3/30.0)
I would say this score accurately reflects the experience.  Manuel’s is close by and I can see myself going there again for sure. My wife got the pulled pork and it was not the best, very porky (Good thing I don’t write a BBQ blog huh?). Other than that they have a good beer selection and even craft sodas.  The wife really did like her Root Beer.
Would I order it again? Yes.

Well done Manny.
Manuel's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Episode XXIV: Ormsby's (ATL)

Welcome to a very special episode of the Reuben Ranger. We are celebrating our one year anniversary! I started this blog under very difficult personal circumstances last year.

In July 2012 my wife as diagnosed with brain cancer (Medulloblasta tumor).  She had surgery to remove it in August 2012 and spent six weeks in the hospital. Then came six weeks of radiation treatment. In December 2012 she and my then 1 year old son moved to Ohio to be with her family and complete her physical therapy. I stayed back in Atlanta to work and would visit when I could. I was struggling with depression and found the best way to cope was to keep busy. Some of the folks in the hospital suggested I keep a journal. Writing was an outlet and a way to stay sane. I could not picture myself keeping a journal and I thought about starting a blog instead. It came down to an Eggs Benedict or Reuben blog. Then the Reuben Ranger was born.

Our situation has greatly improved. My wife’s recovery is nothing short of a miracle. She moved back to Atlanta and the family is together, happy and healthy. She now serves as Chief Editor of this blog. Mindful of what this blog has meant to me, we move forward. Or as my mom has always told me, “a seguir adelante”.  
One of my co-workers suggested I try Ormsby's in Atlanta. I had no reason to doubt Katherine. She seemingly makes any hairstyle look fabulous so how could she be wrong?

the art of the reuben (uncle art that is)
“piled with corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, & thousand island, grilled pumpernickel”



Appearance – (3.8/5.0)
More and more places are doing these pizza pans today. I think it is cool and I guess it must make doing dishes easier. They took the time to cut the Reuben and for good reason. The color of the meat packs a punch and you can see the melted cheese.
I think they may have forgotten about the pumpernickel on the grill; it was black. I am trying to stop mentioning toothpicks but come on. Look at this one. Only one half has it and it is on the corner.  Imagine the sandwich as a two tier green and the fries as a sand trap; the pickle can be an algae infested water hazard. I would aim for the middle front of the top tier and try to putt up the hill. It would be better to miss short and land in the bunker than fly the green. It looks like a doable up-and-down if you do land in the bunker.




Quality Of Ingredients – (4.5/5.0)
The texture of the brisket corned beef was unlike any other Reuben on this blog. It really did look and feel like a smoked brisket. The pumpernickel was a bit burned but did hold the contents of the sandwich well. The melted cheese was creamy but the sauerkraut was difficult to distinguish.

Price – (4.4/5.0)
Ten bucks, that’s not bad at all. I think the portion size was just right.
Ormsby's is a great place, if you can find the door. The ring game downstairs is addicting and you can always play shuffleboard.

Je Ne Sais Quoi – (4.7/5.0)
Who is uncle art? I have to meet this guy.
I was in a really good mood when I was here. We had just seen UVA beat up on GT, it was a beautiful day, and I knew this was going to be the anniversary episode for the Reuben Ranger. All of this came together and really made me enjoy the experience.

Taste – (9.1/10.0)
This seems to have been crafted as a Reuben for the masses. The strong, sometimes pungent, flavors of rye and sauerkraut have been removed and muted respectively. It did do a great job of showcasing the corned beef. No mention of the thousand island because I could not really taste it. All and all it was a great tasting Reuben.

Overall – (26.5/30.0)
Would I order it again, yes!  There is some serious love that went into the preparation and it comes out in the taste. The scene is great. How cool would it be to live right by there and spend your Atlanta snow days drinking beer and playing that ring game?
Thank you to everyone who has given love and support over the past year. This episode is dedicated to you.
Keep the recommendations coming and I look forward to trying them out!


Ormsby's on Urbanspoon