Is It the Reuben Sandwich's 100th Birthday? Maybe — or Maybe Not
Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday dear … Reuben sandwich?
Depending on which of several theories about the origin of the grilled gastronomic masterpiece made from corned beef, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, sauerkraut and rye bread you believe, this year may or may not mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Reuben sandwich.
According to New York legend, some food historians and at least one NYC tabloid, the popular sandwich was first whipped up in 1914 by New York deli owner Arnold Reuben in his then-famous but now-defunct midtown Manhattan eatery, Reuben’s Restaurant.
"Late one evening a leading lady of Charlie Chaplin's came into the restaurant and said, 'Reuben, make me a sandwich, make it a combination. I'm so hungry I could eat a brick,'" Reuben’s daughter, Patricia R. Taylor, wrote Craig Claiborne of The New York Times in 1976. “He took a loaf of rye bread, cut two slices on the bias and stacked one piece with sliced baked Virginia ham, sliced roast turkey, sliced imported Swiss cheese, topped it off with cole slaw and lots of Reuben’s special Russian dressing and the second slice of bread … He served it to the lady who said, ‘Gee, Reuben, this is the best sandwich I ever ate. You ought to call it an Annette Seelos Special.’ To which he replied, ‘Like hell I will. I’ll call it a Reuben’s Special.’”
That’s a great story, right? Claiborne, for his part, concluded that the sandwich Arnold Reuben’s daughter describes may have been a “forerunner” to the Reuben sandwich we all know today, with its thin-sliced kosher-style corned beef and kraut. He believed the popular sandwich was actually named for a grocer in Omaha, Nebraska, named Reuben Kay (or, some say, Reuben Kulakofsky), who from 1920 to 1935 was in a weekly poker game with a member of the Schimmel family, which owned Omaha’s Blackstone Hotel. Schimmel put the sandwich his pal Reuben enjoyed at their weekly games on the hotel’s lunch menu, where it gained fame and caught the attention of a hotel employee, who submitted the recipe for it to the National Sandwich Contest in 1956 — and won first place.
Hmm. That does sound at least equally credible. But who wants to wait 42 more years to celebrate? Why not make a Reuben sandwich today? Never mind how many candles to put in it.
While this Zingerman's Reuben Sandwich probably won’t end debate on the Reuben’s origins, it will assuredly stop anyone from arguing that the classic deli sandwich isn’t delicious. Enjoy!