Nobody really knows who invented the Reuben sandwich (but we'd put flowers on his grave if we did). Some say it was Reuben Kulakofsky of Omaha, Nebraska, who served it at late-night poker games at the Blackstone Hotel. Others swear it was invented by a cook at Reuben's Restaurant in New York City. The first written reference to it, found on an extant menu from the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska, dates to 1937. So despite its murky origins, the Reuben -- a stellar combo of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island (or Russian) dressing on grilled or toasted Rye bread -- has been around for at least 75 years.
Even though it can't be proven that the Reuben was invented by a Jewish guy, the sandwich has been co-opted by Jewish delis everywhere. So let's see how the Reubens rate at two popular metro Phoenix Jewish delis -- Goldman's and Miracle Mile.
In this corner: Goldman's Deli
The Setup: Owned and operated by ex-Chicagoans Rozalia and Gregorio Goldman, this clean, always busy little deli -- opened in 2000 and expanded five years ago -- is the real deal, offering blintzes. nova lox, gefilte fish, kasha varnishkes, fried kreplach, fat deli sandwiches, house-made desserts (including rugelach, noodle kugel and hamentashen), as well as daily specials such as cabbage rolls and tzimmes with short ribs. Tzimmes! Where else can you find that? The Goldmans had logged over 20 years in the biz (at Kaufman's Deli in Skokie and Bagel Restaurant in Chicago), before setting up shop in Scottsdale, and their experience shows.
The Good: Goldman's Reuben, served with a crunchy pickle, a lidded plastic container of Russian dressing and your choice of sides (I opted for sweet, creamy potato salad), looks fantastic. This thing is loaded with meat -- bright pink, moist and delish. And isn't this what we want in a deli sandwich -- heaps of warm, messy meat, spilling out of the bread and onto our laps?
B.G. (Before Goldman's), I would've told you that I generally prefer the rye bread grilled to a solid crunch, but now I'm not so sure. Just a light toast on house-made rye -- as it's done here -- looks better and makes for easier eating. And I love that I can smear on as much Russian dressing as I like. Almost everything is home-made here, including the corned beef and tangy sauerkraut, so what's not to like?
The Bad: Can't find anything negative to say about this sandwich . . .
In the other corner: Miracle Mile Deli
The Setup: Miracle Mile has been around since 1951, first opening on McDowell Road near 16th Street, an area known as the Miracle Mile back then. When a kitchen fire destroyed the building, the deli relocated to Park Central (Phoenix's first mall) in the late 50s, where owner Jack Grodzinsky introduced the cafeteria line concept. I have many fond memories of Miracle Mile and the Straw sandwich in particular. Today there are two Valley locations, one at the Colonnade in Phoenix and the other at the Promenade in Scottsdale. (The Park Central location is still a deli, but now under different ownership; consider yourself warned.)
The Good: This is a decent sandwich. It tastes good and shows off a nice layering of ingredients.
The Bad: Look, this is Miracle Mile. Nobody's going to eat this sandwich and think it's bad. But the meat is saltier and maybe a tad drier, and there's just as much sauerkraut as meat (which is fine unless you know how much meat you could be getting at Goldman's). And then, of course, the eye appeal just isn't there. When you compare it to Goldman's . . . well, there's no contest. I would also add that a side of previously frozen french fries were barely cooked, as in cold at the center. Yikes!
The price: $9.29, which means less meat at a lower price.
The Verdict: Goldman's looks better and tastes better. Goldman's corned beef is more moist and flavorful and slightly less salty. It's also more generously applied. Even the pickle and the Russian dressing are better at Goldman's, which makes it the easy winner. That said, you could do worse than the Reuben at Miracle Mile.
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