A perfect Reuben from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
| Credit: © Hannah Metler

Corned beef and rye—that’s a time-honored deli pairing, a lunch that needs little improvement. So does piling a corned beef sandwich with sauerkraut, drenching it with Russian dressing, layering on Swiss and griddling the whole creation—that is, making a Reuben—constitute an improvement? Or is it just gilding the lily?

We asked David Sax, author of Save the Deli and The Tastemakers (available May 27). According to Sax, the Reuben is a sandwich that’s tricky to perfect. “You want a good distribution of about two-thirds meat, a decent amount of kraut and just enough cheese to bind it all together,” says Sax. “When that gets out of whack, the whole thing goes up in flames.”

The filling. In addition to the aforementioned ratios, it’s critical that every ingredient is high-quality, says Sax. “Fresh sauerkraut, not from a jar; real good hand-cut corned beef; real cheese.”

The bread. Freshly baked, crusty-edged rye bread is key here, brushed with butter and slowly browned as the cheese melts and the sandwich fuses together.

Where to get it: According to various accounts, the Reuben was either invented by Arnold Reuben, of Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York…or Reuben Kulakofsky, of the Central Market in Omaha, Nebraska. Regardless, the Reuben is now a national phenomenon, available at delis and sandwich shops around the country.

“I think the best are either in Chicago or Michigan,” says Sax. “Manny’s and Eleven City Diner in Chicago, and Kaufman’s in Skokie, Illinois. Bread Basket Deli in Detroit, the Stage Delicatessen in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and definitely Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, which is kind of my favorite in America.”