Every time I eat a Reuben Sandwich I always get a sensation of guilt. Guilt about discovering this sandwiched insanity so late. Guilt from getting so much pleasure from eating it while others might not have the chance. Needless to say, I am a very guilt-ridden individual.
There are so many intricate pleasures from taking a huge bite of a Reuben sandwich: When served, it looks like a monumental figure towering in front of you, challenging you to indulge. Challenging you to take a bite.
It might look too larger-than-life at first, but when you gain control of the indulgence, you reap the rewards that are so good that you’re left with a sensation of victory and guilt at the same time.
With a sandwich so intricate in both experience and history, anything but making a proper tribute to its history and its awesomeness would be plain stupid. So without further ado, here goes – the origins of Reuben sandwich and, yes, why exactly it is so freakin’ tasty.
Who invented the Reuben Sandwich?
Tough one. I remember an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where someone claimed to be the grandson of the guy who invented the Cobb salad. It was something that this particular person used to make himself interesting, and he knew how to choose this particular thing because the Cobb salad does not have a famous inventor. Evidence suggest that the same thing might have happened to the Reuben sandwich, since there are two versions of who the inventors are and no one know for sure who it might actually be.
First claim: Reuben Kulakofsky
As far as anyone knows the key to the best and “unique” Reuben is to marinate the sauerkraut in Russian dressing for 24 hours before the sandwich gets assembled. That, at any rate, is the way Charles Schimmel at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska did it.
In any case, Schimmel’s companion Reuben Kolakofsky, initially utilized ummarinated sauerkraut on the grounds that the men had come up short on lettuce for sandwiches for their weekly poker games.
Wholesale food merchant Kolakofsky substituted the kraut and grilled the sandwich to conceal the cured cabbage flavor, melting the cheese in the process. The sandwich was designed somewhere around 1920 and 1935.
Second claim: Arnold Reuben
Just when you thought you had a solid theory to hold on to, in comes Arnold Reuben, the founder of the now-defunct Reuben’s Restaurant and Delicatessen in New York City. Reuben is said to have created the sandwich using sourdough rye bread, ham, cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing. The Manhatten restauranteur made his first Reuben’s Special in 1914 for leading lady Annette Seelos, who was, at the time, shooting a film with Charlie Chaplin.
Where was the Reuben Sandwich invented?
So the theories have been presented, but which one is true? Who is playing an elaborate hoax on us? The only way to get some real evidence is to see the menus of the eateries claiming the sandwich.
Fern Snider, a waitress at the Blackstone in Omaha, entered the sandwich in a national sandwich competition in 1956 which she won, making this one of the early pieces of documentation for the name of the sandwich.
This, together with another important piece of information – a copy of a menu from the Plush Horse (a newly opened restaurant in the Blackstone Hotel) held in the library of the Douglas County Historical Society, makes Omaha a strong contender to the throne.
New York City
The story of the German immigrant Arnold Reuben begins around 1908, when he opened his first restaurant in New York. He relocated between several neighborhoods until opening Reuben’s Restaurant in 1935 in Brooklyn. Reuben’s Restaurant remained at this location until 1965 or 1966, around the time where he sold the restaurant and retired. When Arnold Reuben died, the obituary in the New York Times reads as follows:
The after-theater diner typically orders one of the outsized sandwiches or may have the house specialty — cheese cake. Or he may order one of Reuben’s more ambitious sandwiches which bears the name of a show business celebrity. Chopped-liver connoisseurs favor Reuben’s. Its Jewish delicacies include matzoth-ball soup and borscht.
Nothing about Reuben sandwiches.
If we go back to the previously mentioned Reuben’s Special, we got another vital piece of info. In 1976, the New York Times writer Craig Claiborne asked his readers about the origin of Reuben sandwich on his column De Gustibus. One of the readers went further into detail about the sandwich made for Anette Seelos:
The year was 1914. 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.” 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.
The most fascinating thing about this little piece of info is that the “Reuben’s Special” is not a Reuben sandwich, however it has certain elements thereof: it incorporates meat, some type of cabbage, and cheese.
So based on any written evidence that history has tracked, the origins of Reuben sandwich traces back to Omaha. The fact that Arnold Reuben Jr. later claimed that he alone was the originator of the sandwich makes the New York claim pretty weak as well. But with the low amount of evidence it boils down to the actual menus. Until these menus are released to the world, the last word hasn’t been said (yet).