Chow Town

St. Patrick's Day is the time to eat great Reubens, but so many questions to answer

A reuben from Marco Polo's Italian market
A reuben from Marco Polo's Italian market From Jasper J. Mirabile Jr.

It’s. St. Patrick’s Day and this chef is thinking Reubens. I’m talking corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye bread … Seriously, does a sandwich get any better?

Visit any deli, whether it’s Jewish (not Kosher) or Italian or just the corner sandwich shop and the famous Reuben sandwich is usually featured. Prepare some Russian dressing (some prefer Thousand Island dressing with relish and hard boiled egg) with some mayonnaise, ketchup, horseradish, a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, a hint of paprika and a little salt and pepper. Set set aside.

You’re going to need some marble bread or some Russian rye bread, and there's a debate as to whether you should “grill” the sandwich with some buttery grease or enjoy it like some of the New York delis, layered with corned beef, sliced Swiss cheese and drained sauerkraut. And now, let’s talk about the controversy over who holds the title of the real Reuben inventor in America.

One story in the history books dates back to 1925 in Omaha, Neb., when Charles Schimmel, the owner of the Blackstone Hotel, claimed that his friend Reuben Kulakofsky invented the sandwich by accident for a weekly poker game.

Reuben ran out of lettuce for sandwiches one week and substituted sauerkraut. Everyone raved about the sandwich so Schimmel later put it on the Reuben menu at the hotel where it became famous in the Midwest. But then there is the New York story with an earlier creation date of 1914, supposedly at Reuben’s Restaurant & Delicatessen.

As the story goes, actress Annette Seelos was shooting a film with Charlie Chaplin and Reuben’s was one of their daily hangouts. Owner Arnold Reuben created a special sandwich for Ms. Seelos similar to the modern-day Reuben but with coleslaw instead of sauerkraut.

Reuben started serving the sandwich daily and it became known for the famous combination on the East Coast. So what story holds the most truth? Does it really matter? Do we have another fettuccine Alfredo and Caesar salad “inventor conflict” on our hands?

For this chef, it really doesn’t matter if the sandwich was invented in Omaha or New York but I do love food history. Being from the Midwest it makes it even more difficult to choose sides. Anyway you look at it, I love a good Reuben sandwich. For me, corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island on rye bread grilled with butter, baby.

I’ll be celebrating for sure this St. Patrick’s Day. Hold on, wait a second, stop the presses. Corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day? Is corned beef really from Ireland? Was it tradition to enjoy this dish on the most celebrated holiday in Ireland? Well, my friends, that’s a whole other story. Stay tuned. In the meantime go out and enjoy a corned beef sandwich at your favorite local deli. I know I will.

Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.