Every Good Story Must Come to a Close

39 reubens. Within a 10-15 minute drive of Charlotte, there are 39 reubens (albeit some for a limited time and some limited time offers we missed) – pretty impressive. We started this journey thinking it would be fun to try the handful of reubens that existed around the city, but it took a full calendar year to get through all 39. The biggest surprise – the price tag is pretty indicative of what you’re about to eat.

Originally the goal was to order the reubens from best to worst, which we did, but as the list got higher and higher it became more difficult to distinguish how a reuben with a certain score compared to a reuben with the same score from 10 weeks prior. So, in the end we came up with a tiered list that breaks the reubens down to Tier 1, Elite ; Tier 2, Very Good; Tier 3, Above Average; Tier 4, Below Average; and Tier 5, Toss it in the Trash. The rating scale was out of 10 (although none ended up higher than a 9) based on the average of our two ratings, and the breakdowns between tiers were at 8 for the top, 6.5 for the next set, 5.5 after that, then 4.5, and then the rest (with our lowest rating being a 2).

Without further adieu, our ranked list of reubens in Charlotte are as follows (and yes some of these were a surprise to us as well):

Elite:

9 – Ri Ra
9 – Tyber Creek
8.5 – Burton’s
8.5 – OMB
8 – Alexander Michael’s
8 – Murphy’s

Very Good:

7.5 – Sir Edmond Halley’s
7 – Jason’s Deli
7 – Bedder, Bedder, & Moore
6.5 – Phil’s Deli To Go
6.5 – Penn Station East Coast Subs
6.5 – Which Wich
6.5 – Sub Station II

Above Average:

6 – The People’s Market
6 – Eddie’s Place
6 – Hickory Tavern
6 – Root’s Cafe
6 – Matt’s Chicago Dog (updated)
6 – Sammy’s Deli
6 – Carolina Ale House
5.5 – Philadelphia Deli Restaurant

Below Average:

5 – Solstice Tavern
5 – Rhino Market
5 – Chris’ Deli
5 – Arby’s
5 – The Rogue
5 – Growler’s (variance here on ranking)
4.5 – Jersey Mike’s
4.5 – Hawthorne’s Pizza
4.5 – Providence Road Sundries
4.5 – Sandwich Max
4.5 – Owen’s

Toss it in the Trash:

4 – Common Market
3.5 – Mortimer’s Cafe and Pub
3.5 – Fitzgerald’s
2.5 – Bankers Raw Bar
2 – Sandwich Club

On top of that, we decided to create some superlatives as there are other reasons to grab a reuben (maybe you want a cheap meal, maybe you want a quick bite, maybe you want something quirky and different).

Best Reuben: TBD (see below)
Best Bargain: Sub Station II
Best Accompaniment: The Rogue
Most Unique: People’s Market
Best of the Chains: Jason’s Deli
Most Overrated: Growler’s

So, why is the best reuben still TBD? As mentioned earlier, it was incredibly difficult to rank reubens that were many months apart and decide which truly trumped the others. Additionally, we realize very clearly that reubens can change night to night (or even side by side as often times we switched halves and felt the experience was different). So, in order to determine the best reuben we decided we would try each reuben again. 6 reubens made the Elite Tier, so our plan is to have a reuben 6 nights in a row – one each night. Our 6-day reubenathon is aptly named 6 Days of Pure Corned Bliss and will take place August 15th through 20th. We’ll come to our final conclusions on the best reuen after this 6-night adventure to crown the king of the reubens in Charlotte. Look for an update soon with our final evaluation.

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Root’s Cafe

Root’s Cafe

Thirty eight reubens later… And we think we’re at the end of our journey.  Which is pretty great timing since we’re leaving for a 2 week European vacation in 5 days.  Last but not least (definitely not least), we made it to Root’s Cafe.  This was another one of Amy’s last-minute-search-for-reubens finds.  After a long work day, we made our way out to South End.

Root’s interesting menu was fun to look through and the tasty side options were almost better than the sandwich (more than almost in Adam’s opinion – go try the sides at Root’s).  It was a smoked pastrami cut thick with tomato remoulade, spicy mustard, kraut, and swiss.  The smoked pastrami was delicious although a bit fatty and the flavor was overpowering.  It definitely had stronger flavors than we’re used to on a reuben.  The swiss was tasty but so mild that it was lost in the other flavors.  The rye was pretty good, but not quite toasted enough to hold up to the chunks of pastrami.  Adam felt that the sauerkraut was not noticeable and that this was a big miss, however Amy’s sandwich had an adequate amount.  It definitely could have used more but she thought the flavor was there.  The proportion of the ingredients was off however.  There was too much pastrami and too little of literally everything else.

Both of us gave this reuben a 6.  Amy thought it was pretty good overall but missed the flavor that the thousand island brings to a reuben.  That, combined with the overpowering smoked pastrami taste, made her feel like the reuben flavors were really lacking; it was a reuben in name only.  Adam felt the same saying it was tasty but didn’t taste like a reuben.  The sides that we both got were delicious and the menu was full of interesting items. Root’s is likely a place we’ll return to but we may not order the reuben again unless we’re in the mood for a smoked pastrami sandwich.  So ends Phase 1 of A Reuben Adventure (Phase 2 coming soon).

Roots Cafe

Chris’ Deli

Chris’ Deli

As soon as Amy and Adam walked into Chris’ Deli they felt like they were actually in a NY-style deli – something that doesn’t seem to exist around Charlotte. The place had been there longer than either of us had realized and looked like a pretty decent spot to grab a bite.

As you can see in the picture, the reuben was much more of a corned beef sandwich than a fully put together reuben. The corned beef was stacked high – delicious, but overpowering all the other ingredients that typically add the reuben flavors. The corned beef itself was tasty, although it was a bit dry and not much better than the average corned beef we’ve become accustomed to (which was a bit disappointing for a NY deli). The kraut was standard, although there was so little it barely impacted the reuben. The bread was well crisped with decent flavor, but again as can be seen in the picture far too thin to match the proportions in between the slices. The cheese was one very thin layer of cheese, which might as well have been left off.

Although Amy and Adam forgot tasting sheets, they both decided it deserved a 5 as the flavor was decent but overall it wasn’t a well put-together reuben. The proportions needed a big fix, and the ingredients were mostly average. Chris’ Deli has a long list of sandwiches to choose from and we’d be interested in sampling some of the others from the list, but neither of us is likely to get a reuben from Chri’s Deli again.

Phil’s Deli

Phil’s Deli

As our reuben adventure draws to a close, Amy decided to do one last search for any reubens we might’ve missed.  She found Phil’s Deli To Go just a block away from work!  So, we decided to get some lunch reubens and tackle it the next day when Adam was in the office.  At this point in our adventure, we’re not really expecting much.  So Phil’s Deli was a happy find!  The reuben was actually really delicious!

The corned beef had good flavor but was a little tough, both of us noting that it seemed overcooked.  There was lots of melty swiss which was great for the texture of the sandwich.  However, it was mild in flavor and didn’t add much besides the gooey melty texture you’d want from cheese.  The bread was a very thin rye.  It had good flavor but it was so thin!  In the middle it was almost tortilla thin, and although it was crisped up well, this lead to a soggy bottom sandwich.  This was probably the most disappointing part of this otherwise delicious sandwich.  Larger slices of crisped or toasted bread would’ve delivered the ingredients better and made for a very impressive reuben.  The sauerkraut had good texture (not cooked on a griddle!) and was pretty flavorful.  Adam said it was standard, but Amy noted that it wasn’t the “standard” they’d come to expect from the bagged Boar’s Head, so it was a step up in her book.

Adam gave Phil’s reuben a 7, noting its good flavor and great proportions.  The soggy bread and tough corned beef were all that held this reuben back from being great.  Amy didn’t disagree… in fact her 6 on her reuben sheet has a distinctly flat top where she almost gave it a 7.  But the bread really brought it down for her and in the end she went with the 6 rating.  Given the close proximity to work though, this is a reuben she’s HIGHLY likely to order again – way better than the others in the area (looking at you, Sandwich Club).

Phil's Deli

Arby’s

Arby’s

In order to hit ALL the Reuben places in Charlotte, even the ones with promotions (although we did miss Subway), we had to make a stop for the limited time Reuben at Arby’s. Arby’s typically gets a bad rep, but in general we feel that’s a bit overstated. Regardless, we didn’t have super high hopes for the Reuben there. But, to our surprise, the Reuben actually had fairly good flavor and wasn’t a bad sandwich.

The ingredients were all pretty average, but after some of the bad corned beef we had we were surprised that for only $5.29 and tax the corned beef was about as good as the majority of the restaurants we’ve been at. The flavor was pretty good and although we could see some fat in it there weren’t any bites that were overly fatty. The cheese was a miss, with one thin slice you couldn’t even notice the flavor on the Reuben. Although the kraut wasn’t evenly spread across the sandwich, there was a sufficient amount and it had good flavor (typical Boar’s Head style).

The big drawback to the Reuben was the bread – it wasn’t good. Although it was rye, that was about the extent of the good qualities of it. It was soft and chewy, definitely not at all toasted, and the flavor just wasn’t that good. If the bread had been good, this would have actually been a good Rueben, not just average, but their bread choice needs to be fixed. The thinness and chewiness of the bread also made for a soggy bottom fairly quickly (since we ate these very shortly after they were being prepared), and I can’t imagine how soggy they’d be by the time you got it home if you did the drive through. Huge miss on the bread.

Overall, despite the bread issues, it was actually a fairly decent Reuben and not at all bad for the price. If you’re looking for a quick, cheap Reuben you can do worse than what Arby’s is offering. Both Amy and Adam gave the sandwich a 5, putting it just below the middle of the pack but overall a pretty high rating per cost (why hasn’t this been a metric? Adam just realized how great of a metric this is – he’s kind of cheap). If you’re in a rush and in the mood for a Reuben, hit up Arby’s while they’re offering their Reuben, just don’t let it sit in the wrapper for too long!

Arbys

Essex Bar & Bistro

Essex Bar & Bistro

While looking for a place to grab lunch with a coworker one day, Adam stumbled across Essex’s new lunch menu.  They update their menu pretty frequently and we found out that since starting our reuben adventure they’d added a reuben sandwich!  Since Adam only works in uptown Charlotte part of the time, and usually goes to lunch with the aforementioned coworker, we decided to grab a lunch reuben on a Friday when we were both off work.  We were both excited for this one because we’ve liked other things at Essex in the past and we couldn’t wait to try their take on this classic sandwich.

From the moment this reuben came out, we knew it was going to be special.  The corned beef was shaved from a brisket instead of being cut off in chunks.  Normally we’re both partial to the corned beef pieces, but the way this was cooked was mouth watering.  We both agree that this was probably the best corned beef we’ve had thus far (and that’s pretty impressive/surprising after how great both Ri Ra’s and Tyber’s corned beef was).  It was juicy and delicious with incredible flavors.  Unfortunately… that was by far the best part of this sandwich.  The cheese was nice and melty and originally Amy felt the swiss flavor was overpowered by the corned beef.  But Adam said he didn’t think it was swiss, and Amy almost immediately agreed and thought it was possibly mozzarella (later confirmed by the server).

The bread was thick slices of brioche instead of rye.  It was very good but both of us were missing the rye flavor expected of a reuben.  It was, however, very well crisped.  And served on it’s side!  Amy realized while eating that if the reuben is served on its side instead of sitting down in its own juices, the bread will stay crispier.  So pro-tip to all you reuben makers, if your sandwich is served on its side, the bread will stay crispy even as customers eat the other half and juices inevitably drip all over the plate.  The other disappointment was the almost entire lack of sauerkraut.  Even Adam felt it was barely noticeable.  Amy found a lone piece of kraut in her sandwich and tasted it.  She felt it was too salty and not tart enough.  The tartness was missing to cut through the salty buttery flavors of the corned beef and mozzarella.  There as also a thousand island “spread” that Amy felt was almost entirely missing.  Adam though it was tasty but his sandwich had more than hers did (either way it was a good idea but if you’re going to go that route you still need to put enough on the sandwich).  Overall, the proportion of ingredients was pretty off.  The lack of kraut and thousand island, along with the missing flavors of swiss and rye, made this a phenomenal corned beef sandwich.  But not a great reuben.

Amy gave this reuben a 7 saying the corned beef was a solid 10 but without any of the other flavors associated with a reuben she couldn’t give it a higher mark.  Adam, the corned beef lover of the two of us, gave the sandwich an 8.  He said the other reuben flavors weren’t fully there and he commented on the overall saltiness of the sandwich.  We found out from the server that they mix in the cheese and kraut with the corned beef as it’s cooked on the cook top which could have lead to the inability to distinguish any ingredients other than the corned beef.  Essex has phenomenal food overall and every time either of us has been there (at least 5 times for Amy and 2 for Adam) we’ve been incredibly impressed.  It is likely a spot both will return and if we’re ever craving the best corned beef in Charlotte, we’ll come get the reuben.  Here’s hoping it sticks around for a while (and maybe goes through some slight tweaks to become more reuben-like).

Essex

Jason’s Deli

Jason’s Deli

The reuben adventure is slowly winding down, and tonight we finally got to an Uptown spot that’s been on the list for a while but we hadn’t visited yet. It was a chain, and like most chains we’ve been avoiding it until the end. However, unlike most of the chains, we were very pleasantly surprised with the results. The reuben was good – surprisingly good, and after a number of mediocre reubens we were extremely satisfied with what Jason’s Deli had to offer.

If you look at the picture you can see the piles of ingredients that come on their reuben – the corned beef and kraut were stacked so high it was actually somewhat challenging to eat – well worth the $10 price tag. The corned beef was good and full of flavor, but it did have a bit of fat throughout and was generally a fattier cut of corned beef than we’ve been served at most places. But the half pound of corned beef was excellent and a great base for a reuben.

The pile of corned beef was equally matched by the pile of kraut – the flavor was actually a bit different than what we’ve become accustomed to and added the good tart flavor that’s required for a reuben. The cheese was good, but with the excessive amounts of corned beef and kraut the flavor of the cheese was barely noticeable. That echos for the bread as well, which was delicious, but the thin slices got lost in the vast amount of corned beef and kraut. If they turned this into a double decker it would be the perfect proportion of ingredients, but as served it missed the mark a bit with proportions. The bread also got soggy incredibly quickly, so they clearly missed some of the draining that was required (probably the kraut’s fault).

Overall both Amy and Adam gave the reuben a 7, ranking it clearly in the top third of reubens and slightly above the other good chain-type spots. The reuben was surprisingly good, but there were a couple misses like fatty corned beef, soggy bottom bread, and overpowering of the key swiss and rye flavors. If you’re looking for a spot to grab a lunch reuben and there’s a Jason’s Deli in the area, you won’t leave disappointed (or hungry) if you get their reuben. You can also finish off the meal with a free (aka included in the price) soft serve ice cream cone or dish on your way out the door, which is always an excellent way to finish off a meal!

Jason's Deli