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Restaurant Sat Oct 04 2008
When fellow Drive-Thru scribe Chris Brunn asked to interview me today about my love of the Chicago Diner's Radical Reuben for the Third Coast Audio Festival (did you get all those links?), I couldn't help but ask why.
"Because it's fascinating that an omnivore New York native like you would consider a veggie Reuben the best he's ever had."
He's not kidding. While I may have grown up in the homeland of the Jewish deli, where you could swing a cat and hit an establishment doling out authentic corned beef, pastrami, and chopped chicken liver (much like another personal fave in this town, Eleven City Diner), with numbers does not necessarily come consistency. For every terrific corned-beef Reuben I had in my 33 years in NYC, there was always another terrible one, full of gamey sauerkraut or week-old griddle grease, but not much real Reuben love.
Aside from the lack of meat, for Yours Truly the Chicago Diner's Radical Reuben really nails the sandwich down, and in a perfectly consistent way every time I've ever had it--which would be every time I've ever eaten at the Chicago Diner.
Perfectly toasted marble rye is covered in a layer of freshly piquant sauerkraut. Sautéed (almost caramelized) green peppers and onions come next. And the comes the star: warm slices of seitan, seasoned with beet and pickle juice in a magical way that practically screams, "Stop here, oh vegetarian, for I am really the meatish enemy!", and of just the right color (but not consistency, seitan has much more give in it).
Here's where the diner's vegetarian and vegan diners diverge. Dairy eaters can-and should-opt for a traditional topping of melted Swiss. The vegan version of the sandwich comes with vegan Mozzarella. Today I samples both variants. While it's not easy to scarf down a favorite food with an audio boom in your face, I can say the vegan version is missing something--that warm, rubbery texture of melted Swiss. More like curds of tahini, vegan Mozz. is probably not the best vegan-cheese option for this sandwich.
Both profit from a generous drenching of the yummy house Russian dressing. If you really want to eat this the right way, ask for extra. Whatever you do, don't follow Brunn's lead and attempt to pick the sandwich up with your hands. I may not be Jewish, but I swear I could hear my Gotham mother turn over in her grave when I witnessed that.
Vegan cheese was put to much better use in the frosting of the vegan carrot cake that we shared after our collective Reuben experience. In fact, like the Radical Reuben, the carrot cake was good enough for me to consider it a best in class. Not that I'm giving up my omnivorous ways anytime soon. But an afternoon with a Radical Reuben always gets me thinking...
The Chicago Diner
3411 North Halsted Street