Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Saturday, February 4

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Friday Happy Hour Bowles Ditches Cheap Beer, Chuck Taylors »

Restaurant Sat Oct 04 2008

When an Omnivore Loves a Veggie Reuben

radicalreubenchicagodinerWhen 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).

chrisbrunnchicagodinerHere'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

GB store

Elaine Vigneault / October 5, 2008 1:34 AM

Maybe this video will encourage you to choose the veg Reuben more often:

Rita Brunn / October 5, 2008 6:42 AM

I will definitely order the Radical Reuben the next time I am at The Diner (sure wish we had such fare in the 'burbs!). I have not had a Reuben in the 12 years that I have been a vegetarian!

jake / October 5, 2008 9:15 PM

The Chicago Diner is one of our city's treasures, I just wish there were more places like it. There was a great vegetarian sandwich place in Hyde Park called Veggies to Go, but it closed down after less than two years. I think if more people realized that the livestock industry produces more greenhouse gases than cars and planes combined, or that factory farms are devastating our waterways, or the horrible abuses the animals suffer, maybe they'd try to eat a bit less meat. And it seems like Chicagoans have a special responsibility for this, with our history as the pioneers of industrialized animal killing.

GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

GB store



Drive-Thru on Flickr

Join the Drive-Thru Flickr Pool.

About Drive-Thru

Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Robyn Nisi,
Drive-Thru staff inbox:



 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15