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The Reuben sandwich at the Crescent Moon, 3578 Farnam St.(KENT SIEVERS / THE WORLD-HERALD)


FOOD PROWL

And our favorite Omaha Reuben is ...
By Sarah Baker Hansen
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER


This is the first installment of Food Prowl, a yearlong series of stories in which we examine what the city's restaurants have to offer and choose our favorite foods in a dozen categories.

The stories won't be comprehensive — we can't try everything. But they'll include our food writer's opinion, and the opinion of other Omaha food lovers who treat the city as a place for culinary adventure. We'll eat together, and then collectively make the call on the foods (and one drink) we like the most.

We also invite readers to chime in online and tell us their favorite places, too.

For month one of Food Prowl, we're looking at the Reuben. To read Sarah's full story from Friday's paper, click here.

* * *

In our humble opinion, the best Reuben in town is Crescent Moon's Blackstone Reuben.

It came to us neatly arranged in two halves on a plate next to a pile of French fries.

The Blackstone Reuben, as it's called on the Moon's menu, is a feat of engineering. It doesn't fall apart when you eat it and it doesn't leak dressing or kraut.

Chunks of tender, moist corned beef burst with flavor. The meat mixed in perfect harmony with the tangy kraut, the creamy dressing and the subtle crunch of the bread.

The Moon buys that corned beef locally from Omaha Steaks and cooks it all day long. They trim off extra fat when it's done.

The meat is cut into chunks because, Crescent Moon owner Bill Baburek said, it's just too tender to slice.

The sauerkraut comes from a can, but it's “doctored up” with fennel and other spices to add depth. And the kitchen doesn't cook the sandwich on a flat-top grill — it sends each one through a conveyor-belt pizza oven because that's all the restaurant had when it first opened.

They have a flat-top now, but the sandwiches still go through the oven.

“The Reubens just come out perfect every time,” Baburek said.

Full Food Prowl line-up

January: Reuben
February: Pho
March: Spaghetti
April: Falafel
May: Cupcake
June: Taco
July: Cheeseburger
August: Fried chicken
September: The Old Fashioned (Cocktail)
October: Chicken Tikka Korma
November: Eggs Benedict
December: Ribeye


The Crescent Moon Ale House

3578 Farnam St., across from the former Blackstone Hotel

402-345-1708

Kitchen hours: Monday-Wednesday

11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight. Closed Sunday.

* * *

THE OTHER CONTENDERS:

Barrett's Barley Corn Pub and Grill

The Reuben at Barrett's Barley Corn had pressed, drained sauerkraut mixed in with the Thousand Island dressing, just the way the recipe calls for. The Barrett's sandwich comes cut in half and balanced on a mound of fries in a plastic basket. The thinly shaved corned beef is flavorful, tender and tangy. The kraut and Thousand Island make a saucy layer between the meat and cheese, and I used a half-dozen napkins as I ate the sandwich.

It's a very close second.


Barrett's Barley Corn Pub and Grill

4322 Leavenworth St.

402-554-5805

Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sundays noon to 11 p.m.

* * *

Marks Bistro's tempeh Reuben

Here's the history of the Reuben: Reuben Kulakofsky was one of a group of men who played a late-night poker game at the Blackstone. Charles Schimmel, the hotel's owner, was in the game, too. Each time they played, the men would reserve a few nickels and dimes from each hand and call down to the kitchen for a midnight snack.

Bernard Schimmel, one of Charles' sons, would bring a variety of meats and breads to the men and they'd make their own sandwiches.

Kulakofsky came up with a sandwich that everyone loved. They called it the Reuben.

Charles Schimmel liked it so much that he put it on the hotel menu. A listing from 1934: “Reuben Sandwich, 40 cents.”

I decided to call Bernard Schimmel's daughter, Omahan Mary Bernstein, to learn just what makes the perfect Reuben.

When I asked her to meet me to eat the sandwich her father made famous, there was a problem. Bernstein doesn't eat meat.

I suggested we meet at Marks Bistro to eat its tempeh Reuben, a meatless variety of the sandwich that I came to love when I didn't eat meat.

We sat at a table by the restaurant's bank of windows and she told me how the Reuben came to be.

She remembers her dad making them for her family when she was a kid. He taught classes on how to make the sandwich. He made them for company. And now she does the same: Earlier this year, she helped make 70 Reubens for a family reunion. She's even made one for famous Omaha artist Jun Kaneko, who is apparently a bit of a Reuben connoisseur.

I asked Bernstein what she thought of the Marks Bistro variation.

“It's a nice sandwich,” she said. “But it's not a Reuben.”


Marks Bistro

4916 Underwood Ave

402-502-2203

Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to late evening. Closed Sundays

* * *

The Drover

To try another local Reuben, I met up with J.J. Harder, whose claim to fame, in addition to being a Nebraska-born diplomat for the U.S. State Department, is that he once ate every Reuben sandwich available in the city of Lincoln. Jason Bejot, my other expert guest, is no slouch either — he's founder of the Blackstone Society, a group that travels Omaha restaurants in search of the perfect Reuben.

We congregated for lunch at the Drover, a dimly lit, cowboy-themed restaurant famous for its whiskey steak. The Drover's Reuben is listed on its menu as the house specialty. Instead of corned beef, the sandwich has tender prime rib, sliced thin and piled high between the other traditional ingredients.

“Outside of Nebraska, you probably won't find a Reuben like this,” Harder said.

The beef took center stage in our first bites. In second and third bites, sauerkraut and thick homemade Thousand Island came through.

Harder said he found the sandwich smokier and drier than a Reuben with corned beef.

Bejot thought it was more like a hybrid: half Reuben and half French Dip.


The Drover

2121 S. 73rd St.

402-391-7440

Lunch Monday-Friday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner nightly from 5 p.m.

* * *

Wohlner's Market

After lunch, Harder and I went to Wohlner's Grocery in Aksarben Village, where we found enough room in our prime rib-stuffed bellies to sample a few bites of its take on the sandwich. We decided to try Wohlner's because the locally owned market is known for its excellent meat counter. And the store is older than the Reuben itself — it has been around since 1918.

The sandwich came filled with high quality shredded corned beef and a swipe of Thousand Island that was pleasantly sweeter than the others we'd tried. We didn't care for the bread: crisply toasted light rye. It was too crunchy, and not heavy enough in flavor to stand up to the bold sauerkraut and the rich corned beef.

“If one thing is off,” Harder said, “the whole thing is off.”

It turns out that the Reuben is, indeed, a delicate balancing act.


Wohlner's Market

2289 S. 67th St.

402-551-6875

Store hours:

Monday-Friday: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday: 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

* * *

Contact the writer: 402-444-1069, sarah.bakerhansen@owh.com

Contact the writer: Sarah Baker Hansen

sarah.bakerhansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1069    |  

Sarah writes restaurant reviews and food stories for the World-Herald.

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