Are Reubens Irish?
Well, No and Yes.
Reubens did not originate in Ireland.
Reubens are an American invention, created either by a hotel in Nebraska or a Jewish deli in New York. Wherever they were created, they soon became a staple at Jewish delis in New York, despite not being kosher.
Irish immigrants settled in the same overcrowded, urban areas of New York as the Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Corned beef was instantly a hit with the Irish, due to being inexpensive in America. (Ireland was a major exporter of corned beef, which ironically made corned beef too costly for the average Irish man or woman in the home country.) Cabbage was inexpensive as well, so corned beef and cabbage, or corned beef and sauerkraut sandwiches, became very popular among the Irish immigrants. So, while Reubens are not “Irish,” they can be considered “Irish American.”
To help you get your Irish on, the VegCharlotte Team and I found the three BEST vegan Reubens in Charlotte. Please note these are not First Place, Second Place, Third Place. These are the #1 Reubens in three different categories – Best Traditional Reuben, Best Rachel, and Best Non-Traditional Reuben.
Best Traditional Reuben – Bean Vegan Cuisine
This comes as a surprise to no one. Bean’s Reuben is so iconic that Bean’s fans (called BEANstalkers) affectionately refer to this sandwich as the “RuBEAN.”
The secret is the house-made seitan and the generous portions of sauerkraut, Daiya mozzarella cheese, and Thousand Island dressing. It’s all loaded onto rye bread and grilled until crunchy, not greasy, resulting in a big, messy, delightfully delicious sandwich. Even omnis love this sandwich – it’s scarily close to the “real thing.”
$11.99, comes with one side.
Best Rachel – Common Market (All Locations Except Rock Hill)
The Reuben started to fall out of favor in the 90s. People were eating less red meat. There was also a trend towards lower-fat eating, so more and more people (especially women) were choosing turkey or chicken, or leaner cuts of red meat other than fatty corned beef.
Enter two “new” sandwiches – the Rachel and the California Reuben. (They’d actually been around as long as the Reuben, but it wasn’t until the 90’s their popularity really took off.)
The Rachel was exactly the same as the Reuben, but made with turkey (usually smoked). Sometimes, a Rachel would have mustard instead of Thousand Island dressing, to cut calories – but, let’s be real, a grilled sandwich is always going to be comfort food, not health food.
A California Reuben was also made with turkey, but featured cole slaw(!) instead of sauerkraut. It was also often on toasted (!) sourdough (!) bread. It was a sandwich that tried too hard and just wound up being weird. (Perhaps it should be renamed, “The Ross.”)
Not surprisingly, the Rachel was much more popular and is what is commonly seen on menus today.
So where to find a vegan Rachel? It’s one of Charlotte’s insider secrets – The Common Market! Their vegan Reubens have all the classic Reuben details. For the “meat”, they use Tofu Lin Smoked Tofu by SoyBoy – a rather firm tofu that, once combined with the other ingredients of this sandwich, curiously has both the taste and mouthfeel of smoked turkey! Then the whole thing is grilled to perfection.
The end result is rather stunning. I could almost swear this was a “real” turkey Reuben – which I had been very fond of in my pre-veg days. Several members of my VegCharlotte posse were hesitant to try a “tofu sandwich” but were amazed once they tried. “This SLAPS!”
Why do I call it an “insider secret”? Because the sandwich itself is not individually listed on the menu.
At the original location in Plaza-Midwood, you’ll order the Reuben from the sandwich menu, which has the helpful instruction “Swap For Turkey OR Tofu-Lin Tofu…Even Make It Vegan!” ($8.50 + $.25 swap charge.)
At the Oakwold and South End Common Market locations, it’s called a (True)Ben, and it’s missing the helpful reminder that it can easily be made vegan. However, if you ask that it be made vegan, they will gladly do that! ($9.00)
Best Non-Traditional Reuben – Soul Miner’s Garden
What is a non-traditional Reuben? It’s a grilled sandwich with all the trademarks of a Reuben – sauerkraut, Thousand Island, cheese – but without anything too “meaty.” Instead, a vegetable is used, such as grilled zucchini or roasted beets. Fern, Flavors From The Garden, had a really beautiful sweet potato Reuben with purple pickled cabbage for one season only (sigh). I miss it still.
The VegCharlotte Team’s pick for best non-traditional Reuben is from Soul Miner’s Garden. Soul Miner’s Garden uses Portabella mushrooms, which gives the sandwich a nice “chew” while still tasting like mushrooms. Vegans who get squeamish about meat substitutes which are too “realistic” should love this.
Additionally, the mushrooms are chopped and grilled with the sauerkraut, so you don’t wind up trying to take a bite of a huge mushroom and inadvertently pull the whole mushroom out of the sandwich with your teeth and onto your shirt. In other words, it’s possible to eat this sandwich neatly – or at least as neatly as you can eat any Reuben sandwich.
Keep in mind this is a food truck (and one of the cutest food trucks ever!) so they won’t have Reubens on their menu every day. Instead, they may be offering burritos, nachos, or BBQ sandwiches (which are all also good). However, if you do happen upon their truck when they are offering Reubens, this is one sandwich worth trying! (Around $11-$12 dollars.)