I don’t care what the textbooks say. I don’t care about the debates over the Reuben sandwich’s origins: whether it originated from a Nebraskan grocer’s weekly poker ritual or from a New York delicatessen’s signature “Reuben Special.”
In my eyes—and taste buds—the Reuben was obviously invented by Ruben Studdard. I mean, what else could Ruben have been up to after winning American Idol Season 2, while the more famous runner-up Clay Aiken became a Christmas album mainstay in my grandma’s CD player for years?
And before you ask how Ruben could invent the Reuben when the sandwich first appeared in the 1920s, the answer’s time travel. Duh. Next question.
Okay, that explanation may be more impractical than a Reuben Goldberg machine, but I needed a slipshod introduction for a sandwich as slipshod as Subway’s new Corned Beef Reuben. Because as I soon found out, expecting a fast food joint to do justice to the Reuben’s nearly 100-year legacy was a bit unrealistic.
But let’s start with the rye highs. The popularity of Subway’s Italian Herbs & Cheese and Honey Oat breads suggests that consumers like their bread studded with enough stuff to make a BeDazzler blush, and Subway’s new Rye bread fulfills that desire by baking lightly crunchy caraway seeds into every sub.
The bread itself is dense, earthy, and spiced, while the seeds pop with a sweet anise bite. The taste may be slightly too sour for Hawaiian roll or Wonder Bread veterans, but fans of aged, yeasty bread will appreciate its subtleties.
My only gripe is that the rye isn’t marbled, though that kind of doughy swirl might’ve looked too much like a rolled yoga mat for Subway’s liking.
Meat and cheese are this Reuben’s other strongest elements. While the corned beef isn’t particularly juicy, potently peppered, or too different from Subway roast beef, it’s still thick, tender, and salty enough to give the sandwich a savory, meaty twang.
By which I mean you’ll want to twang an acoustic guitar string after each bite.
The Swiss cheese is an underrated, binding force in Subway’s Reuben. It may have all the complexity of a melted Kraft Single, but it still brings creamy dairy balance to the bread and sauerkraut’s sourness.
Speaking of the sauerkraut: it’s bad, and that’s coming from someone who adores sauerkraut enough to give it an honorary seat at his wedding. Subway’s sauerkraut is far too wet, mushy, and flavorlessly acidic, lacking the light crispness and pickled intricacies of good sauerkraut. But I suppose if I were mashed into a cube and left under Subway’s sneeze guard all day, I’d feel sad and squishy, too.
And the Thousand Island Dressing? It’s barely there, providing a light, underlying fatty flavor with faint mayo and tomato notes. I’d say I only tasted three islands at most, and one of those was Rhode Island, whose authentic island status is questionable at best.
Eating the sandwich together, I mostly taste a sour-sweet war between sauerkraut and bread, while the Reuben’s less flavorful, meaty and creamy children beg their parents to stop fighting. It’s far from authentic, and your limited Reuben enjoyment will hinge on your ingredient balance: I recommend going light on ‘kraut, doubling up on cheese, and getting dressing on the side to add at your discretion.
Better yet, take the $5.25 you could’ve spent on a 6” Subway Reuben to Walmart deli and buy enough loose ingredients to assemble a much tastier haphazard Reuben in the parking lot. Just don’t forget to play Clay Aiken’s Merry Christmas with Love in the car while you do it.
(Nutrition Facts – 6” sandwich, no vegetables – 450 calories, 15 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 85 milligrams of cholesterol, 1770 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of fiber, 10 grams of sugar, and 38 grams of protein.)
Purchased Price: $5.25
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: BeDazzlingly good rye bread. Guitar strummingly decent corned beef. The complimentarily congealing properties of a Swiss Kraft Single. Parking lot deli sandwiches. Sending my warmest regards to Ruben Studdard, wherever he may be.
Cons: Not authentically Reuben-esque (Reubenic?) enough to justify the cost. Sauerkraut that leaves me sour. Thousand Island Dressing that’s 997 islands short. Not being able to make a “Why? Bread” joke because the bread was actually good.