This was supposed to be part 2 of our Giant Donut Fight, but thanks to some rather inconvenient hours of operation, it will have to wait until next week. So during this donut bye week, we've decided to focus on another unhealthy treat — the Reuben sandwich. Today's fight places the famed Canter's Deli up against Du-par's, another 24-hour Fairfax institution. The schools of thought on a Reuben vary based on personal preference. But let's say it's three o'clock in the morning, and you're cruising down Fairfax with a deep craving for corned beef (we tend to leave our pastrami to Langer's), sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese, grilled between two slices of rye bread. Where should you go? Let's find out.
Du-par's is, admittedly, known for their pancakes. And while you can't order a can of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray either, they've still been known to sell their fair share of Reubens. Once our plate of food arrived, the internal debate began immediately. Should a sandwich, in the Jewish deli tradition, be piled high with a fist-sized portion of sliced meat? Or should it be a more balanced thing, like most other sandwiches on the planet? Should a person be able to take a bite of the middle of their sandwich, and actually fit both slices of bread into their mouth? And should that sandwich contain Thousand Island dressing?
Du-par's aims for an evenly balanced sandwich. The bread was grilled to a light brown, the cheese sufficiently gooey, and the interior boasted but two layers of thick-ish slices of corned beef. The kraut was not dominating or overflowing, but was applied as a subtle condiment. Then there was Thousand Island dressing, flung a bit haphazardly onto certain areas. The sandwich was crunchy and soft, lightly sweet and acidic, meaty, and filling. But our biggest area of concern was the beef itself. Thicker slices of corned beef can be a fine thing, but in this case it was slightly dry, and in such a way that the chunks of meat tended to crumble a little with each bite, then lodge themselves between the nearest pair of teeth.
At Canter's, things are different. Which restaurant you find more comforting is probably dependant on whether or not you spent parts of your youth visiting grandparents in Ft. Lauderdale (we did). We were greeted by the ubiquitous, “incredibly friendly older female server at a Jewish deli,” who most likely called us “honey” at some point. Then we saw our sandwich. The bread was grilled to a deeper golden brown, the dressing was served on the side, the meat was sliced very thin, and stacked more than generously. It came with a side of potato chips. It was — let's be honest here — the sort of Reuben we have always loved. But personal preferences aside, the meat, like our waitress's spirit, was far more tender.
Do we even have to say who wins (it's Canters)? It had actually been quite some time since we had last eaten a meal at Canter's, but it didn't take long to feel right at home. And while we may not need to eat there again any time soon, it's good to know that we could probably go back twenty years from now, and find that nothing had changed. Well, except for the prices.