One Reuben to Rule Them All

Who the heck is Reuben, and how did he ever think to invent such a meaty masterpiece? Of course, like any good origin story, this one is full of controversy, hotly contested to this day. The two leading theories attribute the deli staple to restaurants in Omaha and New York, right around the same time in the early 1900s. Each one came about by making thrifty use of leftovers to satisfy a deep, gnawing hunger. Perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in both of these claims, but the world will never know for sure.

Urban legends and lore aside, there’s no questioning the fact that it’s a timeless classic that transcends all tastes. While often associated with Jewish delicatessens, the archetypal sandwich couldn’t be farther from kosher certification, as it flagrantly combines meat and dairy in one mouthful. Today, we have the technology to right this wrong. Abundant vegan alternatives make this classic easily accessible to everyone. In fact, I discovered no less than five wholly unique, completely plant-based Reuben renditions right here in Austin, TX. Each one takes a different approach to accomplish the same goal, demonstrating culinary creativity without making concessions for flavor.

I wouldn’t hesitate to order any and all of these sandwiches in a heartbeat. Each one fulfills a different craving, from reasonably wholesome to downright decadent.

Counter Culture puts a healthier spin on this otherwise gut-busting sandwich, employing whole foods that remain true to their earthy roots. Soft marbled rye flecked with caraway seeds cradles thick planks of marinated locally made tempeh, slathered with super gooey cheese sauce and a notably tomato-forward dressing. Crunchy red onion adds welcome textural contrast, cutting the subtly bitter edge of the fermented beans nicely. The sauerkraut is so soft that it seems to melt into the filling, blended with a few cucumber pickles for an extra fresh flavor.

Wheatsville is natural foods co-op, not a sit-down restaurant, but their made-to-order deli sandwiches put many proper eateries to shame. Although best known for their tofu po’boys, the vegan Reuben sandwich deserves just as much praise. Composed of bright pink corned seitan, sliced dairy-free Gouda cheese, thousand island dressing, and old fashioned sauerkraut, it’s a straightforward homage to tradition. I’ve seen confused patrons take their sandwiches back to the counter, uncertain if they actually ordered the vegan version or not. It’s a perfectly balanced savory composition that’s delicious and hits all the right notes.

Bouldin Creek Cafe is another beloved establishment that couldn’t care less about passing trends, big name brands, or hyper-realistic mock meats. They do things their own way, from scratch, which means their Ruby Reuben is unapologetically made with bright red beets. In this sporadic lunch special, golden grilled rye bread stuffed with tender shredded beets and kale-cabbage kraut, while melted Follow Your Heart cheese slices act as the edible glue, sealing the deal. The subtly smoky Russian dressing creates an even greater depth of flavor, creating a prize-worthy Reuben like no other.

Rebel Cheese really puts their protein front and center, getting right down to the meat of the matter. Their “Gentle Reuben” stacks up with a tidy pile of thinly sliced meatless corned beef as the star of the show. For a shop best known for their homemade cheeses, I do wish it had more of a goo-factor, but that does make it a bit less messy to eat. The layer of sauerkraut is certainly not skimpy, lending a pleasantly salty, tangy character to every bite.

Brunch Bird lays claim to the one Reuben that could rule them all. I’ve seen grown men cry as they sink their teeth into this monstrous meal. The meatless corned beef is unassailable, thinly sliced and super smoky, piled up in tender shreds underneath a tangy blankets of sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, and melted cheese. It’s hard to hold if you don’t want to wear it, but worth the struggle. This is the sandwich that could win over staunch meat eaters without a fight.

Whether you go old school or nouveau, there’s no denying the appeal of a properly stacked Reuben. The interplay between umami, salty, sour, and subtly sweet flavors is what made it a top-seller for over a hundred years. In the next century, perhaps the Reuben revolution will make meat obsolete, once and for all. Which version are you picking up first?

Upstanding Citizen

Sundays are made for…

  • Sleeping in
  • Day drinking
  • Eggy things like scrambles and omelettes

AKA, brunch!

May I recommend Citizen Eatery for all your weekend revelry needs? It’s a solid choice any day of the week, but the breakfast-centric menu is especially well-suited for that sweet spot right on the cusp of the new week. It’s the best thing to wake up to, whether you’re getting out of bed in the AM or PM.

While it’s hard to beat a classic tofu scramble, the Chorizo Omelet has raised the bar for the entire eggless category. Lightly spiced meatless chorizo and cheddar shreds are tucked into a soft blanket of JUST egg for a truly artistic presentation, and perfect bite every time. Don’t forget the avocado, garlic aioli, and salsa verde on top, lending bright, fresh flavor and richness all the way through.

Beyond the staples, you can’t leave without getting the Southern Style Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, drizzled with smoky espresso BBQ sauce that honestly should be sold by the gallon. The crisp battered crust gives way to meaty, umami mushrooms in an unreal experience that overloads the senses. Just make sure everyone orders their own plate because they’re impossible to share.

For that elusive balance between healthy and hearty, the Paleo Bowl has never done me wrong. It’s got a little bit of everything that I crave, from roasted beets to grilled Brussels sprouts, and don’t forget the toasted pecan pieces on top. If you want my advice, ask for pesto instead of tahini sauce for vibrant, summery flavor in every bite.

Start or finish the week strong with the Power Bowl. This is no mere salad, piled high with enough goodies to crunch and munch all afternoon. You’ve got quinoa, avocado, kale, toasted chickpeas, sliced almonds, sunflower seeds, roasted red peppers, and grape tomatoes, all in one bountiful bowl. This is whole foods, plant-based, healthy eating done right.

Truly a spot with something for everyone, gluten-free alternatives are as abundant as they are creative. Pecan Pesto Noodles come with either wheatless pasta or soft strands of zucchini noodles. In a world where zoodles are becoming increasingly rare, I deeply appreciate this vegetable-forward approach for a lighter option.

Come on down for happy hour, Monday through Friday, 4 to 6pm, when you can score great deals on snacks, cocktails, and mocktails. Surrounded by warm, friendly smiles, enjoying the bright sunshine radiating through the floor-to-ceiling windows, it feels like it could be Sunday everyday.

Citizen Eatery
5011 Burnet Rd.
Austin, TX 78756