The Contested Origin Of The Reuben Sandwich

Although the ingredients and preparation method for a Reuben sandwich are widely agreed upon, as with so many American classics, discussion about the origins of the sandwich results in significantly less agreement.

First, the part that's settled. A Reuben is a sandwich on rye bread (marbled rye is most frequently used) that contains corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing. The sandwich is then grilled and served warm (via What's Cooking America). Some people substitute Thousand Island dressing for Russian dressing.

However, there's some controversial history about exactly where the sandwich was invented. If you think about the cities most associated with Reubens, New York City and its thriving deli scene come to mind. Patricia Taylor was the daughter of Arnold Reuben, who founded a landmark New York deli called Reuben's Restaurant and Delicatessen, which has since closed. Taylor told a reporter from The New York Times that the sandwich was invented at her father's restaurant in 1914, with a little help from an actress who worked with Charlie Chaplin.

The Reuben's New York City origin story

The actress, Anna Selos (sometimes remembered as Annette Seelos, who may now be more famous for her potential role in inventing the Reuben than the films she starred in with Charlie Chaplin, via Eat This, Not That!) came into the restaurant late one night and told the restaurateur that she was so hungry that she could eat a brick. Taylor says that her father took rye bread, Virginia ham, roast turkey, and Swiss cheese, added some of his house Russian dressing and topped it with some coleslaw.

The actress suggested naming the sandwich after herself, but the restaurant owner had other ideas and decided to market the sandwich using his own name.

While this recipe isn't exactly the same as Reubens today, the use of a crunchy vegetable topping and Russian dressing is what put this sandwich into consideration for being one of the first ancestors of the modern-day Reuben.

The Reuben's Omaha origin story

The other, perhaps more prevalent, legend says that the Reuben can trace its origins to a hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, developed to feed a group of hungry poker players one evening in 1928 (via The Nosher). One of the poker players was named Reuben. Another player owned a food wholesale establishment and had barrels of sauerkraut in the basement, and he sent the son of the hotelier to get some, as Reuben wanted a corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich. Another had recently returned from a trip to Europe where he'd discovered the thrills of Emmental cheese. Someone suggested that Russian dressing be mixed into the sauerkraut, and the Reuben was born... again? It was a hit with the gamblers and someone suggested that the newly-invented sandwich be put on the hotel's menu. It was, and eventually, it was expanded to all the hotels in the owner's chain, not just the location in Omaha where it was invented.

Omaha still has a soft spot in its heart for Reubens — March 14th has been named Reuben Sandwich Day in the city.

These two claims have competed for a long while and have even inspired a delightful 2,000-plus word article between the two warring claims (via Saveur). But no matter the origin, it remains a popular deli sandwich choice to this day.