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Reuben sandwich Reuben sandwich

How the Reuben got its name

How the Reuben got its name

The Reuben is a sandwich with a taste unlike any other that features corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye bread. While we can all agree on the ingredients in the sandwich, it seems we can't all agree on the origin.

The Reuben has been linked to an early-Hollywood starlet as well as a now-defunct New York City deli. It’s also connected to a poker game in Nebraska. Confused? Hungry? In both cases, read on.

As for the starlet, her name was Marjorie Rambeau, and she’s credited by some with creating the Reuben thanks to an often-told tale of the hungry actress demanding a sandwich from a New York City delicatessen whose supplies were, at the time, sapped. The deli worker slapped together a sandwich, the legend goes, from what ingredients were left on the shelves that day.

That deli’s name? You guessed it — Reuben’s. So depending how you interpret the story, the Reuben’s creator was either the restaurant or the woman who ordered the sandwich.

A more likely story

A more compelling argument for the Reuben’s true origin comes from an author who explained in a 2013 New York Times Magazine article how her grandfather created it in the 1920s.

Elizabeth Weil claims that her grandfather, Bernard Schimmel, was working one night in the kitchen of an Omaha, Nebraska, hotel owned by his father, who at the time was in the hotel playing in a poker game.

When one of the hungry poker players, a man named Reuben Kulakofsky, requested that the kitchen fix him a sandwich with corned beef and sauerkraut, Schimmel added Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese, then grilled the whole thing on dark rye bread.

Schimmel’s father later added the Reuben sandwich to his hotel’s coffee-shop menu, and eventually to all the coffee shops within the family’s hotel chain, wrote Weil.

According to Weil, decades later in the 1950’s, a hotel waitress entered the Reuben in a national sandwich contest — and it won.

Schimmel also published the Reuben recipe in a cookbook, Weil said.

Top Image Credit: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

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