Reuben at Jackson's Bar & Oven | PD

Like any great dish, the origins of the Reuben sandwich is shrouded in mystery and controversy. Many lay claim to its founding, though the true Reuben may ultimately be lost in the mists of history.

As a child of the 1970s, I always figured it was a tribute to the quirky friend/manager Reuben Kincaid of the Partridge family. Turns out folks have been enjoying these sandwiches much longer.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary originally attributed the sandwich to New York restaurateur Arnold Reuben who reportedly served it to a hungry female co-star of Charlie Chaplin’s in 1914. Raising serious Nebraskan ire at the oversight, Omaha natives cried foul, saying it was actually local grocer Reuben Kulakofsky who dreamed up the corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, rye bread and Russian dressing sandwich in 1925. According their accounts, the sandwich was dreamed up to feed hungry late-night poker players at the Blackstone Hotel.

Like nachos, the Caesar salad or buffalo wings, the details of its origins may never be completely unearthed. meaty lunchtime staple has become as ubiquitous to American menus as, well, apple pie.

When it comes to Reuben sandwiches, one of the most important ingredients is the sauerkraut. This fermented cabbage isn’t just a zesty side, it’s incredibly good for your digestive system! All the rage in foodie circles right now, one of the best locally made krauts is from the Ceres Communty Project. The community kitchen makes big batches to feed their clients (usually cancer patients needing healthy meals) and recently won a national award for their Arame & Ginger sauerkraut. You can find it at Oliver’s, G&G Market, Community Market in Santa Rosa, Shelton’s Natural Foods in Healdsburg or Whole Foods in Sebastopol.

Purists insist that a true Reuben consist of corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on toasted rye bread. Nothing more, nothing less. Pastrami, the smoked cousin of corned beef is often substituted, as is Thousand Island dressing — a mayonnaise-based topping that evolved from the yogurty Russian version. From there, almost anything is game, from Reuben egg rolls and pizzas to Reuben-style hotdogs.

Where to get this post-St. Patty’s day corned-beef classic locally? Here are some favorites…

Upscale Reubens

Fresh By Lisa Hemenway Reuben Sandwich

Fresh by Lisa Hemenway: The creme-de-la Reuben, this slightly off-kilter version uses grilled seeded sourdough, caramelized onions, organic sauerkraut and Swiss served with roasted baby reds, $12. 5755 Mountain Hawk, Santa Rosa,  595-1048.

Jackson’s Bar and Oven: Exec Chef Josh Silvers knows from deli. His dressed-up version: Corned beef, Swiss, house-baked Rye and Sauerkraut with house-made chips. $10.95. And of course, the pickles.135 4th Street, Santa Rosa, 545-6900.

Della Fattoria: Another unusual, but delicious take on the traditional, Petaluma’s Della Fattoria piles high Niman Ranch pastrami, Thousand Island Dressing, hearty fresh-baked bread and Alexander Valley sauerkraut. 141 Petaluma Boulevard North, Petaluma, 763-0161.

From the Deli: Traditionalists
Mac’s Deli: Long my go-to standard, Mac’s Reuben is simple and classic. Served with fries and a pickle, it’s a little slice of NYC in Santa Rosa. 630 4th Street, Santa Rosa, 545-3785.

Aoili Deli: Tucked away in Forestville, this outstanding little deli continues to impress. Slow braised corned beef, house made Thousand Island aioli and bread from nearby Nightingale breads.

Ulia’s Deli: Locals love this westside deli, and credit for inspiring a lengthy discussion about the merits of Sonoma county’s Reuben’s started with a rave about Ulia’s top-notch Reuben.130 Stony Point Rd # F, Santa Rosa, 525-8542.

Arrigoni’s Deli: Downtown Santa Rosa is fortunate to have several solid delicatessens, and Arrigoni’s extensive sandwich selection makes it a top pick. Classic Reuben on rye. 701 4th St.,
Santa Rosa, 545-1297.

Even more Reubens
Willie Bird Turkey: It’s safe to say that pretty much anything you’re looking for is probably on Willie Bird’s menu. Though they specialize in turkey-centric eats, does a solid grilled Reuben with corned beef, Swiss and sauerkraut on rye. Why Thousand Island dressing is served “on request” is anyone’s guess. $9.75. 1150 Santa Rosa Ave, Santa Rosa, 542-0861.

The Un-Reuben: Taps Petaluma is known for hot dogs, rather than pastrami. Their version of the Reuben is an all-beef dog dressed up with sauerkraut, cheese and Thousand Island on a poppy seed bun.