The Best and Worst of Reuben Sandwiches in Columbus, Ohio

A Reuben is a pretty basic sandwich. Corned beef, sauerkraut, thousand island, swiss, rye bread, grill it. VoilÃ? , a Reuben. Pretty hard to mess up, right? Wrong. It is incredible how badly people can screw up even the most basic elements of a good sandwich. In a spirit of helpfulness, I have personally sampled my way through most of the available Reuben’s in the area, to help my fellow enthusiasts weed out the bland, the slimy, and the outright gross, and head straight for the good stuff.

Columbus, Ohio’s Arlington CafÃ?©, off Henderson Road, behind the Kroger, is one of the strangest places I’ve ever been inside. It’s as though the proprietor wanted to build a dance club for ravers, but at the last minute realized his building was in a middle-age suburban strip mall, threw in some TV’s and pool tables and called it a sports bar. The Reuben I had there reflected the same sort of, almost-but-not-quite-right story. All the ingredients were there: meat, kraut, cheese, sauce, bread, but there was something wrong with all of them. For one thing, the cook used provolone instead of Swiss cheese. This took the sharp edge off the flavor, and made the experience almost unbearably bland. There was not enough kraut, and way too much meat. Plus, the beef was sliced nearly a quarter inch thick. It was like chewing on a pile of rubber sheets. To top it off, they obviously mixed their dressing in-house, and had way more mayo than necessary, so there was no ketchup/pickle tang to the sauce. I ate less than half of this culinary miscarriage, and considered throwing the rest at the cook’s head. Even the dÃ?©cor in the Arlington CafÃ?© is better than this sandwich. The only Reuben I’ve had that was worse than this one I got in an airport and that one was heated in a microwave.

Columbus’ Grandview CafÃ?©’s effort was several key steps up form the Arlington’s, but it was still just barely in the “edible” range. The meat was sliced nice and thin, and was cut from better quality stuff to begin with. No floor sweepings here. The kraut was in adequate supply but indifferently prepared. Basically, they opened a can of the stuff and applied it direct to the sandwich. This is par for the course in most places, especially in Ohio, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. Good kraut should be simmered, preferably in vermouth or beer. The Grandview’s Thousand Island dressing tasted like the basic grocery store premixed stuff, but was still better than the Arlington’s. The cheese was, in fact, Swiss. The only major problem I had here was that the cook put the cheese in between the meat and the kraut, instead of next to the bread, so the bread went soggy before it even got to my table. Poor form. In all, the texture left much to be desired, the flavor was just adequate and serving chips instead of fries or slaw strikes me as being really cheap and tacky. We’re at a bar, not a picnic. You have fryers back there. Use them. Still, I ate the whole sandwich, and didn’t leave feeling insulted like I did at the Arlington.

Most people know the Brazenhead Pub on Fifth Ave. in Grandview for its wide alcohol selection and its three-dollar Monday burger specials. Now, a restaurant named after a famous Irish watering hole might not seem like a person’s best bet for a corned beef and sauerkraut on rye sandwich, but I was pleasantly surprised. The bread was quality and was toasted just right, crispy and flavorful. The dressing was tangy and well-textured, and nicely offset by the sharp Swiss, correctly placed between the kraut and the bread. My only complaints were that the sandwich was a little bit hurried-looking, and was slumped askew on my plate, forcing me to rebuild it by hand at the table. Also, there was not enough meat and too much kraut. The sandwich came with fries AND slaw, and I must say, Guinness and a Reuben is a happy combination.

Old Bag of Nails Pub is another Upper Arlington establishment, located off of Tremont Road in the Tremont Center. This place is a local legend for a great selection of beers, and original sandwiches like the Pauly Burger, which is an enormous slab of chuck topped with insane amount of cheese, banana peppers, and salami. The Reuben itself reflected the same cooking philosophy of “fattier is better” but was, in general, excellent. It was a little heavy on the kraut and on the cheese, which made it a bit of a challenge to eat with any amount of dignity, but my only real complaint is that it seemed to have been fried in about two inches of butter, and made me feel gross for several days after I ate it. Persons with a more resilient stomach than mine will like this one, however.

The overall best Reuben available in Columbus, Ohio can be found at Katzinger’s Deli, on S. 3rd St, just south of downtown in German Village. I cannot say enough good things about this sandwich. At first glance, the price may seem a little steep for a sandwich, but it is important to keep in mind that A) this is possibly the best sandwich in the entire universe, and B) one is big enough for two people with serious appetites. Everything about this sandwich is awesome. They use the best of everything in their ingredients here, from lovingly prepared kraut to fresh bread baked in-house every day. They make their own corned beef, too. The ingredients are carefully assembled in the right proportions, and the flavor is rich and intense without being overwhelming like Old Bag of Nails. You have to order all your sides a la carte at Katzinger’s but they are certainly worth exploring. I especially like the redskin potato salad. But keep in mind that there are two barrels of pickles, one for dill and one for garlic in the dining room, and anyone who orders a sandwich has open license for all the pickles they can handle.

In short, if you want the best Reuben in Columbus, go to Katzinger’s. If you want to be grossed out, go to the Arlington CafÃ?©. For something in between, check out the Grandview, the Brazenhead, or Old Bag of Nails. If you don’t live in Upper Arlington or Grandview, check out the Old Bag of Nails website. They have a couple of similar locations that go by different names around town. Good luck, and happy eating.

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