Late at night, while the rest of the city dreams of illicit encounters and lost loved ones, I dream about the perfect Reuben sandwich. In my nocturnal haze, I’m at a bar, my fingers wrapped around two lightly buttered, not-so-greasy, perfectly toasted pieces of rye. My teeth sink into meltingly tender slices of corned beef bound by a single slice of cheese that’s actually from overseas.
The sauerkraut — spiked with juniper berries that echo my dream sandwich’s other seasonings — has a firm bite and a pleasing tangy flavor. Reminiscent of the German Gourmet‘s ‘kraut in Falls Church, it resembles nothing of the bagged flaccid grocery store versions. The whole sandwich is liberally slathered in a Russian dressing that has character and punch, awakened with lemon and muddied by a touch of Worcestershire in addition to standard ingredients of ketchup, mayonnaise, and pickle relish.
My dream sandwich, of course, is no more a reality than the buxom blonde who visits my slumber when my subconscious has decided to be kind. If it was real, however, I’m fully certain I would eat at least one a week. I’d likely blog about it daily.
Tunnicliff’s Tavern on Capitol Hill is the closest I’ve come to Reuben utopia. The staff brines raw brisket in the basement with pink salt and pickling spices before boiling and slicing it for sandwiches. The finished product isn’t as tender as Central’s masterpiece, but just as flavorful with heavy notes of cinnamon and spice. Tunni’s version is also assembled more humbly and runs $7 cheaper.
The melted Swiss is the same lifeless variety that fills most grilled sandwiches and the ‘kraut could use a boost, but I’m far from complaining. Sandwiches like this define the bar food I’ve been searching for, using decent ingredients and applying the proper techniques, while relying on the traditional recipes we’ve all grown to love. Comfort food this comfy is almost soothing, inducing a beer-assisted carbohydrate haze that lulls me back to sleep.