Arby’s, founded in 1964 and known nationwide for “slicing up freshness,” pulled a daring stunt this past March when it launched on its menu a Reuben sandwich option. I give you Exhibit A:
While I am a big supporter of dreamers, and their dreams alike, this particular sandwich venture brought out the contemptuous skeptic in me. Is it even remotely possible that a fast food restaurant chain could honor the sacred recipe of which you and I, Fellow Reubeneers, are so fond? Let’s unwrap this baby and find out…
The answer is No. Most assuredly. Unequivocally. Indubitably. No.
And that isn’t for a lack of trying. I sense it was a valiant effort. And I’m actually glad that Arby’s gave it a shot, because it points to a Reuben Truth that has long stood the test of time. But before we get totally lost in Reuben Philosophy, let’s examine the specimen above, shall we?
At first glance, Arby’s followed the road map decently enough. Their construction was nearly spot on, with a well-proportioned (if small-ish) distribution of ingredients. They melted the kraut and Swiss together, and even served the dressing on the sandwich rather than on the side. But alas, construction isn’t everything. Immediately, the paper-thin corned beef had me worried. Lacking any visible fat, it demonstrated tenderness, but contributed very little flavor, serving more-so just as a generic meat substance and texture. Nothing distinctly corned beef, or good, about it. Most of the flavor actually came from the overpowering combo of kraut and dressing, which struck at the palate with a pungent criss-cross of sour and tang — not what you want out of those two elements. The Swiss proved basically non-existent, the marble rye tasted of no rye whatsoever, and overall, the sandwich was spongey, seemed to have been microwaved, or at best, paninified, instead of grilled properly. All this, and you end up with a vaguely meaty, soft sandwich dominated by briny, tart notes. Forget the fact that this is the kind of sandwich that will make you never want to try a Reuben again, this thing is downright toxic to your taste buds.
How did Arby’s foray into Reubendom go so terribly wrong? The first issue, right off the bat, is that there’s really no sparing expense when it comes to ingredients here. In attempting a low-cost Reuben, Arby’s plan of attack was flawed from the outset. And even with high quality ingredients, being as strange a combination as they are, you need to know how to work with them — technique, construction, proportion, having proper cooking equipment. And that’s why you’ll never find a quality Reuben that costs $4.99. How about one that costs $7.99? Perhaps marginally better, but probably still awful. And not just awful — dangerous to your appetite. You really have to find it on a menu for fifteen bucks or more to know you’re getting the real thing.
And this brings us to the aforementioned Reuben Truth: A good Reuben is a rare bird. Maybe the rarest of birds. Capturing one’s essence and presenting it on a plate for eager little Reubeneers is no easy task. Unlike making a delicious burger, or turkey sandwich, club sandwich, or what-have-you — all of which can done on the cheap by any ol’ restauranteur — the e’er noble Reuben requires more than just following a recipe in a book, despite the legions who would think otherwise. It’s a specialty of the highest order.
I hate to say “Never send a peasant to do a knight’s job,” but sometimes it’s appropriate. I would like to thank Arby’s for dreaming big, even while failing so miserably. And I implore you, Dear Readers, to heed the scores below not as a reflection of an unfortunate dining experience, but as a cautionary tale against low-cost Reubens everywhere. You’ve been warned.
Meat: 2.3/10 (corned beef)
Russian Dressing: 2.8 (Thousand Island)
Grill factor: 1.0
Construction: 6.0 (decently proportioned, small)
Side note: Combo available, I stuck with just the sandwich.