Versus: Pastrami's Finest Hour

Pastrami or corned beef? Russian dressing or 1000 Island? Grilled or toasted rye bread?

One of the things we learned while researching this Versus challenge is that Reuben sandwiches wear many hats. Deciding which one you want yours to wear is a simple matter of taste. For instance, we prefer pastrami on our Reubens for the simple addition of some light seasoning. But the type of meat you chose really won't change the taste of the sandwich. Both corned beef and pastrami come from the same cut of brisket, however, pastrami is smoked after it's cured (usually with a dry rub). Corned beef is not. We also aren't a big fan of additional cheeses. A solo Swiss will do just fine. With that, we wanted to know whose Reuben we'd like best: The Collins Pub or Three Girls Bakery?

The Collin's Pub Reuben
The Collins Pub

526 2nd Ave., 623-1016

We heard The Collins Pub had a killer burger, so we were anxious to try their Reuben. It didn't disappoint. The pastrami was perfectly cooked -- tender, not stringy; it had a nice consistency -- fragile, not tough. There was just the right amount of sauerkraut and 1000 Island dressing, which cut the tang of the Swiss cheese and kraut combo. Plus, the pastrami appeared pre-grilled, creating a crisp bacon-like char around the edges. And at $12, you can bet this sandwich came with a side of fries. Our only complaint: the rye bread was doused with a little too much butter before hitting the grill, creating some unnecessary greasiness.

Three Girls Bakery Pastrami Reuben
Three Girls Bakery

1514 Pike Place Stall #1, 622-1045

"You have to try the Reuben at Three Girls," we were told repeatedly by readers. So, we did. Our excitement was cut short once we took a seat at the counter and watched as our server nuked the sauerkraut and cheese (both Swiss and cheddar). Not only was this visually unappealing, but the microwave caused the textures to blend together. The kraut/cheese concoction was thrown atop a generous helping of pastrami on light rye, buttered slightly and put under the sandwich press. The toasted Reuben was delightful; not as tangy as the Collin's version, but tender and juicy nonetheless. And like the Collins' Reuben, it was assembled with just the right amount of pastrami to create a user-friendly sandwich. We also ordered the corned beef Reuben on dark rye for comparison's sake. It wasn't as good. The dill seeds embedded in the light rye created a more flavorful sandwich, and honestly, we couldn't tell the corned beef from the pastrami. This Reuben doesn't come with a side of anything, but at just $7.50, it's a good value.

Verdict: Both sandwiches came with delicate folds of thinly sliced pastrami which created sandwiches that were easy to eat and flavorful -- possibly the two most important components of any sandwich. But when it comes down to it, the Reuben at the Collins Pub is the sandwich we still crave. While the Reuben at Three Girls was good and by far the best value, the cheddar cheese was just too much to deal with; it oozed out of the bread like an artificial cheese sauce. And the pastrami was not pre-grilled which made it kind of bland. It goes without saying, but the sauerkraut shouldn't have been microwaved and, ultimately, there were no layers of flavor, like the reuben at the Collins Pub. When you bite into the Collins' Reuben you taste grilled pastrami, 1000 Island, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. When you take a bite of the Three Girls Reuben you taste meat and cheese, as if they are a bundled item, relying on each other to support a flavor profile. No nuances. We'll pay the extra $3.50 to eat the Collins' Reuben again.

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