Ticket to Write: Tracking down the origin of the Reuben in Omaha
OMAHA, Nebraska - I always associate Reuben sandwiches, which I love, with New York delis, which I also love.
And although it’s true that Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York City claims to be the birthplace of the scrumptious creation (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on rye), on a recent trip through the Midwest I learned of another claimant.
As the story goes, Reuben Kulakofsky, a local grocer, created the sandwich for a poker game he frequented at the Blackstone Hotel in midtown Omaha, which started serving the “Reuben” on its lunch menu in the 1920s to great acclaim.
Tracking down the Reuben’s possible birthplace was a great excuse to stop in Nebraska’s biggest city. And though I didn’t run into local multi-billionaire Warren Buffett (he must not have known I was in town), I did take the opportunity to check out a few other Omaha highlights.
I spent several pleasant hours exploring the shops, bars and restaurants of the historic Old Market district; and walking and riding a rental bike through scenic Heartland of America Park along the Missouri River.
I stopped by the Durham Museum, Omaha’s city museum, housed in the beautiful Art Deco-style Union Station. The magnificent Great Hall harkens back to the years, from 1931 to 1971, when arriving and departing train passengers bustled across the terrazzo tile floor beneath a gold-leafed ceiling.
Exhibits include the station’s original and still-working soda fountain offering fountain drinks and sandwiches; the Byron Reed (an American pioneer and real-estate businessman) collection of rare coins and documents; and a replica of the Buffett Grocery Store, a family-owned business which operated from 1869 through 1969, and where Warren Buffett earned his first dollar and gained some of his business acumen.
Another can’t-miss Omaha stop is Lauritzen Gardens, a beautiful, 100-acre oasis with a variety of themed gardens, a 17,500-square-foot conservatory, and an installation featuring two of the most powerful locomotives ever built, perched on a hilltop overlook with views of I-80 and the Missouri River.
Although I spent my morning and evening downtown, at lunchtime I ventured west into the city’s Midtown district to find the site of the old Blackstone Hotel - and, I hoped, a Reuben sandwich.
The Blackstone building is still standing at the corner of South 36th and Farnam streets. Now known as the Blackstone Center, the building is a National Historic Landmark but, as it turns out, neither a hotel nor a restaurant.
Fortunately, the venerable Crescent Moon Tavern, directly across Farnam Street from the old hotel, has taken up the Reuben mantle, the old recipe and the perpetuation of the legend. They also serve great beer, which adds to any Reuben experience, in my humble opinion.
In fact, beer lovers might never want to leave the vicinity. The tavern is part of “Beer Corner USA” along with Huber-Haus German Bier Hall below the Crescent Moon and Beertopia craft beer store next door. And Farnam House Brewing Company, a craft brewer, is on the same block.
As for the Crescent Moon’s “Blackstone Reuben,” the sandwich is made with locally sourced corned beef, trimmed and cooked for a day. The meat is so tender that it can’t be sliced but is served as chunks.
Not surprisingly, I loved the Blackstone Reuben, the story behind it and the city where it just might possibly have been born.
Steve Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@SteveStephens.