The northwest suburbs of Detroit are home to a large Jewish population and (un-coincidentally) some of the state’s finest delicatessens. Many mid-Michiganders who are native to the region still dream of the New York-style bagels, blintzes and marbled corned beef that are all now an hour’s drive away. Among the most beloved of these forsaken food items has to be that classic deli staple, the Reuben sandwich, so what better thing to tackle for a Food Fight?
We chose seven of the area’s top (or upcoming) sandwich sites and spent an afternoon hitting all of them. The sandwiches were given a score of 1 to 10 based on five categories: cost per portion, authenticity, service, atmosphere and overall taste, with a wild card X-factor category either increasing or damaging the score based on anything from the crispiness of the accompanying chips to the dill-ness of the pickle. Although several variants exist, including the California (or turkey) Reuben, we stuck with the traditional: corned beef, Swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing and sauerkraut. We hoped for some nice Jewish rye bread to hold it all together, but this ain’t New York (or West Bloomfield), so we took what we could get.
Frandor Deli — 5.8 out of 10
Our experience here can best be summed up by the judge who said, “I was hoping for a Reuben, but I got microwaved, tasteless meat on a brown sub bun.” Sure, at $5.83 we got a relative bargain with “lots of sauerkraut” and “fast service,” but the “sauce looked like Cheez Wiz,” the “kraut tasted canned” and the “funky celebrity paintings” weren’t able to draw our attention away from the multiple less-than-spotless tables. And we were the only ones in there. Ugh.
Frandor Deli, 300 N. Clippert St., Lansing Charter Township (inside Frandor Shopping Center)
Soup Spoon Café — 6.7 out of 10
Kosher diners may be in for a surprise at Soup Spoon, where we unanimously agreed someone slapped some ham in our sandwich by mistake. “Where’s the corned beef,” someone quipped. “It tastes like a good slice of Easter ham,” said another. One of our more astute judges noted that that we didn’t have real Swiss: “the guyere cheese was a nice trade-off,” however. “Finally we got some marbled rye,” said another. We all are longtime fans of the “bright, comfy atmosphere” and the “universally good service“ at Soup Spoon, but we found this Reuben to be an “overall disappointment.”
Soup Spoon Cafe, 1419 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing
Paul Revere’s Tavern — 6.9 out of 10
The best value of the day was here, where you can get “a pretty decent sandwich” (without any sides) for $4.51. The “dark” bar was “quiet and comfortable,” and it seemed like “a fun place to play a game of pinball” or “watch the game.” Our sandwich, which arrived on “great bread,” was “just the right amount of fatty.” There were some mixed opinions here, however, ranging from “too much dressing” (which one of us called “bland”) to “not enough kraut.” But overall, it “left a good taste in my mouth.”
Paul Revere´s Tavern, 2703 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing
State Side Deli — 7.1 out of 10
There was a $5 special on all sandwiches going on the day we visited, which led to an exchange of value points for authenticity points. It won raves for the best price, but one person remarked that the sandwich was “smaller than normal.” The corned beef seemed “a little bland,” and one member of the group declared, “I could build a better sandwich out of cold cuts.” State Side was the favorite to win by at least two people, who both expressed their disappointment in this sandwich. It did, however, have a “nice sauce,” “fast service” and “a great location.” “I love you, State Side” lamented one of our judges, ”but you can do better than this.”
State Side Deli, 313 East Grand River Ave., East Lansing
Bar 30 — 7.5 out of 10
This new kid on the block held its own against the known favorites. At $10.60, this was certainly the most expensive sandwich of the day, but one of us thought, “it was worth it.” The “yummy” sandwich was “full of flavor,” which one of us called a “true blue Reuben” with “great sauce.” The homemade chips earned it bonus points in the X-factor category, as did the fact that it was the only one of the bunch with patio seating. As for the service: “we were annoying and he was cool.” (ed. note: it’s always annoying when eight people sit in your section and only order one sandwich to split.)
Bar 30, 2324 Showtime Drive, Lansing (inside Eastwood Towne Center)
Schwartz’s Deli — 7.8 out of 10
For $9.21, the “massive” sandwich here made it “a little too pricy to do every day — but I wish I could.” Most of us agreed that it lost points because “the bread was definitely lacking,” but the “messy” but “awesome” sandwich earned it the highest overall authenticity ratings from the judges. “It’s how I imagine they make it in New York,” said one. It was “served steaming,” but the service was “a little slow and complain-y” — apparently a coworker had slept in that day, but did we need to know that?
Schwartz´s Deli, 521 N. Clippert St., Lansing Charter Township
Art’s Bar — 8.3 out of 10
For $6.89, this corner bar “finally got the Reuben right.” Nearly all of us, in one way or another, called the Rueben here “a good surprise,” although one of the purists said the meat “tasted more like pastrami than corned beef, but oh well.” Among the comments: “the proportions are perfect,” “the bread was just the right amount of greasy,” “best presentation” and — most important — “the best flavor.”
Art´s Bar, 809 E. Kalamazoo St., Lansing
There you have it: a full exploration into “the realm of the Reuben,” as one of the judges called it. Got a beef with our picks? Have a suggestion for an upcoming Food Fight? Send your comments and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.