Reuben’s Restaurant and Delicatessen

            Reuben’s Restaurant and Delicatessen was a famous New York restaurant with loyal celebrity patrons and a booming nightlife during the 1930s to 1960s. The founder, Arnold Reuben, can be described as the sandwich king due to the restaurant’s rich history of celebrity named sandwiches. Despite the ample amount of folklore, Reuben’s claim to fame is highly disputed. However, there is no mistaking that Reuben’s was definitely the place to be with its bright neon sign loudly proclaiming the founder’s name.

         The well-known restaurant front seen on the menu cover1 was located on 6 East 58th Street in New York City from 1935 to 1965. Arnold Reuben was no stranger to the restaurant business and had been in the food industry for years before deciding to formally open his famous restaurant. The New York Times documented its opening 28th of March in 1935 with the mayor, Fiorello La Guardia2, in attendance. He, of course, had a sandwich named La Guardia Special. Naming sandwiches after celebrities would become what Reuben was known for.

         Celebrity patrons means Reuben’s restaurant had to live up to the bright neon sign that greeted you from the street. The appeal of Reuben’s did not end with the sign and even featured a doorman3 that would greet guests on their way inside. The restaurant was filled with dark décor and gold accents that appealed to both the New York nightlife, particularly theater, and celebrities. Looks are one thing, but how did the famous restaurant amass a high status following? It was due both to menu items and the end of the Prohibition.

         The most heavily disputed menu item is the Reuben sandwich4. The item is not featured explicitly on the 1941 Reuben’s menu. Arnold Reuben obviously shares the name and has disputed its origin.  In a 1930 interview5 with New York Times, Reuben describes that his sandwich ideas came to him suddenly. This interview features the story of getting the idea for a celebrity sandwich and what he calls the “Reuben Special.” The Reuben Special seems to be the classic sandwich, but despite thorough research it has not been verified6.

         Similar to the Reuben sandwich, the origin of the New York Style cheesecake7is widely disputed. Arnold Reuben is one of the many that has claimed to be the inventor of the style. The difference between a cheesecake and the New York style is the use of cream cheese rather than cottage cheese. The menu1 features it simply as Reuben’s cheesecake. It was known to be a popular choice amongst late night guests due to the restaurant’s twenty-four hour service. In the menu from 1941, the cheesecake appears to only be thirty cents. Reuben’s origin of his famous cheesecake centers around perfecting an existing cheesecake recipe by tweaking the ingredients.

         The end of Prohibition allowed New York’s nightlife to truly boom again. Therefore, Arnold Reuben’s formal opening of his restaurant was an excellent opportunity. The day of the grand opening, an ad was published in the New York Times advertised the alcohol Reuben’s had to offer. After Prohibition, the idea of being able to drink publicly was hard to pass up. As the ad8 states, Reuben’s “friends” were a big factor in the enjoyment of guests.

         I feel as if many old recipes can feel inaccessible to newer generations due to the growing popularity of new diets, such as veganism. Many individuals believe that vegan cooking is difficult, especially with recipes involving dairy. Therefore, I wanted to explore the difficulties of making Reuben’s popular cheesecake into a vegan dessert. I began by researching recipes that described the New York Style.  Most involved simple ingredients such as graham crackers, butter, and eggs, which makes the recipe a vegan nightmare. I really wanted to be able to experience a famous dish amongst night owls after learning the history of Reuben’s restaurant.

New York Style Cheesecake: https://www.easy-baking-recipes.com/original-new-york-cheesecake-recipe.html

         In the beginning, my search to find a vegan cheesecake recipe to follow seemed impossible because most required store bought vegan cream cheese. However, I wanted to attempt to make the cream cheese from scratch and decided on a homemade cashew cream cheese recipe for my most important ingredient.

Vegan cheesecake recipe: https://minimalistbaker.com/easy-baked-cheesecake-vegan-gf/

Vegan Cashew Cream Cheese: https://itdoesnttastelikechicken.com/vegan-cashew-cream-cheese/

I am going to be upfront and admit that I did not have high hopes for my vegan cheesecake. Most vegan foods that I have cooked turned out great, but the thought of making something with cheese as the main ingredient completely vegan was terrifying. To start, I made the vegan cream cheese. This was a fairly easy process, but looked unsettling in general. I believe the apple cider vinegar as an ingredient is what made it the most unsettling due to the smell. The overall texture was very similar to cream cheese especially after leaving it in the fridge to cool. 

In my opinion, the best part about the recipe was the crust. It mirrored a graham cracker crust, but was made of oats and almonds. The recipe required the crust to be baked first, which truly made me excited about the cheesecake because of its smell. At this point in my process, I had begun to expect that the cheesecake would actually turn out great. However, that quickly changed when I saw the final results. Appearance was a huge factor in my initial opinion of my cheesecake. To be honest, it looked as if I had really messed up the recipe due to the color and texture. 

Despite its looks, the cheesecake tasted remarkably similar to actual cheesecake. After cooling in the fridge, the texture was similar to the original due to the firmness. I believe its only pitfall was that it was not sweet enough. This could be a matter of opinion and I am sure others would like it without alterations. However, my final thoughts were that it would benefit from having a fruit flavor. A sweeter dessert sounds more enticing, especially as a popular menu item. Overall, the idea of eating a dessert with friends in a popular New York restaurant is appealing and could be a fond memory. I understand the popularity behind a New York style cheesecake because of the nightlife surrounding it.

Notes

  1. “Reuben’s.” menus.nypl.org. Accessed November 23, 2020. http://menus.nypl.org/menus/30454\.
  2. “MAYOR OPENS RESTAURANT: EATS LA GUARDIA SPECIAL, DRINKS LA GUARDIA COCKTAIL AT REUBEN’S.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Mar 29, 1935. http://ezproxy.loyno.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.loyno.edu/historical-newspapers/mayor-opens-restaurant/docview/101530274/se-2?accountid=12168.
  3. CooksInfo. “Arnold Reuben: New York Restaurateur.” CooksInfo, October 4, 2020. https://www.cooksinfo.com/arnold-reuben.
  4. “Brief History of Reuben Sandwich.” Rowlandweb. Accessed November 23, 2020. http://www.rowlandweb.com/reuben/pages/feature/history.
  5. Manoff, Arnold, and Arnold Reuben. Reuben and his Restaurant. New York City, New York, 1938. Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/wpalh001447/.
  6. “Reuben’s: Celebrities and Sandwiches.” Restaurant, April 22, 2020. https://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2012/03/11/reubens-celebrities-and-sandwiches/.
  7. Stradley, Linda. “Cheesecake History.” What’s Cooking America, November 22, 2018. https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/Cheesecake.htm.
  8. “Display Ad 25 — no Title.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Mar 28, 1935. http://ezproxy.loyno.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.ezproxy.loyno.edu/historical-newspapers/display-ad-25-no-title/docview/101489976/se-2?accountid=12168.