Bow to the champion of the 2012 Observer Tournament of Food:
The Growlers Pourhouse Reuben.
The winning sandwich is a sophisticated and occasionally drippy concoction: corned beef (from Salisburys Freirich Foods) and Gruyere cheese, with sauerkraut doctored in-house with rehydrated juniper berries, a housemade dressing made with the Thai chile sauce called sriracha, and the unconventional addition of housemade, sweet-edged, caraway-seeded slaw, all piled onto marbled rye and grilled, open-face, on a sandwich press. Its then put together and served like a regular sandwich.
A classic, traditional Reuben? No. But it ups the ante on each ingredient, leaning to lushness at every opportunity.
Call it Reubenesque.
Its layered but hearty flavors handily topped a very good Cuban sandwich from Concords Havana Carolina Café, whose chunks of tender roast pork and overall proportions proved excellent but whose bread simply wasnt crusty enough.
But dont assume the $7 Reuben had an easy time of it.
It narrowly escaped a loss in the Beef/Poultry semifinal, when the quietly exquisite, simply excellent fried chicken sandwich from The Kings Bakery nearly made the Reuben look frou-frou. More than one judge wished that matchup had been the championship. Can you just switch them around? asked entertainment editor Théoden Janes.
(He jested, of course: We in Food Tournament Land take our brackets deadly seriously.)
But without a doubt, that duo offered the toughest competition of the entire tournament. I love Jimmy Noble (chef-owner of the Bakery, along with The Kings Kitchen and two Roosters in town), said food editor Kathleen Purvis. But I gotta say, that Reuben hits my happy spot.
The chicken sandwich is the only meal item the Bakery sells; its other comestibles are breads and confections. For $5.95, the sandwich is enormous and puts a beautifully seasoned breast within an exceedingly fresh ciabatta roll, with mustard-seed-and-carrot-studded slaw: a well-thought-out, well-executed thing. To quote Janes, who says he evaluated on an I-would-like-to-eat-that-very-often scale: This is easily a $10 sandwich at a place that has tablecloths and servers who wear black. Its also amazing to me that a bakery (of all places) has the best fried chicken Ive tasted in town this side of Prices.
The Cuban ($5.99) had won the Poultry/Other bracket with ease when the Common Markets Hot Mama ($5.50) a combo of fresh spinach, Havarti, tomato, red pepper and red onion arrived on bread that, as Purvis noted, tasted distinctly stale, with a taste-free tomato.
Congratulations to Jeff Tonidandel and Paul Manley of both Growlers and the sibling (and next-door) Crepe Cellar on the win.
Now: Next years subject? Let me know what you think at email@example.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hsondiningor on Twitter @helenschwab.
WINNER: Reuben at Growlers Pourhouse; 3120 N. Davidson St.; 704-910-6566; www.growlerspourhouse.com.Note: The place doesnt open til 5 p.m. weekdays, but you can get a lunchtime Reuben on Saturdays and Sundays, when it opens at noon.
Special mention: Chicken sandwich at The Kings Bakery; 129 W. Trade St. (entrance on Church Street); 704-375-0769; www.kingskitchen.org/the-kings-bakery.
And, as promised, a rundown of all sandwiches suggested by readers pre-competition just so you can work through them in 2012.
Places with more than one sandwich nominated
The No. 2 and No. 3 turkey and chicken salad sandwich at Frans Filling Station (the No. 1 made the tournament).
The meatball banh mi at Les Sandwich Shop (its grilled pork version made the tournament).
The Montford Special, the Reuben, chicken salad pita and the Firecracker Wrap at Bedder, Bedder & Moore. (Its turkey provolone pita made it.)
The Southern Fancy Pants, the Flaming Homer, the Later Hater, the Tree Hugger, the Darby, the Spicy Turkey, the Tempeh BLT, the Jack Kennedy and any sammich special on the board at the Common Market. (Its Hot Mama made it.)
The Chicken Bruschetta wrap, portobello wrap and fish taco at East Blvd. Bar and Grill. (Its Chicken Philly made it.)
The grilled cheese with pulled pork from the Roaming Fork food truck (not eligible because its barbecue, but several people raved).
Zinks Turkey Pastrami and lobster club.
The Cuban and the Reuben from Muellers.
Prime Rib Dip and fish taco at Moosehead Grill.
The Porky Pig and shrimp po boy at Jakes Good Eats.
The Monterey chicken sandwich and BLT at Crisp.
The seeded beef and the country pate at Amelies.
The South Street cheesesteak and the Albacore Tuna at Steak n Hoagie.
The Cuban and grilled cheese with beef brisket at Midwood Smokehouse.
NoDa 101s grilled cheese, club melt, Reuben, Texas dip and Texas toast chicken Philly melt.
Ding Dong chicken sandwich and the Kinda Fried Turkey at Pinkys Westside Grill.
Specific sandwiches, multiple locations
Speaking of Reubens (beyond the ones already listed): Also nominated were Reubens from Red Rocks at Strawberry Hill, Katz New York Deli, Solstice Tavern and the Bagel Bin, plus the vegetarian Reuben at Comet Grill.
BLTs nominated included those at Lulus, the salmon ones at The Diamond and Savor, the blackened tuna one at Eez and the fried green tomato version at Dresslers.
French Dips: The Herban Legend food truck, Lebowskis and Harpers at Carolina Place.
And the rest of the list
Chicken salad grinder at Arthurs.
The Chantilly Wedge at Thomas Street Tavern.
The chicken sandwich at The Liberty.
Chicken bruschetta sandwich at Hawthornes Pizza.
The chicken club at Brixx.
The Black & Blue Po Boy at Crepe Cellar.
The Greatest Sandwich in the World (really, thats the name) from Angry Ales.
Chicken Philly from Carmellas.
One Great Chicken from Trio.
Grilled chicken sandwich Picadelis.
Southern chicken at Whiskey Warehouse.
Genaros pulled rotisserie chicken sandwich.
The Usual at 300 East.
Hinsons Drive Ins turkey sandwich.
Turkey melt at Michael Arthurs.
London Broil sandwich at Alexander Michaels.
Beef brisket on Texas toast at Bobbee Os.
Beef on weck at Killingtons (Wednesday night only).
Steak in the Grass from Tavern on the Tracks.
The South Charlotte Cheesesteak at Rustys.
The Big Diaw at Mortimers.
The Royal at Taste of Buffalo.
Lulus Croque Madame.
The Monte Cristo at Cafe Really.
The Muffaletta at Boudreauxs.
The Saucemans Original at Saucemans.
The Grindhouse from Boswells Sandwich Salvage Company.
The steamed bun at Good Food on Montford.
The Roman Club at Kristophers.
Whoolis Special at Whoolis Grill.
The All Star at City Deli and Bagel.
The Blitz Sandwich at The Hill.
The lamb gyro from Little Village Grill.
Lamb gyro from Grecco Fresh Grille.
Duck confit at Blackthorne.
Fish taco from Cabo Fish Taco.
Seared tuna from Braswells.
The Caprese at Ferruccis.
The Lulu at Laurel Market
Fire & Brimstone veggie burger from Lunas Living Kitchen.
Falafel wrap at La Shish Kabob.
Sir Edmund Halleys vegetable club.
The fried green tomato grilled cheese at Gallery.