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 Salisbury’s 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. It’s 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 Concord’s Havana Carolina Café, whose chunks of tender roast pork and overall proportions proved excellent but whose bread simply wasn’t crusty enough.
But don’t 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 King’s 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 King’s Kitchen and two Rooster’s 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. It’s also amazing to me that a bakery (of all places) has the best fried chicken I’ve tasted in town this side of Price’s.”
The Cuban ($5.99) had won the Poultry/Other bracket with ease when the Common Market’s 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 year’s 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 doesn’t 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 King’s 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 Fran’s Filling Station (the No. 1 made the tournament).
The meatball banh mi at Le’s 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 it’s barbecue, but several people raved).
The Cuban and the Reuben from Mueller’s.
Prime Rib Dip and fish taco at Moosehead Grill.
The Porky Pig and shrimp po’ boy at Jake’s Good Eats.
The Monterey chicken sandwich and BLT at Crisp.
The seeded beef and the country pate at Amelie’s.
The South Street cheesesteak and the Albacore Tuna at Steak ‘n Hoagie.
The Cuban and grilled cheese with beef brisket at Midwood Smokehouse.
Ding Dong chicken sandwich and the Kinda Fried Turkey at Pinky’s 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 Lulu’s, the salmon ones at The Diamond and Savor, the blackened tuna one at Eez and the fried green tomato version at Dressler’s.
French Dips: The Herban Legend food truck, Lebowski’s and Harper’s at Carolina Place.
And the rest of the list
Chicken salad grinder at Arthur’s.
The Chantilly Wedge at Thomas Street Tavern.
The chicken sandwich at The Liberty.
Chicken bruschetta sandwich at Hawthorne’s Pizza.
The chicken club at Brixx.
The Black & Blue Po’ Boy at Crepe Cellar.
The Greatest Sandwich in the World (really, that’s the name) from Angry Ale’s.
Chicken Philly from Carmella’s.
One Great Chicken from Trio.
Grilled chicken sandwich Picadeli’s.
Southern chicken at Whiskey Warehouse.
The Usual at 300 East.
Turkey melt at Michael Arthurs.
London Broil sandwich at Alexander Michael’s.
Beef brisket on Texas toast at Bobbee O’s.
Beef on weck at Killington’s (Wednesday night only).
Steak in the Grass from Tavern on the Tracks.
The South Charlotte Cheesesteak at Rusty’s.
The Big Diaw at Mortimer’s.
The Royal at Taste of Buffalo.
The Monte Cristo at Cafe Really.
The Muffaletta at Boudreaux’s.
The Sauceman’s Original at Sauceman’s.
The Grindhouse from Boswell’s Sandwich Salvage Company.
The steamed bun at Good Food on Montford.
The Roman Club at Kristopher’s.
Whooli’s Special at Whooli’s 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 Braswell’s.
The Caprese at Ferrucci’s.
The Lulu at Laurel Market
Fire & Brimstone veggie burger from Luna’s Living Kitchen.
Falafel wrap at La Shish Kabob.
The fried green tomato grilled cheese at Gallery.