Kramer: Save tailgating with a reuben
David Kramer | Friday, October 16, 2020
Time and again, the cultural richness of Notre Dame’s riveting football landscape has flirted with recognition under this bold title. In a city otherwise subdued and uninspired, the sheer cultural richness of Notre Dame Stadium has made South Bend a “classic” destination for avid fans and tourists alike. An A-list pipeline of electric players have catalyzed the storied history of America’s favorite game since 1877. The nation’s oldest university marching band has soundtracked the traditions that flood our coliseum’s 80,000 seats.
But most distinctly, the “classic” tailgate experience in Catholic Disneyland proves unmatched in the Midwest. The chain of pop-up tents and hilariously excessive food displays throughout campus make for a dangerously easy feast. Sure, the iconically awkward conversations between alumni and “friends of Sheryl’s daughter’s friends” lead to some serious sober regrets on Sunday morning. But the tailgate food enjoyed while drunkenly mumbling about the mediocre South Bend weather never fails to make your roommate’s brother’s friend’s invite beyond worth it.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it goes without saying that Notre Dame faces a pregame environment like no other. The University’s ban on formal tailgates, while necessary, threatens our annual status as a “classic” football atmosphere. Even as we near the season’s midpoint, students still find themselves scrambling for a safe, lively and permissible alternative to the beloved tailgating in Stadium Lot. Even the mention of sharing a family-sized buffalo chicken dip or pasta salad sends the army of HERE ambassadors running — and no, they’re not hungry.
Apart from the vast network of alumni offering their best family recipes, where does this University stand as a tailgate food hub? Where would we find a truly “classic” pregame meal to help salvage a shared tailgate experience in 2020?
Excuse me while I make my case for Notre Dame’s reuben sandwiches as a primed choice.
Heralding from New York City streets, the reuben epitomizes the prized work of working-class American immigrants in the early twentieth century, a storyline that nicely aligns with Notre Dame football’s founding. The undeniable centerpiece of the meal, a heaping mound of corned beef, bears the marks of historic Irish cuisine. When paired with homemade sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and smooth thousand island dressing, the reuben delicately balances the craved greasiness of bare-bones stadium food with the freshness of mom’s cooking that typically lines the streets outside Rockne’s house. Students wishing to wander aimlessly through South Quad or Library Quad on Saturdays can hold a perfectly rich meal in one hand, a frost-brewed Coors Light (in a closed container, I guess?) in the other.
If you find yourself missing tailgate food this season, I offer a definitive ranking of Notre Dame’s reuben sandwiches. I do accept Venmo.
4. “Da’ Blarney” at O’Rourke’s Public House
The (somehow) consistently relevant pub serves its reuben in both an open-faced and close-faced style. Venture to Eddy Street for a massive pile of corned beef, one so overwhelming that the bottom piece of marble rye bread quickly grows soggy. I try to avoid any fork-and-knife operation at all costs on the rapid-moving game day. Enter at your own risk. You’ll be there for a while.
3. McAlister’s Deli
The heavily overlooked McAlister’s prides itself on freshness. Despite its painfully dull atmosphere and distance from Notre Dame’s social nucleus, its reuben fares no differently. Cured to perfection, their sauerkraut and corned beef throws a fresh 1-2 punch that never feels like a cheat day. But as the great Gucci Mane said, “If you don’t got no sauce, then you’re lost.” Expect the Thousand Island dressing to disappoint.
2. Legends of Notre Dame
Look to Legends for all of your last-minute reuben needs as it offers a tried-and-true sandwich at a reasonable share of Flex Points. Their rendition tops its corned beef with grilled onions, a brilliant savory complement to its mildly salted corned beef. Given that this addition strays from the customary recipe, however, my hope to instill an authentic culinary tradition leaves Legends out of the top spot.
The gem of the Morris Inn serves a conveniently Flex Points-covered reuben within feet of the pregame action that persists on campus. Appropriately compact for a game day, the handheld option at Rohr’s masters the sandwich’s proportions without reinventing it, outstretching a simple yet flavorful staple in its purest form.
During these unprecedented times, let’s take care of ourselves out there. A classic reuben might be a good start.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.