Yes, finally, the time has come. I know I'm certainly not the first vegan blogger to write about the Radical Reuben at the Chicago Diner. It seems as though every vegan who visits the windy city (at least, every vegan who also happens to write online), is careful to make a stop at this famed restaurant, serving delicious vegetarian and vegan cuisine since the 1980s, and almost all of them seem to know to try the Reuben.
Finally, I can get over my jealousy. (Of course, now I'm just jealous of those who live in Chicago and can visit the Diner on a regular basis). This sandwich is certainly special. It's been called the best vegan reuben in existence and even though VegNews published their recipe, replication is not easy, as Upton's seitan, the brand they purportedly use, is not available in stores.
After an evening in Hyde Park, and on our way north to Milwaukee, I had to insist we make a stop. After a 30 minute wait (not bad for what I believe was a Saturday afternoon), we got a booth and I was able to sample not only the famed Radical Reuben, but it's counterpart, specially available for the spring/summer only, the California Reuben.
The California Reuben is similar to the Radical Reuben except that the seitan is marinated and prepared to resemble 'turkey' rather than corned beef or pastrami (being from California, I had to laugh), and instead of kraut the sandwich is topped with a crunchy slaw. I was also somewhat confused when the sandwiches arrived, as with the Radical Reuben the dressing for the sandwich was on the side, whereas with the California Reuben, I suppose it's mixed into the slaw. This led to me demolishing my half of the Radical Reuben without even adding the sauce. What can I say, I was hungry and it was still incredible.
The Chicago Diner has also wisely adopted the popular Daiya cheese on their sandwiches. I am a fan of Daiya in general, but I do feel it has a slightly sweet flavor that now I notice it, can be a little distracting. Not being a big fan of fake cheeses in general, I don't claim to be an expert, but in my limited experience, I do feel Daiya is the best and approve of this choice.
I'll just get the obvious over with and reassure you that yes, the Chicago Diner Radical Reuben is just as mind-blowing as everyone says. I think I was literally speechless after my first couple bites. It is very meat-like, which means that vegans with an aversion to the texture and appearance of meat may be put off by it. But those of us with some nostalgia for this messy, hearty deli sandwich, it hits the spot. (And I am in no way a vegan that 'misses' meat or cheese--not at bit).
That said, the sandwich is very juicy, so the bread got a bit soggy. But over all, the proportions were good, the flavors were perfect, the sandwich was very filling and satisfying...and you even got a nice range of choices on sides.
In case you were wondering, the California Reuben was different -- the seitan didn't just have a different color, but tasted different, too, though it was hard to pinpoint in what way exactly--slightly more 'chickeny' perhaps. It was just as juicy and delectable as the Radical, and the slaw instead of kraut was a nice variation. If you can only choose one, I leave it up to you. You can't really go wrong with either.
All in all, it seems redundant to try to rate it. I understand why this is the best, and I certainly urge another in the area to try it out. Followed by a Temptation soy ice cream shake, no matter how full you are.
The Chicago Diner
The Radical Reuben - Seitan, onions, peppers, sauerkraut, vegan Thousand Island, cheese on marble rye. (May need to specify vegan cheese).
The California Reuben (available Spring-Summer 2010) - Roasted agave mesquite "turkey" seitan with vegan coleslaw and cheese on marble rye.
Both 10 bucks.
Served with one side.
And a pickle!