I believe blue collar towns always have good sandwiches. Whether it’s the shorter lunch times, the need for something that can be eaten while driving to the next job site, or simply a need for something substantial and filling, every working-class town has its great sandwiches.
With Philadelphia, it’s the cheesesteak.
With Pittsburgh, it’s the french fry-covered monstrosities prepared in Primanti Bros. shops.
With Buffalo, it’s the beef on weck.
Here in Detroit, we’re blessed with a number of great sandwiches.
Faithful readers will recall the big and tasty ham sandwiches at Mike’s Ham Place: https://iwriteforfood.com/338-2/
Or the Boogaloo Sandwich, originally from the late Brothers BBQ, recreated by Chef Greg at the Soul in the Wall Cafe: https://iwriteforfood.com/you-too-can-do-the-boogaloo/
But those aren’t all.
In fact, when I considered it, I believe Detroit has 5 great sandwiches. And we’re not counting coneys, so slow down on that whole “hot dogs aren’t a sandwich” argument.
So for the next 3 posts, we’ll be exploring the other 3 great sandwiches.
For this month, that great sandwich is the Reuben, at Hygrade Deli.
The Reuben is a classic sandwich, dating back to the early 1900s. The exact history is a bit hazy, with some accounts attributing its origin to Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York City. Others state the OG Reuben was created at the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska. Regardless of origin, the recipe remains the same: grilled rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing.
Hygrade is a classic deli, dating back to the mid-1950s. Originally located in Detroit’s Western Market (yes, there used to be a Western Market), near 18th Street and Michigan Avenue.
Both Eastern and Western Markets were commissioned in 1891, by Detroit’s Common Council. When construction of the Fisher Freeway (I-75) destroyed the Western Market in 1965, Hygrade moved a few miles west, down the Avenue to its present location.
But I digress; back to the sandwich!
So what makes a great Reuben?
Well, in this case, it’s the meat, the corned beef at the heart of every Reuben. At Hygrade, the beef is incredibly tender, flavorful, lean, and well-trimmed.
That tenderness is the product of a few things: how the beef is cooked, how it’s sliced, and who’s doing the slicing.
Meet Stuart Litt. Stuart is the owner of Hygrade Deli, purchasing the shop from his father, Bernie. Bernie got his start at his shop, Billy’s Deli, on 7 Mile and Livernois, in the early 60s. Uniquely Detroit, that deli was a union shop! Bernie bought Hygrade in 1972, and Stuart has been running the slicer since then–an amazing 46 years of experience!
While Stuart starts with Sy Ginsberg’s corned beef, he buys the briskets pickled, but uncooked. The briskets are cooked in-house, 5 or 6 at a time. Stuart states it’s a Jewish recipe, heavier on the garlic than the Irish recipe. After 4 or 5 hours, depending on size, the briskets are done.
Then they’re trimmed and placed in the slicer.
Here’s where those years of experience come into play. For the first 90 minutes of each workday, Stuart mans the slicer. Slicing across the grain, he prepares the day’s supply of brisket.
If the meat is a bit tougher, Stuart slices it thinner, so it will be a more tender bite. If you always cut the same size slices, less tender briskets would result in tougher sandwiches.
If the meat has some internal fat, Stuart will take it off the slicer, and trim out that fat.
And once the flat part of the brisket is sliced, he will flip the brisket, so he can continue to slice the meat across the grain, as the deckle (cap) fibers run in a different direction.
The end result is corned beef that is tender, lean, flavorful, and delicious. Like a good Texas smoked brisket, the meat has just a bit of pull when you bite. It’s tender, not mushy.
It’s a maestro’s touch, resulting in perfect Reubens every time.
And it’s why the Hygrade Deli Reuben is one of Detroit’s 5 Best Sandwiches.
Hygrade Deli is located at 3640 Michigan Avenue in Detroit. Hours are Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., and Saturday 7 a.m. – 2 p.m. Closed Sundays.http://www.hygradedeli.com
The interior may look a bit familiar, as it has starred in an episode of Detroit 1-8-7, and in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s where Superman’s mom, played by Diane Lane, worked as a waitress. Stuart says Zach Snyder is a fantastic guy, and Diane is just as pretty in person.