The iconic Jewish deli sandwich finally done right
Story by Jason Newland
Photos by Robert Evans
The Reuben, a sandwich that exists outside the scope of other sandwiches by having meat that’s brined and cured over many hours until it’s fork tender, is not commonly found outside of Jewish delis in the Northeast United States. Those delis often keep their menus simple. They’ll include a Reuben and a corned beef sandwich; perhaps they’ll offer pastrami, too. They’re not necessarily places to pick up a ham sandwich or a bologna and cheese. They seem to exist to fulfil some quintessential need to feast our eyes on mile-high sandwiches, meaty monsters with tiny little bread hats. A few would go as far as to say the reuben is the pinnacle of sandwiches and if a deli is serving them, why would they bother serving lesser sandwiches? At Leo’s, the Reuben sandwich reigns supreme.
Sadly, a quality reuben is something Seoul has lacked. Sure, Seoul’s had its Reubens here and there, but much like the classic Wendy’s commercials, diners were often left thinking, “Where’s the meat?” Well, there’s good news for the Reuben connoisseurs who’ve found themselves in Seoul, a Reuben that’d likely get a seal of approval from Katz Deli is currently being made at Leo’s in Haebangchon. It’s that good.
Well, there’s good news for the reuben connoisseurs who’ve found themselves in Seoul, a Reuben that’d likely get a seal of approval from Katz Deli is currently being made at Leo’s in Haebangchon.
For the uninitiated, a Reuben is on rye bread, a denser bread than wheat bread with that distinct slightly sour rye flavor. The bread is stacked with thick cut corn beef or pastrami, which is the tradition of deli’s such as Katz or the Carnegie, probably New York’s two best delis for Reubens. Making corned beef is a process that requires time and attention to detail. The meat is brined and cured in salt, and it’s called corned beef because of the small and sometimes hard leftover bits of spice used in the brining process.
Leo’s corned beef is brined and cured for eight to nine hours with his distinct pickling seasonings until it’s almost butter tender. The pickling spice taste simply pops after the amount of time he spends on the brisket. The corn beef is topped with German sauerkraut, the kimchi of the west, and the sauerkraut’s distinct tangy flavor is cut with a slice of swiss cheese and Leo’s handmade Russian dressing. It’s a meaty combination worth busting a gut for and a calorie-filled way to get those healthy probiotics sauerkraut has to offer.
Leo Jehn has been in and out of the Seoul food scene for a long time. He is connected with the music scene, too. Leo’s is his newest offering. He wanted a place to serve nice cocktails and on point corned beef and pastrami sandwiches. A place for bands to play and for people to drink and eat. A place worth visiting. Almost everything about his corned beef and pastrami sandwiches is handmade. The amount of time he puts into his meat is an example of how much he cares to make the best possible sandwiches he can serve. He runs daily specials at Leo’s, too. They rotate, so they’re never going to be exactly the same, but the beef ribs and mashed potatoes he occasionally has as a special are so tender they melt in mouths and leave behind only a quality hint of peppery spice. There isn’t a better place serving reubens in Seoul and, for someone looking for other quality food, there’s no reason not to go to Leo’s to try the Reuben or one of his great specials.
Rejoice, Seoul has worthwhile Reubens. Finally.
Prices: Corn beef or pastrami reuben 17,500 won, corn beef or pastrami sandwich 15,000 won, specials vary daily
Address: Yongsan-gu, Yongsan-dong 2ga 46, 2F
Hours: Weekdays 6pm to 12am, Tuesdays off, Weekends 6pm to 2am