March 18th, 2012
Your St. Patty’s Hangover Cure: Corned Beef
Corned beef: That beautiful intersection of Jewish and Irish-American cultures. Good tasting and bad for you. I started corning beef soon after I received a copy of Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, and I discovered that smoking a brisket to Texan perfection is a bit trickier than it looks. However, given the 10-15 days of corning (brining) and my au courant impetuosity, there are days that out-sourcing said melding of beef, fat, salt, and pickling spices are a must. Plus it’s a great hangover cure. The commercially prepared briskets at the grocery store are painfully salty and devoid of real flavor, so where should you go?
Kahn’s Deli in Rice Village. Several native Houstonians have lit up at the memory of the original Kahn’s on Stella Link. Alfred’s son Mike hung up his spurs a couple of years ago, but the sandwiches live on. Before my cardiologist had a heart-to-heart with me, I’d dive into the Olajuwon—an already hefty Reuben (corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing, Swiss on Rye) with the addition of a split, grilled knockwurst. Your dining partners will admonish that it’s too much and turn away in disgust. Nod and don’t offer them a bite.
Katz’s on lower Westheimer is notable for its late hours and fried pickles. But you won’t find me endorsing their corned beef or reuben. I’m picky like that.
I didn’t want to add Hay Merchant simply because of their months of pre-opening hype, but they offered “pastrami lengua” on the menu. Now, I totally get the “I don’t eat anything that can lick me back” principle, but this is shaved so deli thin that you won’t realize it’s lengua looking back at you. I add it to the list, because it’s so damned tasty—as corned beef. Pastrami is simply corned beef that’s been coated in a coriander/pepper mix and smoked, and is how I frequently finish half of my corning attempts. On my first visit, the bite of coriander, pepper and smoke was sorely missing, but it certainly qualified as a tasty corned beef. I don’t see it on the online menu. Maybe it’s been removed already. Shame.
If you must venture outside the Loop, Kenny and Ziggy’s provides a safe haven in the Galleria area. If you’re dining in, there’s a solid, high-stacked sandwich or you can order by the pound and get it to go. It’s good, New York style corned beef, not as salty as some expect. Definitely recommended.
As a seasonal addition, The Tasting Room in Uptown Park has cobbled together a Reuben that’s getting early Twitter buzz, most notably for its take on Russian Dressing (roughly Thousand Island’s with horseradish). In place of horseradish, TTR’s addition is a dollop of caviar. The nomenclature would give credence to the variation. Hmmm. I’m recommending it blindly, but only because I’m going to be there with you trying it for the first time.
The charming Heights restaurant Zelko Bistro offers both a Reuben (pictured above) on their sandwich menu, and corned beef and cabbage on their “main stage” menu. That shows some confidence and the reviews back them up. (BTW – If fried, green tomatoes are available, ORDER them.) And now that I think about it, I’ve got a coupon for Zelko that expires at the end of the month. Time for more testing.