“I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” says frontman Sam Margin at the beginning of our journey to find Sydney’s best Reuben sandwich. And that settles the question of whether or not Margin and Scott Baldwin of the Rubens are fond of their sandwich namesake – that rye, corned beef, Swiss cheese and saurkraut concoction New Yorkers are so fond of.
Having spent the day watching two Rubens tackle two hefty Reubens for our video, above, we can see they're starting to rethink the wisdom of naming themselves after a food they weren’t too familiar with until now (well, the spelling's different, we'll grant that). Had the boys known that they would be called upon to cast their verdict on the best Reuben sandwich – the elegant and understated version at Felix in the CBD, or the rustic, double-decker, hunger-buster at Essen on Broadway – they may well have made some different life decisions. For while Time Out’s Chief Food and Drink Critic, Myffy Rigby can see the charms of the classic diner meal, the boys from Menangle are not so sure. “In New York… people would always ask us if we are named after the sandwich,” says Margin, who along with brothers Zaac and Elliott, and childhood friend Baldwin, worked on the band’s self-titled debut album in the Big Apple. “Now that I’ve tasted it I’ll be like, ‘Fuck no!’” Then he goes further. “Is it too late to change our name? We should have gone with something like chicken and mayo, or club sandwich.”
The band’s name is actually the result of a family in-joke, a nickname for the youngest Margin brother, Jethro, who is the only sibling not in the band. It’s certainly no homage to corned beef on rye. Nor is it a veiled reference to the hirsute co-founder of Def Jam Records, Rick Rubin – we checked. However, Margin acknowledges that maybe that could have been a savvy way to get the famous music producer’s attention.
It’s Baldwin, the drummer, who does the majority of the eating during the day’s tastings. Margin is more interested in something a little smoother. “All sandwiches should be eaten with two glasses of wine,” declares Margin at the arrival of the first contender, a slim sandwich at Felix. “I don’t really like food but Scotty does. I’ll take the drinks.” He then swaps his (significant) leftovers for an extra glass of pinot grigio from the excellent Felix wine cellars.
It is this preference for liquid sustenance – not to mention a little bandmate competitiveness – that proves his undoing on the final sandwich. At Essen, where the sandwiches come doubled up and skewered to the board with a sharp knife, he challenges Baldwin to a race: can he finish his stein of beer before the drummer can down his sandwich? Turns out the answer is yes. It also appears that it probably wasn’t the best idea for the digestive health of the rakish lead man (and super pretty boy).
“We shouldn’t have done this. This was a bad idea. Who brought me here?” moans Margin, slumping into one of Essen’s booths.
The life lesson here is don’t name your band after a food you don’t particularly like. Otherwise crafty magazine editors who enjoy a good pun may set you up for a day of eating challenges that leave you feeling a little sick and unable to wash the smell of sauerkraut off your hands.
Which Reuben won? Well, let’s just say the ones who come without the extra ‘e’ were the definite losers.
The Rubens play the Metro Theatre Fri Sep 21. (SOLD OUT) New show added Thu Oct 18. The Rubens also play the Time Out Bar Awards, Sun Oct 21, on Cockatoo Island. The Rubens is out Fri Sep 14.