The man, the myth and the namesake. Photo by Matt Otto
The man, the myth and the namesake. Photo by Matt Otto

This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

The jumbo Reuben at TOMMY PASTRAMI represents everything glorious and terrifying about America. This is a mighty tower of flesh: fold upon fold of soft, lightly crisped pastrami or corned beef held together by an industrial-strength toothpick, squeezed between slices of rye bread baked that morning, topped with a light white cheese on a foundation of sauerkraut. A glistening dill pickle is on the side, along with the requisite thimble of deli mustard. The bounty of pastrami, wrinkled and vibrantly pink, is vaguely vaginal in appearance—thanks, Judy Chicago!—and alluring.

It's everything you could ask for in a Reuben. The pastrami is succulent and naturally sweet; the corned beef salty and moist. Sauerkraut provides a sharp counterpoint to each meat; the rye is always properly bittersweet; the deli mustard pungent and nostril-searing. There is no other embellishment—except the size. Even in the Brobdingnagian world of Reubens, Tommy's version eclipses all local competitors—Everest to everyone else's Santiago Peak. Grab Tommy's jumbo Reuben with your hands, and half of the meat and sauerkraut immediately plops onto your plate. More meat and sauerkraut falls forth when you finally take a chomp. This process repeats itself with each bite—and still the sandwich, like Jesus blessing fish and loaves, offers even more meat. More sauerkraut. More bread. By the time you finish, there's enough on the plate to feed a class of ravenous kindergartners.

It's quite the spectacle, and you will be fuller than you've been in months . . . but Tommy's Reuben is just too much. Sure, the size of the Reuben warrants its $10 price, but I usually have to split the sandwich with three friends—and these are guys who eat leftovers from Lucille's BBQ for breakfast. Really: Does anyone need a pound of cow inside them? But judging by the lunch lines at Tommy's—located near the campus of the Art Institute of Orange County—the answer is a resounding yes.

All other entrées are similarly large. Soups could quench a cow's thirst; the matzo ball that comes with the chicken soup is about the size of a bocce ball. Hot dogs, Italian roast beef sandwiches, chili with chunks of brisket, hot dogs, cinnamon rolls—all excesses of American empire. But damn if they're not delicious.



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