Food for Thought’s “Grilled Rachel”

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I’ve always had a specific qualm with the Reuben sandwich, which is the classic combination of corned beef, sauerkraut and russian dressing on rye bread. Now, I have nothing against sauerkraut, but when it’s compared to the cole slaw featured on a traditional Rachel? There’s no question, cole slaw wins. So, in my opinion, the pinnacle of Reuben-making would be to combine the best of each and have a corned beef and cole slaw combo. And what are the odds, I found just that over at the Food for Thought Deli in Oakland.

Passing by, FFT doesn’t look like it should be home to such a wide variety of high quality lunch options; it’s just a small storefront that makes it look more like a neighborhood grocer than anything. But everything inside is fresh, prepared perfectly, and has a certain homestyle feel to it, which is something I look for in a deli. As the customer, I want to connect to the people working there and the atmosphere of the deli as well as the food. At FFT, you get all three.

Now, about that Rachel. As I mentioned, it consists of “corned beef, cole slaw, swiss cheese and russian dressing on grilled rye bread”. For starters, this is no wimpy Rachel: each ingredient is layered high on top of the next, making for a substantial sandwich that takes both hands and all ten fingers to control. As soon as you hold it, the bread makes an impression: it’s grilled just right; it’s got that golden look to it and there’s a definite crunch, but it bends enough, so as to be forgiving with the abundance of filler. The swiss cheese is basically here for a little something extra that melts with the bread, adding to the classic rye flavor, but the sandwich really comes down to the three all-star ingredients.

First, there’s the fantastic corned beef. It’s sliced thinly enough to ensure ease of eating, but it’s still thick enough so that you’re biting into a quality piece of meat every time. The salty quality in the beef counters the sweet-and-sour duo in the cole slaw and russian dressing, both of which meld into one being and provide the perfect refreshing compliment to the beef. The cole slaw adds a good crunch so as to vary the texture in the sandwich’s filler. And my favorite part of any sandwich in the Reuben/Rachel family, the russian dressing, is once again fantastic. The grilling process turns the dressing a little thinner than usual, which enables it to coat literally everything in the sandwich, and as it was dripping off, it took all of my will power not to lick my plate.

At Food for Thought, they’ve got a lovely little business going every day. They have a ton of specialty sodas that add more quirk to an already interesting deli (I recommend the Pennsylvania Punch to anybody who likes grape soda), and the fact that sandwiches are served on a simple styrofoam plate with only a pickle and chips as sides makes it a genuine delicatessen paradise, which is exactly what you would expect from a city like Pittsburgh.

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