President Obama visited Ann Arbor, Michigan today, where he spoke at the University of Michigan. With the school’s men’s basketball team noticeably absent from this weekend’s NCAA Final Four tournament, the students could use some cheering up, but that’s not why Obama was there. He was discussing his plan to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016, but first he needed lunch.
He stopped at Zingerman’s, that bastion of Midwestern deli culture, with U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, a Democratic congressman from nearby Bloomfield Township. According to the deli’s Twitter feed, which has been abuzz since lunchtime, Obama ordered the #2: a Reuben.
“The president’s buying,” Peters reportedly told the deli staff.
Zingerman’s, which opened in 1902, was chosen as the site for the Reuben summit because of the fair wages the deli pays its employees. The Reuben, presumably, was chosen because it is a delicious sandwich. (The Reuben at Zingerman’s, I’m told emphatically by a coworker, packs a wallop.)
Accounts differ on the origin of the storied sandwich. Elizabeth Weil offered a compelling take this summer in the New York Times Magazine, in which she argued that her grandfather—her grandfather!—invented it:
Out of each pot, my great-grandfather and his card mates set aside a nickel or a dime to order what they called “a midnight lunch” from room service. One night one of the players, Reuben Kulakofsky, who owned a grocery store that has gone down in family lore as the Zabar’s of Omaha in the 1920s, asked for a sandwich with corned beef and sauerkraut. In the kitchen, my grandfather, who spent the previous year perfecting his sauces and ice-carving skills, drained the sauerkraut and mixed it with Thousand Island dressing. He layered that with homemade corned beef and Swiss cheese on dark rye bread and grilled it. His typewritten notes call for the sandwich to be served with a sliced kosher dill pickle, a rose radish and potato chips. The sandwich was a hit.
Now it’s a presidentially-endorsed hit.
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.