The Underground Gourmet has nothing against sending a mail-order fruitcake to the gastronome on your holiday gift list (provided, of course, that the fruitcake is made by Berkeley preserves specialist June Taylor). But who in their right mind wouldn't rather receive a nice Reuben sandwich in the mail? Zingerman's, the excellent Ann Arborbased purveyor of everything from Hungarian Liptauer cheese to sour-cream coffee cake, has practically made Reuben-giving a sacred holiday tradition at least that's how it is chez UG. And although you will find no reference to corned beef, sauerkraut, or Swiss cheese in any of the works of Charles Dickens, according to Brad in the Zingerman's mail-order department, the company ships approximately 3,000 Reuben kits every year, 1,000 of which are ordered in the month of December. That may not approach national fruitcake numbers, but you have to consider the fruitcake regifting factor no one, as far as the UG knows, has ever regifted a Zingerman's Reuben.
Zingerman's ships the sandwich kits (some assembly required) overnight in an iced-down Styrofoam box. The package contains tubs of Russian dressing, coleslaw, potato salad, some full-sour pickles; Emmentaler cheese; a loaf of excellent Jewish rye; "Magic" brownies for dessert; and your choice of either Niman Ranch pastrami, turkey, or our favorite, the succulent, rosy-pink corned beef. Everything, besides the pastrami and the cheese, of course, is made in-house, and you'd be hard-pressed to find better individual ingredients were you to dodge around town in a frenzy picking them up from your favorite deli, bakery, cheesemonger, and pickle maker.
As far as assembling your Zingerman's Reuben goes, ignore the sketchy instructions included in the kit. Instead of heating the bread in the oven and piling on the ingredients cold or at room temperature, do as the UG does and construct a more traditional Reuben: Heat the corned beef in either a steamer or in a foil packet with a sprinkling of water in a toaster oven. Generously lather two slices of the rye with butter (not included). Place the warm corned beef, two slices of cheese, and a gob of Russian dressing on the unbuttered side of one of the slices of bread and cover with the other slice. Then cook the sandwich butter-side down on a griddle as you would a grilled-cheese sandwich. When the cheese has melted and the bread is golden brown, remove the sandwich from the griddle and add some coleslaw. (A note to Reuben classicists: You can request sauerkraut instead of coleslaw when you place your order.) Eat your Reuben with a side of potato salad and a pickle. Eggnog is optional. Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld
Zingerman's; 888-636-8162; a Reuben kit for two is $75; one for four is $95.