Mini reviews: Corned beef

A lot of times, because of the highly fast-paced and pressurized nature of my work - in addition to my various journalistic duties at The Day, I am also a well-compensated hit man - it's necessary to grab a quick bite on the run. While this is not ideal in the parameters of "the leisurely dining experience" one associates with restaurant reviews, it's nonetheless a recurring situation many of us face.

In that spirit, here are three savories I've recently enjoyed. In an even greater context, given that it's St. Patrick's week, all of them feature corned beef!

Poutine "All The Way,"

the Black Sheep, Niantic

What you've got here is everything you ever need to maintain caloric vigor and eternal happiness. (Well, perhaps not "eternal.")

Start with skins-on French fries lathered in chicken gravy. Have a surgeon carve thick but tender slabs of beautifully cooked, flavorful and lean corned beef - not prepackaged slices from a grocery store's deli - and ladle them across the potatoes and gravy. Now, melt Swiss cheese into a toasty shroud over the whole construct. Play with it like a little kid!

A note: in New Orleans, you could get variations of this on an actual po'boy loaf, but I'm not complaining. That such a dish exists in our immediate southeastern Connecticut neighborhood - in the always welcoming environs of the Black Sheep - is sometimes what happens when you pray and the Food Gods answer.

Reuben Pizza, the Recovery Room, New London

A word to the cautionary: Chef Luigi's Reuben Pizza is not a regular menu item, but it pops up tantalizingly on the Specials board. And, yes, to answer your question, it's "Reuben" like the sandwich.

I recently shared one with my pal, Pete Detmold, and, maybe like yourself as you read this, the initial thought was, "Hmm. I'm not sure this is a good idea."

The more we discussed the possibilities, though, the more intriguing it seemed. For one thing, one aspect of a traditional Reuben - corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and horseradish on rye - is that the bread can get soggy. On the wonderfully crispy and delicately olive oil'd pizza crust they make at the Recovery, this provides a sturdy anchor for the various ingredients.

Toppings-wise, then, there was abundant shredded corned beef, dollops of sauerkraut, a steamy horseradish presence, and, in a brilliant move, an undercurrent of cream cheese slathered on the crust to go with more traditional mozzarella topping. No tomato sauce required. Is there an element of an "acquired taste" to the project? Maybe. Detmold and I both liked it immediately - but by the end, we REALLY liked it.

Grilled Turkey and Corned Beef Reuben, North End Deli, Groton

This dish, too, was discovered on the NED daily specials board. I think it pops up with some regularity; since they offer excellent turkey sammiches and a very fine traditional Reuben, I suspect it can be replicated even if it's not March and there aren't leprechauns lurking around.

The first thing you should know is that this is a monstrously large item. Adam Whatsis from "Man Vs. Food" would weep to behold this - but they would be tears of joy.

The turkey and the corned beef are both carved before your eyes - unless you're seated facing away from the kitchen. But the point is, these are prepped-on-site meats, sliced thinner than an atom, then stacked atop one another in Dagwood-ian fashion. Swiss cheese, homemade Thousand Island dressing, and sauerkraut clumps are apportioned precisely betwixt hearty rye slices - all calculated to augment the principal meaty flavors rather than overwhelm. It's a question of balance, and the answer to the question is ... AWESOME.

Beware: the width of this sandwich is such that I could imagine the corners of my mouth splitting as I endeavored to fit the Reuben in my mouth. Cool!

Details about the dishes

Poutine "All the Way"
$10
The Black Sheep
247 Main St., Niantic
(860) 739-2041, theblacksheepniantic.com

Reuben Pizza
$13.95
The Recovery Room
445 Ocean Ave., New London
(860) 443-2619, therecoveryroomnl.com

Grilled Turkey and Corned Beef Reuben
$9.95
North End Deli
969 Poquonnock Road, Groton
(860) 448-0600, northenddeli.com

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