Corned beef is the lutefisk of the Irish.
It’s beef brisket cured in brine, and while it doesn’t jiggle like lutefisk or taste like laundry soap, it’s altered beef, just like lutefisk is altered cod.
But it’s a lot better than lutefisk, and in a Reuben sandwich or hash for breakfast, it’s a savory way for Irishmen and Irishwomen to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
Here’s where to find the Four Stars of Corned Beef. Inevitably, the first stop is at Whistle Binkies. Though it’s an English pub — the last place an Irish republican would want to celebrate — they do have plenty of Irish beer and flavor. Their Guinness Reuben ($9.95) has the key ingredient that makes anything Irish, a dose of black stout. The beef is slow-roasted in Guinness and brown sugar, and a half-pound is packed between two slices of chewy caraway rye, along with swiss cheese and a modest helping of sauerkraut, then grilled.
Whistle Binkies puts the dressing on the side, which I appreciate. Back when Arnold Reuben was inventing the sandwich in New York a century ago, at least according to one legend, he used Russian dressing. Thousand Island is a modern compromise; at Whistle Binkies, they have something closer to the spicy-sweet, relish infused taste of a Russian dressing.
They also have a hearty Reuben at Newt’s, which built its empire on burgers and beer but as I noted a few weeks ago, has excellent fish and chips, as well as a memorable Reuben — grilled pumpernickel rye bulging with corned beef sliced as thin as prosciutto, with crunchy sauerkraut and just a touch of tangy dressing. It’s a two-handed affair, and you may want to ask for a bib.
As everyone knows, you can’t beat Newt’s home-cut, skin-on fries.
At Five West Kitchen & Bar, the corned beef is in the hash, and among Five West’s virtues is they’re open for breakfast seven days per week. They’re essentially the house restaurant for nearby hotels in the West Circle Drive area, and what an attractive option for those overnighters. Again, a lot of corned beef hash in restaurants tastes like Dinty Moore, but there’s no question that Five West’s ($9) is house-made. They saute chunks of corned beef with potatoes, onions, carrots and aromatic herbs, and it’s served with horseradish sour cream and two eggs to order.
Last but not least, there’s no more Irish pub in the area than the Olde Triangle Pub in Wabasha, a cozy nook with Gaelic charm, a big map of Ireland for figuring out what county your clan is from, Guinness and Harp on tap and several Irish dishes. The corned beef options are a Reuben on caraway rye and a burger topped with corned beef, but I’m a big fan of the Triangle’s Jameson-flavored Irish stew and robust brown bread.
Among other Reubens in the area, you can’t go wrong at Dooley’s, which adds a dash of spicy mustard to the classic sandwich and also has a Reuben burger. The Canadian Honker also has a good one, and they always plan a big spread for St. Paddy’s Day, including corned beef and cabbage and Aran Island Fisherman’s Pie. At the Honker, Powers Irish whiskey always is preferred to Jameson.
Wherever you go for your party, may the pencil stand up in your beer and the road rise up to meet your designated driver.