Few sandwiches have as much to live up to as the pastrami Reuben, considering it’s a staple of such legendary spots as New York City’s Katz and Carnegie delis and Greenblatt’s in Los Angeles. Happily, in the Bay Area, the sandwiches at Refuge Pastrami, with locations in San Carlos and Menlo Park, can stand up to such pedigreed pastrami Reubens.
Refuge owner Matt Levin and his partner, chef Michael Greuel, have perfected the Refuge’s pastrami using the “navel” cut of beef and a long process of trimming, spicing, smoking and steaming to produce heavenly, delicious cured meat.
The Refuge’s Reuben comes in three varieties: the traditional pastrami Reuben ($17) with sauerkraut, melted Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on toasted rye, as well as a coleslaw variety ($17) or the plain swiss and mustard, sans dressings ($15). Though the sandwich is packed with thick-cut pastrami, have no fear, the toasted rye holds up wonderfully to the juiciness of the meat.
Initially, it’s tempting to balk at the price tag: 17 bucks for a sandwich. However, the sandwich is not only addicting, but massive—you’ll have at least half left over to share. That is, if you can resist tearing into your leftovers on your ride home.
Refuge is not a deli, nor is it quite a sandwich board bistro. The restaurant serves a selection of imported (predominantly Belgian) and domestic craft beers. The Menlo Park location, which opened in spring 2013, has a large bar stretching along one wall of the restaurant. The bar offers a substantial bottled beer list and 24 taps with beers that are regularly changed. The menu includes Belgian favorites such as La Chouffe, Chimay, Duvel and Kwak, as well as pours from domestic craft breweries such as Allagash Brewing Company.
In addition to its pastrami, Refuge serves burgers, cheesesteaks and other sandwiches meant to pair well with sturdy brews. The Ohio burger ($14), served with grilled onions and a hint of brown sugar to the patty, partners well with a spiced, alcohol-heavy Belgian ale. The chopped chicken liver ($9) is my favorite menu item outside the Reuben. Served with rye toast, pickled red onions and whole grain mustard, the creamy, gamey pate makes for a tasty starter—be sure to save some to smear on your Reuben. Pungent garlic fries ($6)—served with a spicy, creamy chile mayo—pair particularly well with a hop-heavy IPA.