The Reuben was awesome.
Those are four words I never thought I’d write. But here we are in 2018—an age brimming with once-inconceivabilities. And so there it is.
It’s not that I harbored a vendetta against the sandwich; I just never met one I particularly liked. All my previous Reuben run-ins amounted to virtually indistinguishable configurations of salty processed meat, two-note canned sauerkraut (those notes being harsh and tinny), and soulless, insipid rye bound together by melted cheese product and a mediocrity-obfuscating slick of fat and sugar disguised as Russian dressing.
That is, until I walked into Grateful Grind, a coffee shop by the University at Buffalo South Campus.
There, thick-cut corned beef ($9.95), made on premises, proved key to upending my preconceived Reuben notions. The burnished edges of the slices refuted a lackluster boiled origin story and provided a welcome patina of roasted, mouth-filling meaty flavor.
Coupled with house-fermented cabbage—all tang, no tin—and just the right amount of dressing, it was more than enough to compensate for the nondescript, commodity Swiss. I only wish it came on bread with character.
Grateful Grind also excels at pulled pork, which arrived swathed in sweet barbecue sauce and topped with a nippy cole slaw ($9.95). In this case, the bread of choice—a hard roll—proved a sound one. Its spongy innards turned delightfully squidgy with meat juices without compromising the sandwich’s structural integrity.
Both the Reuben and pulled pork came with house-fried cinnamon sugar tortilla chips of inconsistent quality. On one occasion, they teetered close to the brink of stale and tasted vaguely of oil past its peak. On the next visit, the chips were warm, crisp and fresh. Take that gamble, or upgrade to regular or sweet potato fries for 99 cents.
A morning-leaning option called the breakfast sandwich alternative ($6.95) is served all day but doesn’t come with chips. Comprised of roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli, two eggs and cheese on toasted sourdough, it read all sorts of promising on paper but fell short of pleasing upon execution. The cheese was of the same insipid variety that nearly compromised my reality-altering Reuben, and the entire thing lacked salt. It wasn’t bad, just unremarkable.
The same was true of the composed salad ($7). Featuring spring greens, olives, lightly grilled zucchini, raw carrot coins and the slightest allusion of balsamic vinaigrette, it left an impression of virtuosity at the expense of pleasure. An addition of homemade hummus ($1 extra) might have broken up the tedium of under-dressed roughage, but, alas, the kitchen was out.
In addition to sandwiches, Grateful Grind offers tacos in pork, chicken, bean and shrimp varieties ($5.50), fruit smoothies (starting at $5.95) and bespoke wraps ($9.95). There’s also a slew of espresso drinks and bean-alternative lattes made with the likes of turmeric and beet root.
Get there early to snag a parking spot and a table, and then sip something warm over a good book (or Instagram). By the time lunch rolls around, your appetite will be primed for that Reuben, and you’ll be at the front of the line that starts queuing by noon.
Grateful Grind Coffee
3225 Main St. (831-3739)
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Price range: $5.99 to $12.95 for wraps and sandwiches. $5.50 for tacos. Pastry items generally under $3.
Gluten-free options: No special menu.
*Read previous Cheap Eats here.