Words: Craig Connolly and Emily Mullen
Photography: George Voronov
Signature Dish is one of the first food features on CHAR. If you’re unacquainted, we would like to welcome you with open and slightly grease-covered arms. With Signature Dish we focus on the overlooked darlings of eateries all over Ireland. All too often, chefs create culinary masterpieces that are passed over in favour of more recognisable dishes on their menus. No longer. We want to celebrate these unsung heroes and give you a new reason to pop in to our favourite restaurants. This week it’s 147 Deli’s reuben.
Facing onto the increasingly Dublin-looking sight of a car lane, that turns into a Luas track, is Deli 147. So named for the number it claims on Parnell street, one of Dublin’s more colourful streets. Starting out on that very spot in 2013/2014, the New York-style deli was a deviation from the Asian food shops and chippers dotted around. But since 147 Deli embedded itself on the street, others have come, the likes of The Big Romance, Restaurant Six, and Mr. Fox down the road. Parnell street is fast becoming an alternative food destination.
Deli 147 has brought much to the sandwich game, or as they say on Parnell street “the sammich” game. The healthy-sized sambos have been the talk of legend around town (as are the queues). But everyone can agree that the place sells some good shit between bread. While the specials board is changed on the regular with jazzy seasonally-filled sambos, 147 Deli has to be known for The Reuben. Which owner of 147 Deli Barry Stephens told us is one of the OGs of the menu.
Layers of precisely cut corned beef, join sliced gherkins, and sauerkraut on a malted multiseed, which is topped with a healthy dose of pink Russian dressing from a squeezy bottle. Make a mean-looking sambo, which can be toasted (which is recommended). When it comes out of the Merrychef, a furnace-like oven and microwave combo, the Reuben is now a gooey masterpiece. It’s the tang that hits you in the face, and cuts through the saltiness of the beef perfectly, while the creaminess and the crunch of the toasted multiseed are just hanging out there in the back of your mouth.
This is no copy-cat Reuben, Stephens has definitely created his own take on it. From using corned beef over pastrami to selecting a malted multiseed (sourced from Arán bakery) over the traditional rye. Even his sauces are all made in-house, which Stephens admits he is a bit “freaky” about. The makeup of the sandwich is even his own twist, choosing to make it more of a combined sandwich instead of the typical pile of meat on some bread with some pickles on the side.
I know people go off and do research and development and stuff like that but I was just broke so I just went onto the internetBarry Stephens, Deli 147
The Reuben has been on 147 Deli’s books since day one, how did you select it for your menu?
I just remember reading about it in America and I tried to recreate my own. I hadn’t had a proper authentic American Reuben sandwich before coming up with this one. I was too busy trying to set this place up. I know people go off and do research and development and stuff like that but I was broke so I just went on the internet.
What are your thoughts on Katz Deli (in New York), since that’s sort of seen as the home of The Reuben right?
Look everyone goes mad about Katz, and it is an institution but I’m not mad on the portion of meat to everything else. Like it looks savage but I’ve never eaten one so I can’t judge, I can only imagine it would be a bit of a fuckin’ nightmare to eat. When I’m doing a sandwich I like to have it in proportion. Like that (gestures towards a 147 Club) I think that’s a big sandwich but something like what Katz makes is bigger and it doesn’t really do it for me.
Speaking of meat, where do you source yours?
I go-between FX Buckley, Mick Doyle Butchers, and Higgins Family Butchers out in Sutton, they are the best for me. I don’t do any of the curing onsite, FX Buckley do it for us and they’ll send it in and we will just build the sambos with it.
It’s such a well-loved sandwich, do you think people will be surprised about that? ‘Cos everyone has these notions about preparing on-site?
Yeah! Certain things we have to buy in because of space. If I was to start curing on-site, I’d have no room. I know you’ll have people going “oh my god they buy their sauerkraut in, they buy this that and the other in, etc.” but to make sauerkraut in the quantity that we use it in, I’d need another cold room just for the occupation of sauerkraut.
The sauce is the seasoning, the sauce brings everything together, without that it’s just good corned beef and sauerkraut.Barry Stephens, 147 Deli
What do you have to make onsite?
The thing that stands out for us in this is the sauce. Condiments are key for us and we make them all. We have a sauce day in the kitchen where me and Mike [the chef] are just in there for a whole Tuesday making sauces for like six, seven sandwiches. That’s what I say to the girls [in the Deli], I’m kinda freaky about the sauces if I see them not doing it exactly the way I want. Because the sauce is the seasoning, the sauce brings everything together, without that it’s just good corned beef and sauerkraut.
Why has the Reuben stayed on the menu the whole time?
It is really popular, and it’s also close to my heart. I actually haven’t had one in a while, but no, I don’t think I’d ever take it off. It’s what we got known for originally. Then kinda other sandwiches came along like the 147 Club started overtaking it because, in Ireland, everyone loves f*cking chicken. I mention chicken and it’s like “aw I’ll have chicken!”. You could say that it’s covered in poop and people are still like, “I’ll have chicken”. But if we ever do a chicken special I try to swerve them, to be honest with you, people just don’t even ask, “like here there’s chicken” and they are like “yeah give me the chicken”.
Is the Reuben your favourite?
People ask me “what’s your favourite sandwich?” and I’m like “today it’s the pulled pork, tomorrow it could be the club, the day after that it’s the Reuben.” you know it all depends, I don’t have a real go-to.”
How do you feel about being known for the Reuben?
Man, we were in the New York Times over our pulled pork, I thought that someone was taking the piss outta me. I will never forget that call, I started laughing and I hung up on your one. And she rang back and was like “no I’m really from New York Times” and I was like “I’m really sorry I just thought it was someone taking the piss.”
When you moved into Parnell street, there wasn’t much going on around?
Nothing, we had just missed the Welcome Inn by a year or two, I was devastated. The Kimchi Hophouse was actually really good back then, it had a cool barman Dun Chung was his name. He was like playing some deadly Northern soul. But that was it really, there was nothing else on the street.
What influenced your decision to come to Parnell street?
A good pal of mine, Eamonn Doyle [photographer and DJ] owns the building, so a friend of mine at the time had a music studio downstairs [D1], so we had just gone round to meet him for lunch. We actually went to Brother Hubbard cos it had just opened “they were like, ah you have to go down and check this place out”. We came back up here and there was a Chinese supermarket called Good Fresh, that was here and the shutters were half down and Doyler was coming in and out of it and I just said to him “what happened here?” and he said “ah they did a legger on the rent” so I was like “do you mind if I have a look in?”. I was doing nothing at the time, and he brought me in, and I just thought “oh my god, it’s fucking perfect. It’s like a big rectangular room there’s a cold room out the back, there’s a little alcove”, you know when you can just see it, see everything. So I said look, “give us a go” so we went for pints in the Stags Head, and we struck a deal and that was it, got the work going and here we are seven or eight or however many years later.
In terms of Parnell street, are you surprised by how it is now? Or did you think it was a matter of time before it got to like the Big Romance going in?
No these things always take time, it takes someone like me or the Big Romance going in and starting to chip away. That makes people stop for a minute and they do look at the area and see what could go in.
I would have loved it if Dublin City Council had given the green light for the Chinese gates on Gardiner Street. I don’t know why they didn’t let that happen, because it’s Chinatown like, let’s call it as it is. It’s great, it’s a cultural hotspot, and that would have been cool and that might have sped up the progress. Cos if you think about it, ideally if it starts here and goes down onto Capel street and then up into town that would be a cool little run of restaurants and bars to get you into town. An awful lot of people start on the Southside, so why don’t they start over here and work their way over from here? But it would be cool to have them and a couple more cool things on Capel street, it could end up like Camden street like.
This interview took place on December 1st before the pandemic kicked us in the guts once more. After a three-month closure, 147 Deli has reopened its hatch for takeaway business. So next time you’re traipsing around the locale, join the queue and when the time comes grab a Reuben with both hands. You are also well within your rights to order a chicken sandwich, you will just be silently judged by Barry Stephens (and us).