BATAVIA — Two years after he opened O’Lacy’s Irish Pub, Kent Ewell noticed that his customers were flocking more toward the Reuben sandwich than the beef on weck. So he changed his kitchen and ordering practices to focus on the it.
Rather than ordering cooked corned beef and slicing it in house, he started slow-roasting the meat himself and pulling it apart. That meant that O’Lacy’s, 5 School St., would no longer roast it’s top round for the beef on weck. He also switched from using canned to fresh sauerkraut.
It was a good move.
In the 16 years since he made the Reuben his restaurant’s signature dish, he has seen it grow in popularity to now when he sells more than 250 of the sandwiches per week. At 7 ounces of corned beef per sandwich, that’s 109 pounds of corned beef per week.
“We went through two years, and the Reuben wasn’t even remotely as good as it is now,” Ewell explained Thursday over lunch. “We changed because it didn’t satisfy what I thought we should be doing, the quality that I thought it should have.”
O’Lacy’s serves a classic Reuben with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing on rye bread. It also serves a turkey variation — sometimes called a Rachel — and a Trinity Reuben with corned beef, turkey and pastrami.
The Reuben is so popular, Ewell has added the tag line “People say it’s the best in town” on his menu.
Believed to have originated at Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York City, the Reuben sandwich has been a staple in the Big Apple for 100 years. O’Lacy’s version stands up to the comparison.
What makes a good Reuben is the way the ingredients meld together. The saltiness of the corned beef mixes well with the sweetness of the Thousand Island dressing and the sourness of the sauerkraut.
“I just like the way everything falls in together,” Ewell said. “I love corned beef; I love rye bread, but I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut. But when you put the Thousand Island dressing on it and put everything together, it’s a great flavor.
“And you can tell by looking at me,” Ewell added as he patted his mid-section, “that I like to eat.”
The Reuben, like all sandwiches at O’Lacy’s comes with a choice of side dish, but the most popular is the homemade potato chips. They are a house specialty that are called “almost world famous” on the menu.
Each week, O’Lacy’s goes through more than 300 pounds of chipping potatoes, which come from a local farm. They are sliced thinly and deep fried. In fact, they are the only menu item, aside from the seasonal fish fry, that gets fried.
“When we opened, that’s what I wanted to do, have homemade chips as a specialty,” Ewell said. “They’ve gone over very well.”
Chips come in regular, lemon pepper, garlic, Cajun and cheese varieties, and are accompanied by a sweet dipping sauce.
From the slow-roasted corned beef to the homemade chips, the dish is a time-consuming process.
“Yeah, but it’s what has made this place popular,” Ewell said. “It’s something people come in for.”
The Reuben sandwich sells for $7.99 and comes with one side dish and a dill pickle spear.