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Food for good

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Thinking this past week about St. Joseph's Day (did you know he is the patron saint of pastry chefs? Neither did I), and it's charitable, as opposed to culinary, traditions, I was reminded that one aspect of the holiday traditionally has been that a feast is prepared in honor of St. Joseph, who answered the prayers of the people of Sicily in the Middle Ages, bringing them rain after a terrible drought. Part of this tradition is that food, or donations received from those partaking of the feast, are given to the needy.

What can we do, though, if not holding our own St. Joseph's Day feast? Currently, I know of two efforts to do good through dining out (and if anyone knows of other such efforts, please let me know).

One is via the Chicago Diner, the meatless Lake View eatery that often incorporates disaster relief efforts into their menu. Through April 1, $1 will be given to Japanese earthquake relief efforts from every Titanic BLT burger or Lucky Leprechaun Shake sold at the Chicago Diner. The proceeds will go to Direct Relief International and AmeriCares, each of which is working to provide disaster relief in Japan.

Another type of charitable effort has been taking place at Outback Steakhouses. So far, Outback has given more than $1 million to Operation Homefront, a national non-profit providing emergency financial and other assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors. The money is raised through the contribution customers, when they order items from Outback's Red, White and Bloomin' menu. You can still help add to that $1 million figure, as this menu will be available at Outback through April 5. If you can't make it to an Outback before then, you can also visit Operation Homefront's website if you want to learn more and help that organization out.

There is alot we can do to help each other out. These are two little ways we can contribute something, but it is something, and collectively, our efforts just may be significant somehow.

Reubenesque, Round 2

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When I announced that I was on a quest to find the best reuben sandwiches around, I got a few suggestions of places to try, but none as unusual as that which came from my friend Dave Awl.

He suggested something called "The Radical Reuben," from the Chicago Diner, at Halsted and Roscoe. Why is this reuben sandwich so "radical"? Well, it's because the sandwich is made without what many would call a key ingredient of the reuben, corned beef. They do it this way there because the Chicago Diner is a non-meat serving eatery.

I was the epitome of skepticism when I got Dave's suggestion -- my grin upside down, my eyes rolled, the whole bit -- but I decided what the heck, I like disaster movies, so it could be fun to try what was certain to be a disaster of a sandwich. It could make good copy.

Well, I was shocked, but not by how bad this reuben was. In short, I've got to say that meat or not, it is one of the best reubens I've ever had -- maybe among the top two or three at this point.

The bread on this sandwich is marbled rye, as it should be, and on it are onions, peppers, sauerkraut, non-dairy "cheese," vegan Thousand Island dressing and the "meat" is seitan. Additionally, the Chicago Diner, though they don't serve meat, is still a Chicago place, so they don't skimp on anything, not to mention the "meat-like" product. The seitan is cooked as well as it could be and there's not much difference in taste between it and corned beef (of course there is no beef fat to deal with, which is also a nice touch). It's a hearty sandwich that tastes great. If you can get past the idea, especially in a town once known as "hog butcher to the world," of eating a vegetarian reuben, you're in for quite a surprising treat. I definitely will be back for this reuben again.

Also, the Chicago Diner, in a "Reubens for Wildlife" campaign, is donating $1 from every one of these reubens sold through August 31 to Gulf Coast wildlife rescue organizations. Could this sandwich get anymore animal-friendly?

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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