I know I’m not the only one who watched the Berlin episode of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” and was totally sold on schnitzel. Right? Not the only one who thought to myself, “Pounded, tenderized, breaded, deep-fried veal, and somehow I’ve never given this dish much thought,” right?
On another note, it’s a great feeling when you discover that “signature” item on a menu, and you know it’s what you will go to that restaurant for, you almost come to identify that place with the meal and nothing else. It might be the crispy szechuan pork at Rice Bowl in Tallahassee, or the lamb tibs at Dukem in Washington, D.C. In this case, it is my sandwich discovery of the year in the Tampa area: the Veal Schnitzel Reuben at Mr. Dunderbak’s.
Mr. Dunderbak’s is an incredibly cozy little beer hall and German restaurant near the University of South Florida campus. It is a perfect establishment for drinking, eating, and lounging, and it has some damn fine schnitzel, potato pancakes, and sausages. The Schnitzel Reuben, available with pork or veal schnitzel, has apparently been on the menu for some time. I never saw it, at the absolute bottom of the sandwich page, obscured under a 12-ingredient monstrosity called The Dunder-Bomb that seems fit for Man vs. Food.
As for gauging the excellence of the Veal Schnitzel Reuben, a few convenient points of comparison courtesy of my former jottings will help. For commonality of ingredients, the Grouper Reuben at Skipper’s Smokehouse is a good place to start. Really, it’s hard to imagine rye bread, swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing tasting bad on anything; I think I could happily eat peanut butter with that bread and those toppings. Mr. Dunderbak’s does not discredit the Reuben category in that respect. The Fried Pork Tenderloin sandwich from Hott Mess is another associated act, as the tenderized and fried tenderloin resembles schnitzel in texture and appearance (although many believe, as I do, that the veal filet is the truest, most defining aspect of schniztel). Any similarities with that sandwich end there. And from Datz, a comparison can be made with the Chicken and Waffle BLT, in the sense that I was skeptical as hell that a food like schnitzel could function well as a sandwich ingredient.
The Veal Schnitzel Reuben far surpasses the latter two in taste, texture, and, perhaps most importantly, structural integrity. With the quality of the ingredients never in doubt, my only concern was how the various components would interact in sandwich form. With credit to the kitchen staff, it holds together like a sandwich, at no point threatening to become a fork-and-knife affair. The proportion of meat to toppings to bread was masterful, the balance of flavor and texture maintained throughout. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all sandwiches.
But is it the equal of the Grouper Reuben? I prefer blackened grouper to schnitzel, so we’ll settle it that way. But make no mistake, for me the Veal Schnitzel Reuben is Mr. Dunderbak’s signature item. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it right now. I will be back, my friend. You and I have a rendezvous with a black lager and some potato pancakes in the near future.
Christopher Nank, Ph.D., is adjunct instructor of literature at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. His contributions to the Carrollwood, Florida, Patch blog can be read here. He resides in Tampa.