The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.
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Skipper’s Blackened Grouper Reuben Represents Tampa In Vegas [Can It Win World Food Championships?]
Posted Oct 31, 2012 by Jeff Houck
Updated Oct 31, 2012 at 07:22 AM
In 2011, Travel Channel host Adam Richman (above )fell head-over-heels in love with the Blackened Grouper Reuben served at Skipper’s Smokehouse. So much so that he featured it later that year on an episode of his show “Man v. Food.”
In early 2012, he returned to Skipper’s for his follow-up series, “Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America,” pitting the Reuben against four other regional sandwiches. (It lost to the fried shrimp po’ boy at Domilise’s in New Orleans when the episode aired in June.)
Richman still adores the sandwich. He recently invited Skipper’s owner Tom White to compete with the Grouper Reuben at the World Food Championships, which start Thursday and run through Sunday in Las Vegas.
At stake is $300,000 in prize money spread across seven categories, including burger, barbecue, chili and side dish competitions. More than 400 competitors, most of whom have won cooking contests across the country, will join the culinary smackdown at Bally’s Las Vegas.
The weekend finishes with winners from the seven major categories appearing at a “Final Table” for the anointing of an ultimate champion.
White, who has owned Skipper’s for 32 years, created the menu item about 10 years ago when he pitched to a cook the idea of substituting fish for corned beef in the mix of Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and grilled sauerkraut. White also includes whole-grain Dijon mustard for extra tang and serves it with a bit of slaw and a dill pickle.
When the “Man V. Food” episode aired in 2011, Richman exclaimed on camera, “I want to eat the air around the sandwich, just to make sure I don’t miss any of it. It is literally not like any fish sandwich I’ve ever eaten anywhere.”
Beyond the exposure that Richman has given the sandwich, White has never entered the Grouper Reuben in any competition. Nor has he cooked it beyond the doors of Skipper’s.
“I used to sell about five of those sandwiches a day before Adam came here,” White says. “Now I do about 35 or 40 a day.”
His girlfriend, WMNF public radio host Cricket Larson, is going to Las Vegas with him to serve as his assistant chef.
The contest will have White and Larson making the Grouper Reuben in an initial round against all of the sandwich competitors. The top 10 in the category will move to a second round, where they will pick the name of another sandwich out of a bowl. They will have a limited time to make their best version of whatever sandwich they select. The winner of the category will take home $20,000.
“If we make it to the second round, the worst we get is $1,000,” White says.
Working in White’s favor is that the dry desert air will keep the sandwich’s marble rye bread crisp, which is always a challenge in Florida’s humidity.
Working against him: It has been a while since he has cooked on the line in his kitchen. Also, assistant Larson had never made the sandwich before this week. To compensate, the two practiced in advance of the contest. They will travel with a bag of blackening spices and not much else. The rest will be provided by contest organizers.
“We’re going out with the MacGyver mentality,” White says.
If nothing else, the trip will give them a chance to reconnect with their friend Richman.
“Adam is a pretty cool cat,” Larson says. “He’s pretty eclectic. I think he likes the Skipper’s atmosphere, the people and the creativity that goes into the sandwich. He’s all about bold flavors.”
If you want to take a stab at it at home, here’s the recipe:
BLACKENED GROUPER REUBEN
6-ounce filet of grouper
2 slices of marble rye bread
Thousand Island dressing
Slices of Swiss cheese
3 ounces sauerkraut
Cajun seasoning (optional)
Dip filet of grouper in melted butter and dredge in cajun blackfish seasoning.
Place filet on hot flattop griddle for about 5 minutes and then flip over.
Place slices of marble rye bread on flattop, top each with Thousand Island dressing and slices of Swiss cheese.
Place sauerkraut on flattop.
When the cheese is melted and the bread toasted, place filet on one slice of the bread.
Top filet and the other slice of bread with warm sauerkraut.
Remove sandwich from griddle, cut on a bias and plate with a pickle spear. Additional Cajun seasoning is optional and makes it a little spicy!