You always remember your first. Life can be demarcated in the before and after. I remember it clearly still, years later. It had been a long day. And after a beer, it happened. I had my first fried pickle. The Raleigh Times set the bar high with a thin sliced fried pickle that, nearly six years later, is my must have list for when I return to Raleigh in two months.
In a city with neighborhoods so diverse the five boroughs could easily fill the seats of the UN General Assembly, New Yorkers are blessed with a conveyor belt of good food options. However, there are also those places that are neither good nor bad – the Brother Jimmy’s of the world. Their fried pickles are the Bud Light of appetizers. Nothing you are going to leave home for. But, in a pinch, they won’t set you back and they won’t make you cringe. Enough times around the appetizer dance floor middling offerings like these can leave an eater pigeonholing fried pickles as nothing more than a down market option.
Park Slope’s Pickle Shack proves that the Brother Jimmy’s of the world are doing fried pickle a disservice.
Pickle Shack’s premise is one those ideas that when you hear it for the first time leaves you kick yourself for not having thought up a place that combines craft beer, and dishes and appetizers featuring artisanal pickles.
Everything about the fried pickles is spot on. But the thing that has stayed with me most is the first taste I got – the zest. It is a zest reminiscent of the first bite of a lobster that has just been squeezed with a fresh lemon. Just look at the photo at the top of the post. The presentation looks like it came out of a seaside restaurant’s shack-cum-kitchen near Old Orchard Beach…in the best way possible.
New York’s listing suggests the smoked tofu bahn mi that comes with a house fermented kimchee and avocado. It also calls Pickle Shack the go to spot for beer-geek vegetarians. While I’ve got the first half under control (despite my PBR proclivities), I’m not vegetarian meaning I can’t speak to the quality of the smoked tofu. But it doesn’t take a tofu expert to know when a bahn mi is good and tofu or not, it was good.
For the beer geeks out there, the Maine Beer Company (Freeport represent!) has a Lunch IPA that pairs well with the pickle plates and was available on draft the night I was there. The great thing about a Lunch IPA is that it has the same power as an IPA, but feels like a much lighter beer, making it more of a complementary part of the meal.
It would be easy for Pickle Shack to be a one trick pony slapping a pickle onto meals and sandwiches where they don’t really have a place and calling it quirky or envelope pushing. Instead, it is a welcome addition to an avenue that despite its recent growth lacks in interesting restaurant options. Plus, have I mentioned the fried pickles?