After six years in the Lone Star State, I knew that in moving from “Little Austin” to the Big Apple, there would be some things I’d miss. But I was unprepared to learn that the city that has everything seemed to be missing something important: the perfect fried pickle chips.
A staple of just about every cheap restaurant or dive bar in Texas, fried pickle chips are best enjoyed on a blisteringly hot summer day with a pitcher or two of beer. Serious fried pickle chips are not only served with ranch dressing, but are soaked in it before being battered, for that extra hint of heart attack.
It was only when my girlfriend, a Texas native, moved up to Brooklyn did we find ourselves on the prowl for a taste of home. And after over a dozen disappointments, I was beginning to lose hope. While places like MooBurger and Dumont Burger have rave reviews, I’m sad to report that the fried pickles on their menus have fallen victim to gentrification. Why try to make fried pickles more refined with aïoli or fancy breading when the charm of fried pickle chips is in their stalwart and signature flavor combination?
Perhaps worse still were the deceptive and mouth-watering food porn platings from The Whiskey Brooklyn and Smashburger. Both restaurants’ orders walked the walk—the portions were Texas-sized, and they came with a heaping ramekin of what I thought was ranch. (Note: When you’re expecting ranch and it turns out to be sour cream, the result is not good.) But both restaurants’ wonderful ambiance and great service couldn’t make up for the fact that the pickle chips were downright mushy. The too-thick pickles slid out of the too-thin breading and hot pickle juice squirted out with a vengeance.
And while the chalkboard-painted bathroom, sports broadcasts, and rustic fireplace of Two Doors Tavernwere all pretty great, the fried pickles there didn’t have that signature crunch, and were almost too big to eat without a fork and knife.
At this point, our search was getting desperate. I was beginning to think there was one thing that Brooklyn just didn’t have. Would I have to go back to Texas for this delicacy? Or worse still, resort to a chain restaurant to satisfy this craving?
But if there’s one thing that New Yorkers and Texans have in common, it’s that we aren’t quitters. And so, with renewed vigor (and antacids), my girlfriend and I tried Pies n Thighs. Surely, this southern-fried, comfort food spot would mark the end of a six-month long search. But my inner Mary Hume rang clear. Almost perfect. But not quite. The breading was the same as is used for their fried chicken. And although the portion of pickles is small, it allows you to indulge in their incredible entrees without feeling too stuffed for dessert. Still though, my search continued.
The runner up to Brooklyn’s best fried pickles, Jimmy’s Diner, is a small but mighty contender. Jimmy’s Williamsburg location has just five tables and a bartop, with a killer happy hour from 4-10. And the owner Salvatore’s southern roots show in his homemade sweet pickles. I’d normally be the first to scoff at using sweet pickles over dill (the nerve), but somehow Jimmy’s slightly spicy cornmeal breading and sweet pickle crunch work together perfectly. And while a recurring theme at every restaurant has been that the chips weren’t crispy enough, Jimmy’s got around this by removing the pulpy gooey center entirely for a kind of fried pickle ring. While I can’t say that Jimmy’s fried pickles are what I had in mind, their uniqueness and flavor are a worthy excuse to check out the place.
It was with a bit of desperation that I tried my seventeenth restaurant’s order of fried pickles. And while, at first, the fried pickle chips at Wilma Jean (Cobble Hill) looked too thick, too dark, and just not right to this now skeptical eye, my first bite of the first perfect fried pickle chip in years was well worth the wait. The satisfying crunch reminded me why these are in fact called “chips”—the fried cornmeal breading and dilly but dry pickles crackled in the buttermilk dressing, and the paper-lined yellow basket soaked up the grease in satisfying puddles. I’m still in awe of how the chips could be so thick, but so crunchy and textured. Although it barely took a few minutes to devour this appetizer, every pickle chip was worthy of the same meticulous enjoyment with which they were made.
The restaurant is known for its southern favorites and comfort food classics, and perfectly honors chef and owner Rob Newton’s grandmother, Wilma Jean. Brooklyn natives, southern transplants, and anyone with taste buds will find something to love on the menu. And I personally will remain grateful that eating fried pickles can once again be an occasion, and will no longer be an odyssey.
All photos by Max Branigan
Originally posted on 6/7 in Brooklyn Magazine.