To understand Brooklyn today, look no further than your plate. Pickles, once the humblest of immigrant staples, are experiencing a resurgence as an artisinal, specialty good, and enjoying a state of gourmet chic that would have made any 20th century pickle man’s eyes pop. That’s not to say the borough’s old-school picklers are extinct; on the contrary, older, more seasoned pickle mongers — whose luscious cucs are more likely to be sold as a diner side than a delicacy — maintain their operations around the borough, even while a fleet of upstart pickle producers push their newly posh product from Williamsburg to Gowanus. Look closely: Brooklyn’s dueling identities can be seen through the briny prism of the pickle jar.
The patron saints of new Brooklyn pickling, brothers Bob and Joe McClure started their small company six years ago — hand-jarring their pickles from a family recipe — but the company soon outgrew its family-album sized roots. McClure’s now supplies Michigan with the majority of its pickles, and ships their briny beauties all over the country through retailers such as Williams-Sonoma and Whole Foods. At $12 a jar, McClure’s spicy habanero-brined cucumbers cost a pretty penny — but taste one, and you realize these bold 21st-century pickles are hard to beat.
Find them at The Greene Grape [753 Fulton St. at S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 233-2700]
Brooklyn Brine Co.
No brand better represents the soul of new Brooklyn pickling than Shamus Jones’s two-and-a-half year old company, Brooklyn Brine. Made out of a factory in Gowanus by tattoo-clad preservation perfectionists, these pickles come in such brine-bending flavors as chipotle carrots and lavender asparagus. Taste one of the company’s curried squash pickles and let the delicate vinegar flavors and hint of eastern spices wash over your tongue; these are pickles that go to yoga and keep a dream journal.
“What’s happening on the artisanal front is that we’re developing new markets,” owner Shamus Jones says. “It’s a different game.”
Find them at The Blue Apron [814 Union St. between Seventh and Eighth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 230-3180]
Sour Puss Pickles
With their locally-sourced produce and fin-de-siecle designs, Sour Puss’s owners Chris Forbes and Evelyn Evers have seized on some fundamental aspects of new Brooklyn cuisine to earn their pickles some serious epicurean cachet. The company even showcased its pickles briefly out of a shipping container at the post-apocalyptic DeKalb Market. Bottled at a factory on Atlantic Avenue, the company’s pickle varieties — such as peppered okra and lemon cucumbers — taste like the pickles you always wanted but never knew existed.
Find them at the Bedford Cheese Shop [229 Bedford Ave. at N. Fourth Street in Williamsburg. (718) 599-7588]
Fourth-generation pickleman Howard Silberstein has been in the game since 1967, so he knows his way around a barrel. His company, Ba-Tampte, produces a variety of deli-style pickles at their factory in the Brooklyn Terminal Market in Canarsie that are sold in delis and supermarkets around the country. The majority of Silberstein’s pickles are salt-brined and fermented. One bite of one of his half-sours, and the company’s longevity no longer seems so strange: these cucs are salty and garlicky with a nice crunch to boot — all for around $3 a jar. “There’s only one way to make a New York pickle,” maintains Silberstein. “You’re not going to reinvent the wheel here.”
Find them at Pathmark Supermarkets, various locations.
Mr. Pickle moves so many pickles the company doesn’t even sell them in jars. Based in Canarsie, the 50-year-old company peddles its full-sour pickles in buckets to delis and supermarkets around town — although the majority of its business now comes from the wholesale cucumbers it supplies to sushi restaurants and grocery stores. Taste one of Wiseman’s full-sours and get ready for a punchy flavor: these are pickles that get in fights on the way to school.
“What’s important is not so much the specificity of who’s making the pickles,” says Wiseman. “You want people thinking about pickles. You want them walking into a restaurant and going, ‘Where are the pickles? There’s no pickles on this table!’ That’s what’s important.”
Find them at Adelman’s Kosher Deli, [1906 Kings Hwy. between 9th Street and Ocean Avenue in Midwood, (718) 336-4915]
Clinton Hill Pickles
For proof that the pickle men and women of lore aren’t dying off, one only needs to visit Pat Fairhurst’s humble storefront on Classon Avenue, which she runs with her son, Roger. With barrels set up along the sidewalk, this is as close as you’re going to get to the pickling heyday of yore.
Find them at the storefront [431 DeKalb Avenue at Classon Avenue in Clinton Hill, (212) 334-3616]
Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.