Last October, TNT Diner reader Carole Whitmire called with a request for a Southern treat, “Where do you find fried pickles around here?”
She owed a friend lunch. And the friend, having just returned from feasting on the pickles at BB King’s Blues club in Memphis, wanted deep-fried pickles.
I asked and TNT Diner blog readers answered: Hooter’s serves them. So does Ramblin Jack’s in Olympia and Bruno’s in Eatonville.
And since then, the Southern-fried delicacies have continued to percolate on my deep-fried radar.
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Recently, I spotted them on the appetizer menus at two restaurants: the newly opened Loose Wheel Bar & Grill, and Ram Brewery restaurants, which added fried pickles to the menu about six months ago.
Never heard of deep-fried pickles? That may be because they’re the culinary territory of the South. And by the South, I mean the deep-fried South.
They’re served throughout that region, but fried pickle fans cite the Mississippi Delta as one place of origin. Funny fascination people in that part of the country have with pickles and pickling. The same Southern region known for deep-fried pickles also is home to people who pickle their cucumbers neon shades of funky with Kool-Aid powder. Sold at convenience stores or homemade, the neon pickles are dubbed “koolickles” in the Delta. I’ve yet to see koolickles around here, but I’ve got my eye out for them.
If deep-fried pickles don’t make sense to you, think of them as the slightly more briny cousins of battered or breaded deep-fried zucchini, only with more snap and a kiss of dill. Fried pickles here and elsewhere commonly come two ways: Sliced pickle chips like you’d find on a burger, or lengthwise cut dill spears. They’re either battered or breaded or have some kind of coating before they’re deep fried.
Shawn DeCicco, who opened Loose Wheel Bar & Grill on Sixth Avenue March 31 with wife Emily and business partners Dennis and Taressa Krumwiede, added deep-fried pickles to his menu because they’re something he craves.
“We travel down south every year when we go to the Daytona 500. One of the things we enjoy is deep-fried pickles. When we opened this bar, the fried pickles were one of our must-haves,” said DeCicco when I interviewed him on the phone. “The ones we found (in the South), you could not get around here.” He found a lot of pickle chips here, but harder to find have been the spears.
“You find a lot more spears down south,” said DeCicco, who also owns the Summit Pub. “Ours has more of a snap. It’s a lengthwise cross section of a kosher dill pickle. You get a little more pickle than a chip.”
The verdict: I settled into a seat at the Loose Wheel recently and ordered a basket of deep-fried pickles ($5.99). DeCicco was right. The spear pickles provided more surface area, which meant more of a snap than the chips. The spears at Loose Wheel are doused with flour seasoned with Cajun spices. They’re splashed with an egg wash, then coated in panko, then fried.
My order was perfectly fried, with a crunchy exterior and no sign of sogginess or grease. Crisp breading shattered to a snappy pickle inside. The peppery bite of the Cajun spices overwhelmed the dill flavor of the pickle, turning the pickle more spicy than dill-y. You’ll be offered a choice of more than a dozen sauces, but go with what DeCicco recommends: the onion ring sauce. It’s got additional heat.
Over at the Ram Brewery Restaurants, the pickles are of the breaded chip variety. They were added to the menu of the local Rams about six months ago, said Dan Levingston, the chef of the Ruston Ram Brewery Restaurant. Levingston said he grew up in the East where “nobody has even heard of deep-friedpickles.” He said he was pleasantly surprised when diners bit at the Southern treats. “Everyone who eats them likes them.“They’re a hit, and that surprised me, they’re sellingreally well,” he said.
The verdict: “The breading is what makes them,” said Levingston. I’m in his camp. The cornmeal and corn flour coating provided a crisp, sweet jacket that had the flavor of a hush puppy, only with a thin, crunchy texture. The pickles are dill crinkle-cut pickle chips that are dredged in an egg and flour pre-dip, then finished in a seasoned cornmeal breading. The dill flavor was much more pronounced than the Loose Wheel version, but the pickles didn’t quite have the crunchy pickle snap the spears yielded. The pickles that are served with a “rosette” sauce, similar to an onion ring sauce.
The Loose Wheel Bar & Grill Where: 6108 Sixth Ave., TacomaContact: 253-301-1647 or www.theloosewheel.comThe pickle: Thin, dill pickle spears coated in Cajun seasoned flour, then coated in an egg wash, then finished with a panko breading, then deep fried. $5.99
The Ram Brewery RestaurantsWhere: Tacoma Ruston, 3001 Ruston Way (253-756-7886); Puyallup Sunrise, 10403 156th St. E. (253-445-1005); Puyallup South Hill, 103 35th Avenue S.E.(253-841-3317); Lakewood,10019 59th Ave. (253-584-3191); Lacey, 8100 Freedom Lane N.E. (360-923-5900)Contact: www.theram.comThe pickle: Dill pickle chips coated in a flour batter, then dipped in cornmeal corn flour breading, and deep fried. $3.99
Not sampled for this review, but also available at:
Hooter’s: Where: 6812 Tacoma Mall Blvd, TacomaContact: 253-476-9464 or www.hooters.comThe pickles: Lightly breaded fried pickle slices. $5.49
Ramblin Jack’sWhere: 520 E. Fourth Ave., OlympiaContact: 360-754-8909 or www.ramblinrestaurants.comThe pickles: Dill pickle chips battered and deep fried. $6.99
Bruno’s Family Restaurant & Bar Where: 204 Center Street E., EatonvilleContact: 360-832-7866 or www.eatbrunos.comThe pickles: Dill pickle chips lightly breaded with cayenne seasoned flour and deep fried. $4.99