What: Its name is Dutch, its history ancient and widespread, and, by definition, it can consist of many different foods. But pickles as we know them in NYC—those staples of Jewish delis and burger joints—are most often crisp pickled cucumbers, and can be sour, sweet, or spicy, depending on their brine. In Manhattan, handcrafted pickles have long been the domain of the traditionally Jewish Lower East Side—now a major hipster ’hood, but still boasting a few good pickles.
Where: Essex Street, once the briniest street in the briniest New York neighborhood, is today home to just one pickle shop, The Pickle Guys (49 Essex St., map; second location at 1364 Coney Island Ave. in Brooklyn, map), but it’s a great one—kosher-certified, small, and crowded with pickling barrels swimming with cukes, tomatoes, string beans, carrots, okra, and garlic, plus marinated mushrooms, various olives, giardiniera, hot peppers, and more. Pickled herring and lox, sweet and sauerkraut, and freshly peeled and ground horseradish are also on offer.
When: Sun-Thurs, 9am-6pm; Fri, 9am-4pm (LES location)
Order: New pickles taste the most cucumbery and offer the most snap, then there’s the familiar, tangy half-sour and our personal favorite, the full sour—intensely flavorful, spicy, briny, and by far the most pickle-like. The spicy variety is also good. We recommend buying a quart ($6.25), which will yield you about a dozen pickles you can mix-and-match if you wish.
Alternatively: Also in Manhattan, check out Horman's Best Pickles (306 6th Ave., map; Tues, Wed, Fri, noon-7pm) in NoHo, conveniently right around the corner from one of our favorite pizza slices, at Joe's. Clinton Hill Pickles (212-334-3616; 431 DeKalb Ave. at Classon, map), from the former owner of LES icon Guss’ Pickle (followed by a brief stint in Borough Park as Ess-a-Pickle), is, as the name suggests, now based in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, but the fantastic traditional pickles remain. (To further complicate matters, there is also a Cedarhurst, NY-based Guss’ Pickles with connections to the original, and some legal confusion as to who is the real Guss’ heir.) Meanwhile, the new school of artisanal NYC pickles is perhaps best represented by Greenpoint-based Brooklyn Brine (for retailers, see the blog), a young venture that combines unusual, super flavorful brines with heirloom and seasonal organic vegetables, from fennel beets to garlic scapes. Try the garlic-dill NYC Deli Style Cucumbers.