Walter Mencken 11:31 a.m., Feb. 1
My fave pickle prep found in the Gaslamp
I love all of my friends, but I’d be lying if said I don’t harbor just a smidge more affection for those who feed me well. One such friend of mine is a warm-hearted Boston transplant who teams with her equally generous-of-spirit Italian mother to put out gargantuan feasts almost every time I head over to her house. From simple Sunday suppers of braciole to quarter-by-quarter Super Bowl buffets and magnificent annual five-hour feast of the seven fishes extravaganzas—these two can cook and never disappoint.
They have the chops to create elaborate gourmet dishes, but one of my absolute favorite items they make are pickle spears wrapped in cream cheese-coated deli ham and sliced into rounds. Sour, salty, and light, I could eat a hundred of them (and have come pretty close…I feel both slightly ashamed and oddly proud about that). I’m sure to rave about them every time they serve them to further ensure their appearance at future get-togethers.
I was happy to discover recently that there’s someone else in town who shares my affection for this tasty treat—the chef at downtown’s Barleymash (600 Fifth Avenue). He likes it enough that it’s included among the Gaslamp bar and restaurant’s list of appetizers. But there’s one big difference—Barleymash’s wrapped pickles are battered and deep-fried!
There, four large, craggy, golden brown wonders flecked with black pepper and sprinkled with parsley are presented on a wooden board. Barleymash serves their pickles whole. No problem, but definitely give them a minute or two before you dig in as they’re scalding hot in the middle. Flavorful in a way that will satisfy almost any snacker's innate desires for salty, country-fried goodness, they're worth the wait. Yet, surprisingly, the addition of the batter doesn't really add to the dish. If anything, it detracts. The batter is flavorful, but it mutes the tartness of the pickles.
Now, if I had no frame of reference to the cold, non-breaded version of the dish, I’d have been completely pleased, meaning, so will most diners. I highly recommend ordering these and sharing them with friends over your first beer of the evening next time you hit up the Gaslamp. On the other hand, when the epicenter for fun is your own living room, do remember my friends’ recipe, which I'm proud to tell her, is still the best version of this dish I've ever had.