Some people freak out at the thought of fried pickles–they just can’t imagine how the combination of the those two tastes could possibly work. For me, it’s like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups slogan: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together!
I admit to not having had fried pickles until about 2004. There used to be a Cajun-style restaurant called Thibodeaux Kitchen on Biltmore Avenue, just a few doors up from the Fine Arts Cinema, and it was the first place I ever had the pleasure of pickles frite.
Sidebar: This location is what I think of as a “hard luck location”, meaning it’s had too many businesses come and go in too short an amount of time. For whatever reason, nothing can stick there too long.
I think it started as The Golden Horn, which was a mix of Mediterranean/Moroccan/Greek–very good! (I still have fond memories of the Moroccan Chicken with apricot and pistachio cous-cous.)
The Golden Horn departed unexpectedly and was replaced by some restaurant with Rooster in the title, I think, but I never had time/inclination to eat there before it was gone. Then it became Thibodeaux Kitchen, which served New Orleans (N’awlins)-style cuisine and was given to lots of shiny Mardi Gras beads draped over every surface. I went there with a former beau and his friends just prior to a Robert Earl Keen show at The Orange Peel, and that entire bizarre evening deserves another whole sidebar all to itself. Maybe another time.
Thibodeaux’s Kitchen gave way to ED Boudreaux Bayou Bar-B-Que, which has good food and allows you to choose your own sauce (out of a wide variety of choices). They seem to be having more luck than previous occupants, so good for them. I don’t think, however, that they serve fried pickles.
So back to the now-defunct Thibodeaux’s Kitchen and fried pickles: I love most kinds of pickles and most types of pickled things (maybe not pig’s feet, unless I was personally pickled enough to try them!), so I thought fried pickles sounded okay. (Sometimes gastronomy and intuition combine to make our palates even more receptive, perhaps?)
The pickles were ordered and arrived…heavily breaded and fried brown discs that completely disguised their internal character (as a hefty dose of battered-and-fried tends to do). They were smoking hot, so I bit in cautiously–and was instantly hooked! Something about being battered and fried changed the humble pickle chip into a nibble-worthy addiction. Hallelujah–another fried food to on which to fixate (but that’s life in the South for you)!
Fast forward to St. Patrick’s Day 2007–a blue-cold day of snapping winds and huddling into coat collars–and an evening get-together with a group of friends at Burgermeisters at 697 Haywood Road in West Asheville. I hadn’t been there before but had heard the burgers were definitely worthy of consideration, and suprise–there were fried pickles on the menu!
I talked my friends into trying them, and Burgermeister does it up right with a huge basket of freshly-fried dill pickle slices served with some sort of ranch-style sauce for dipping (I’m not a fan of ranch dressing/dip/flavor, but the others assured me it was really good, so I’m willing to take their word for it). The burgers were top notch, as well, but I could have eaten the whole basket of fried pickles and gone back for more!
Several months ago, I went to Cinebarre to see “Sweeney Todd”. If you haven’t tried Cinebarre, it’s a nice mix of theater seating and casual dining. You can order before or during the movie, the staff is really good at serving without disrupting your viewing, and the appetizer menu includes fried pickles! Cinebarre makes pickle magic a little differently–they use pickle spears instead of chips. Tastes good, but I believe I prefer the higher breading-to-pickle ratio of the traditional pickle chip. Here’s another factor: the opening scenes of “Sweeney Todd” featuring Mrs. Lovett’s dirty, roach-infested kitchen and the creation of her truly repulsive meat pies (forget the later ones made from Todd’s victims!) at the beginning were enough to make my stomach feel curiously resistant to the allure of too many fried pickle spears…
My next fried pickle destination is The Fiddlin’ Pig on Tunnel Road. It’s another hard-luck location, unfortunately, so I hope it stays in business long enough for me to indulge!*
*May 2011 update: The Fiddlin’ Pig closed a few months ago and nothing else has taken over its hard-luck location…