It’s no surprise that Storm Large was one of the judges at Kenny and Zuke’s citywide pickle competition; pickles are the new rock stars of the local rustic food scene. Forget whole-animal and think whole-garden; pickling is a great way to preserve seasonal fruit and vegetable bounty. And for the inquisitive, the playful, and the adventurous, there’s the appeal of the fact that you can pickle just about anything, from windowsill strawberries to frankfurters from your local deli.
There’s no shortage of pickling inspiration around here, either. Restaurants are making their own pickles left and right, and the ones who aren’t canning on their own are bringing in local wholesalers. They’re popping up on everything from burgers to pickle plates. Below are some of our favorites, followed by some links to local classes you can take to start making your own pickles. Don’t miss some at-home uses of brine at the very end, and let us in on your pickling secrets and favorite Portland pickle plates in the comments below!
All About the Pickle
Options abound for the pickle enthusiast out for a night on the pickle train. Rowdy crew of friends? Check out Pause, your friendly neighborhood cantina that happens to crank out stellar upscale bar food including that delicious pickle plate. They’ll do a medley of seasonal veggies, but their standby is the classic pickle, and don’t be afraid to try the spicy elements like the habanero chili. No better place to light a fire in your throat than a bar with a great tap list, right?
Although maybe it’s date night, so let’s forget the habanero and welcome Bamboo Sushi into the mix. This elegant space is perfect for romancing the pickle lover. Their tsukemono pickle plate boasts an adventerous assortment of in-house pickled vegetables, anything from kimchi to jicama to daikon. Order it as a palate cleanser—and a complement to your first few sips of sake—before you gorge yourself on the actual sushi.
Did we mention the pickled egg is making a comeback? A standby of the old-man dive bar, it has entered the foodie realm and managed to stay close to the same price as you might have found it for at the now-defunct Lutz Tavern. Except now it’ll come pickled in beet juice and dusted with sea salt, something of an upgrade from the ubiquitous jars of turmeric vinegar next to the video poker. Head to Grüner and order it first as a perfectly savory way to start your meal.
Pickles and Meat, the Perfect Couple
Rare is the Portland restaurant without a charcuterie board these days, and rare is the charcuterie board without a pickle complement. The acidity and texture of a pickled veg offers some respite from the fatty richness of a pâté or terrine, and the two have been partnered in many iterations of rustic cooking.
Look no further than Ned Ludd and Laurelhurst Market for some pickled elements that rival the meat itself. In both restaurants, the pickles are seasonal and change accordingly, but the pear at Laurelhurst was a notable recent treat, and Ned Ludd’s lovely cauliflower echoes traditional piccalilli, the British turmeric pickle relish. Does your pickle-loving date prefer Old World food to Japanese? Both of these places will more than fit the bill.
Pickles on the Wholesale Bent
Lucky for us, a few serious pickling careers have bloomed in Portland beyond the in-house restaurant scene. Picklopolis is a quirky company run by David Barber, a man who has designated his local empire the “Kingdom of the Brine,” and probably rightfully so. Apart from selling his pickles at the restaurant he owns, the Three Square Grill, he also distributes to establishments such as the Heathman. We’re told the summer pickle plate is off the menu there, but come the harvest season, about a month from now, a bistro pickle plate of turnip, carrots, beans, and other seasonal vegetables will be available. We can’t leave out Barber’s involvement in the Fermentation Festival, either. Keep Portland weird, right? It’s a fall day of celebration of all things fermented, including pickles, and a place to exchange trade secrets, recipes, and live cultures between enthusiasts.
MoonBrine Pickles should make your local pickle go-to list, too. Originally started in the great city of New York, Stewart Golomb, founder of Moonbrine, recently moved its headquarters to SE Portland. Good thing, too, because his product is full of heart and flavor. He keeps it simple with two varieties of cucumber pickle, a dill and a hot, although he has some rotating seasonal pickles, too. And he’s opened what is possibly the first pickle tasting room in the city, dubbed the “Snacketeria.” (Speaking of good date spots…!) Head in there and have a chat with this guy. A true pickle devotee, Golomb knows his stuff, and he’s happy to share his years of experience with you. Anyone else think we need to see more of those PICKLE t-shirts around town?
Feeling inspired to make your own pickles yet? You are, we are: let’s go pickling. We hear it’s pretty simple once you know a few basic rules, which we are, well, unqualified to teach you. So check out some of the local classes below to get your pickling skills!
The canning expert behind this company offers both private and group canning classes all over Portland, and hosts kids’ canning parties to boot.
Lost Arts is a slow-food-focused company whose founder offers a number of classes, including canning, that aim to teach families sustainable and nutritional ways of eating at home.
One of the members of the Grand Central Bakery crew is offering two classes in September, one on general canning and one specifically for pickling, at Grand Central’s North Portland location.
This CSK offers myriad classes on cooking, nutrition, and gardening, with periodic classes focusing on canning and pickling. The next one has a “Moroccan-inspired pickle” theme and takes place at the end of August.
At Home With Brine
When you’re a few weeks into your home pickling career, you might have a few jars of brine piling up from all those pickled vegetables and fruit. This is one of the best parts of pickling, as you probably know. Have you pickled cherries yet? Throw some of that leftover cherry vinegar into the bottom of your homemade gin lemonade for a satisfying happy hour (Tuesday morning, whenever it is) sour-cherry kick.
And that classic cucumber pickle recipe brine? You probably have some garlic, mustard seeds, maybe some chili in there, too. Perfect, because you have the makings of a Pickle Back. It’s the universal antidote to the taste of cheap whiskey, something we’ll be imbibing even more of if this second recession sets in. The Pickle Back trend hasn’t caught on so much in Portland yet, but trust us with this formula: take a shot of said petrol whiskey, a shot of your pickle back, and a dainty sip of any lager served in tallboy form. Best done with a group of friends and a full Friday evening ahead of you, because you’ll be a few rounds in before you stop claiming it’s like you’re not doing shots at all.
If you’re too much of a lady or gent to be seen taking shots, we have a fully respectable cocktail option for you, too. For a savory kick, forget the olive juice in that dirty martini and stir in a little spicy pickle brine instead. Liquid dinner, anyone?