Culinary delights of the Lower East Side: The Pickle Guys

What is Jewish cuisine without pickles? Nothing, I tell you. Can you imagine a pastrami sandwich without pickles on the side? And not just one measly spear, either: you need a whole bowl of them.

The best I’ve found, in bulk, are at The Pickle Guys on Essex Street.  This was formerly the site of Guss’s Pickles, featured in the movie Crossing Delancey, but Guss’s has moved a few blocks away and its pickles have gone way downhill.

Here you’ll find not just “pickles”, but new pickles, sours, half sours, three-quarter sours, hot pickles, horseradish pickles, and garlic pickles.  And if you’re not in the mood for cukes, there are pickled tomatoes, carrots, garlic, string beans, etc.  And all are kosher, prepared “under the supervision of Rabbi Schmeul Fishelis.”

As owner Alan Kaufman proudly testifies:

I make my pickles from an old Eastern European recipe “Just the way mom use to make them”. This is a barrel cured pickle. The pickles are made by letting them sit in salt brine with garlic, spices, and no preservatives. Storing them in barrels, from a day up to six months, the pickles cure as they sit. Along with pickles we also brought back old traditional items such as: Pickled Watermelon, Cabbage Rolls, and Cabbage Heads. Two weeks before Passover we also bring our operation outside and grind Horse Radish from freshly peeled roots.

Make mine half sours.

You can order these from the Pickle Guys website, but it’s far better to visit, sample, and take home a quart or two.

Here’s a video featuring owner Kaufman:

Here’s the YouTube trailer (un-embeddable) for Crossing Delancey.  Plot: uptown, uptight Jewish girl gets fixed up with a pickle salesman. The usual love-between-two-different-worlds business.


21 Comments

  1. Gregory James
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Rabbi Schmeul Fishelis puts magic kosher dust in them?

    • Posted October 29, 2010 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      I think it’s mostly a matter of keeping the non-kosher stuff out.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted October 29, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      But what a great gig – Pickle Rabbi! Presumably he has to sample each batch.

      At the Greek-owned River Road Diner near Rutgers where we used to eat when I was a grad student (sadly apparently no longer extant), they had a bowl of pickles at each table when you sat down. They had a great je ne sais quoi herb/spice combo that I haven’t encountered since. We’d finish off our bowl, and then move on to bowls from adjacent tables. Usually three were sufficient for a sitting.

  2. Posted October 29, 2010 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    After breaking into Jaffe
    Damrosch’s apartment on the Lower East Side, officers were dismayed to find several vats of kosher pickles alongside a box of salt belonging to rabbinical authorities.

  3. astrosmash
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Mista Jerry…You breakin’ my heart with all this Jewisish deli stuff. I’m down here in Richmond Va, and we lost the only proper deli we had…Properly called The New York Deli

  4. Posted October 29, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    All I know is that I am sated, with knowledge–finally after leaving Manhattan two decades ago I now know why several shops in the upper West Side had the word appetizing (fish and dairy) on their plate glass windows so as to mark them from deli (meat). To me, all the Jewish food shops had delicious foods and they were all appetizing!

    My favorite dish in Jewish restos was vegetarian chopped liver (ground green bean and peanuts, goodness, so good, and it tasted like liver which I love)

  5. Posted October 29, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    A former coworker of mine would go to this place during his lunch hour and bring back big vats of pickles for everyone in the office. 🙂 I like the new pickles especially – they still have that crisp, cucumber-y crunch.

  6. Sigmund
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I don’t want a pickle.
    Just want to ride on my motor….sikl.

  7. JBlilie
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Ooh, yes, good pickles! What do you need, besides garlic, vinegar, salt, and pepper?!

    I remember buying large quantities of capers at a bulk-type place on the west coast. The woman at the counter asked, “what are capers like, why do you like them?” I replied: “They have all my favorite flavors: salty, sour, and bitter” [in nice proportions!]

    Anything pickled. I love pickled fish. I start almost every day with pickled fish for breakfast.

    And I love the spicy concoctions the people of south Asia call “pickle,” such as mango pickle, hot lime, pickle, etc. Oh yeah!

    I do want a pickle; I had to sell my motor-sikl!

    • Posted October 29, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Well, for really good pickles, you need a bit of dill weed…and some cucumbers would help, too….

      Cheers,

      b&

  8. Dominic
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Are all these pickles rather salty? Thinking of my blood pressure!

  9. Posted October 29, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Dad likes to tell of the way one would order pickles: by pointing to a spot on your arm. The proprietor would then stick his own arm into the vat to the depth you had indicated, and that’s where he would grab the pickles from. Since new pickles would get added to the top, the depth of the pickle would determine its age and sourness.

    I’m sure I’d be pointing to my shoulder….

    Cheers,

    b&

    • TreeRooster
      Posted October 29, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Awesome. No more needs to be said.

      My kids are as picky as any, but at least one of my girls inherited a taste for extreme flavor, including this sort of sour. The only first grader I know who asks for sourkraut and prefers dill to sweet.

  10. Posted October 29, 2010 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    The pickles are made by letting them sit in salt brine with garlic, spices, and no preservatives.

    I hate to be so pedantic (well, actually, I love being pedantic, but it’s an expression) but salt, garlic, and many spices are preservatives… Just sayin’…

  11. Strider
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne
    How come you’re writing about various delicacies in New York when you could be writing about them in Chicago, where you actually live? As a former Chicagoan, I often pine for a combo from Mickey’s in Bellwood, a deep dish from Uno’s (original downtown location, not the chains), and donuts from the Flour Barrel in Glen Ellyn. It’s your blog and you can write about whatever you want, of course. I was just curious.

  12. Aqua Buddha
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I haven’t eaten salted watermelon in a decade. I forgot how enjoyable they were!

  13. Posted October 29, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Ah now the uptown Jewish girl isn’t really uptight – be fair – she’s literary. She’s also, you know, secular and autonomous – she’s not wildly excited about her Bubby’s plan for an arranged marriage. She isn’t keen on a pickle guy not because of simple snobbery but because she’s more interested in literature than she is in pickles.

    I thought the movie itself gave her kind of a raw deal, actually. It’s one of those “paradoxical” vaguely nostalgic sentimentalized “the old ways turn out to be best” things – the odds were stacked throughout. The intellectuals all turned out to be shits and pickle guy was swell. And the Amy Irving character was faintly sneered at for her independence, her intellectual interests, her aspirations, her feminism – even though the movie was made by a woman.

    Cough. Excuse me. Back to pickles.

  14. anthrosciguy
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I really like Crossing Delancy. That puts Peter Reichert in two of my favorite movies, what with Local Hero.

    And Amy Irving looks so great in that movie, as well as being charming and a great actor. Music by The Roches (and an acting turn by Suzzy Roche). Your mileage may, of course, vary. And will soaking your hands in milk really take away the smell of pickles you’ve been grabbing out of barrels all day?

  15. anthrosciguy
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    BTW, make that Riegert. I should be able to at least spell his name right. 🙂

  16. Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    for a video about the former pickle district, check here: http://www.citypicklers.com/picklers2.html

    this site has lots of great info about pickles in general, and in NYC in particular.

    new pickles/quarter sours FTW!

    • Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      hrmm, (at least some of the) videos are gone…. oh well.


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