Used to be, you only ever saw pickles at Jewish delis and sandwich shops. No longer. We’re in the midst of a pickle explosion. The crunchy, tangy accompaniments have been turning up on some of the fanciest plates in the area, and the craze for brining and preserving has extended to such things as cauliflower, carrots, green beans, corn, and even kumquats.
Anthony Chittum at Old Town’s Vermilion and Scott Drewno at downtown DC’s the Source garnish lunchtime sandwiches with house-made cucumber pickles. At Blue Duck Tavern in DC’s West End, Brian McBride uses pickled bourbon peaches to dress up a rabbit cassoulet, and CommonWealth in Columbia Heights offers customers a helping of pickled cauliflower, green beans, and carrots. At Vidalia in downtown DC, R.J. Cooper pairs pickled cherries with a duck breast. He calls pickling “one of those lost arts that’s making an artisanal comeback.”
Not only are pickles a good way of adding a hit of acidity to a rich dish; they’re also a way for an ambitious chef to signal the level of detail of the cooking: Even garnishes are made in-house.
Says Frank Ruta, whose terrific cheeseburger at Palena Cafe in DC’s Cleveland Park is accompanied by a traditional spear but also sometimes by pickled corn on the cob or kumquats: “We make the bun and the mayo. We wanted something else on the plate that was representative of how the kitchen and restaurant operate.”
This article appeared in the January, 2009 issue of the Washingtonian.