My grandparents' farm is where I spent most of my summertime hours as a kid. There were two major lunchtime treats that came with this: one, a sugary strawberry mash swimming in milk, and two, Grandma's homemade pickles. She shaved cucumbers into ribbons, then brined them bread and butter-style with plenty of sugar and whole peppercorns.
While Chicago might not have picked up the cue on Grandma's strawberry soup yet (one can only hope!), there does certainly seem to be an uptick in in-house pickling. I spent the last few weeks exploring most of the bars and restaurants currently offering the real homemade deal.
I crafted a few parameters to begin with. First, the pickles must stand alone. They had to warrant a separate line on the menu itself, preferably as a starter, although I occasionally accepted a side. Thus, however homemade and delicious, I didn't include Milt's BBQ for the Perplexed, Billy Goat Tavern and anywhere else where the pickles have condiment status. I also didn't venture into fried house pickles, although I've heard Untitled's are worth the trip.
Second, it has to be called a pickle. There are a lot of things preserved in jars out there, but I had to draw the line somewhere. The letters p-i-c-k-l-e had to be in the menu description, and it had to refer generally to vegetables soaked in a brine of vinegar and salt.
Finally, the pickles have to be made in the restaurant, by the people who work in the restaurant.
I missed a few that did meet those expectations. As of writing, Fat Rice's Portuguese pickles were out of reach thanks to the restaurant's summer vacation. I didn't get to Chicago q, where they serve house pickles as an amuse-bouche; and I just plain didn't like Fork's when I tried them earlier this year.
But I've got eight for you here, and I still have the canker sores to prove it. (Just kidding. But really.) Check them out in the slideshow, and be sure to fill me in on your own vinegary veggie adventures.