If fried pickles had existed during Elizabethan times, Shakespeare might have compared them to a summer’s day. Perhaps Romeo would have waxed poetically about pickles instead of roses: “A pickle by any other name would taste as sweet.” But alas, fried pickles, although a mainstay snack in restaurants all across Texas now, were not even invented until the mid-1900s.
The first known fried pickle recipe was printed in the Oakland Tribune in 1962. The “French Fried Pickles” recipe called for sweet pickle slices and pancake mix. Fried dill pickles, however, did not appear on the culinary scene until 1963 at the Duchess Drive-In, located in Atkins, Arkansas (the state’s pickle capital), thanks to a man by the name of Bernell “Fatman” Austin. It did not take long before the pickle craze caught fire, and fried pickles became a Southern tradition.
As you might expect, in the over-half-a-century since their invention, chefs and restaurants all around Texas have proudly put their own spin on this tangy tradition. In Central Texas, there are a number of stops you should make if you are looking for fried pickles that will have you puckering with pleasure.
Second Bar + Kitchen | Austin
“Southern cuisine and culture are rooted in hospitality and comfort, and fried pickles are kind of a staple,” Executive Chef of Second Bar + Kitchen David Bull said. “Whether it’s pickled cucumber or chow-chow, our pickled veggie history goes on and on.”
Although Bull grew up in New York, he moved to Texas in 1994; Dallas was where he was first exposed to Southern cuisine. The fried pickles that he serves at the restaurant came about serendipitously. “It started with a family meal [for the staff] while I was running a restaurant in Dallas. We had cut up some fried pickles and combined them with the chicken wings that we had on the menu,” he shared. “We weren’t aware of anyone else doing a buffalo fried pickle. I’m sure someone had to have done it before, but the flavor profile evolved into creating an iconic dish.”
Bull starts with pickle spears, not something you often see, that are then breaded with panko breadcrumbs, deep-fried, and glazed with a green Tabasco butter, which is made with several different kinds of roasted green chilies, onions, and garlic. The pickles are then served with a house-made gorgonzola dip that is just the icing on the cake, or the pickle to be precise.
Acadiana Cafe | San Antonio
For a more traditional fried pickle, head south to San Antonio and step back in time, when fried foods were celebrated, just as they ought to be. Chef and owner Dave Saylor, a self-proclaimed Cajun hillbilly from Missouri, has been serving up fried pickles, along with finger-licking-good fried catfish, fried alligator, fried turkey, gumbo, jambalaya, cornbread, and a smorgasbord of other Southern country Cajun-style goodies for over three decades.
To make the best-fried pickles, he suggested starting with the best quality pickle. At Acadiana, they bread the pickle chips (slices not spears), with three-and-a-half secret spices and then fry them up in 100 percent peanut oil. The perfectly-crisp fried pickles are then served with their house-made “red-eye” ranch dressing, made with a dollop of hot sauce.
“Golly, why are fried pickles so popular? I think people like that sour taste . . . with beer or something,” Saylor said. “I think the way we cook ‘em, we take a little brine off of it, so it’s not such a sharp salty taste. Plus, it’s just not something you can get anyplace down the road. It’s best to make them fresh and cook them fresh.” He invited everyone out for their ultimate Cajun happy hour, complete with libations, a little cup of gumbo, and, of course, some scrumptious fried pickles.
Eastside Kitchenette | San Antonio
While in Alamo City, head over to one of the city’s newer culinary gems Eastside Kitchenette, owned and operated by renowned chef Jeff White, another San Antonio veteran known for his Southern regional classics, always with a twist. Located in a gorgeous historic home just minutes from downtown with a wrap-around porch that seems to go on for days, it is no wonder Eastside Kitchenette is the place to be for brunch on Sundays and happy hour any day of the week. Guests love to dig into White’s fried pickles with a cold brew (although this chef recommended whiskey) on the patio while listening to music or watching the game.
White first experienced fried pickles “way back when I was in middle school,” he said. “I used to love going to fish fries at Lake McQueeney, and they’d make fried pickles, so I fell in love with them then. I love anything pickled. I even drink pickle juice on the regular.”
What makes Eastside Kitchenette’s pickles special, firstly, is that they make their own pickles from scratch, using both dill seed and fresh dill. The resulting pickles are then crinkle cut and brined in buttermilk for two hours before being coated in seasoned flour alongside pickled okra. “It’s like our little surprise,” he smiled. Dip them into their house-made dill ranch and all seems right with the world, at least for a time.
Silver Sage Grille | Canyon Lake
If you head back north, make sure to take a quick detour to Canyon Lake and stop by the Silver Sage Grille for an assortment of Cajun-inspired delights, including some fantastic fried pickles. “What makes us unique is that we have a scratch kitchen, eclectic menu, and Cajun influence,” Chef and Owner Robyn Jehl said. “It’s so diverse that everyone’s going to find something that they like, from the crawfish bisque to the chicken piccata and Creole maple-glazed double pork chops.”
With a beautiful view of the lake from their deck and almost ten years of serving the community, Silver Sage Grille has become a local favorite for a little bit of Southern comfort. Jehl’s inspiration as a chef comes from having grown up in Galveston, having a roommate in college from the New Orleans area, and an influential stint working for the well-known restaurant chain, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen.
As for the pickles, Jehl’s customers come back time and time again for them. “People that come every summer come for the pickles,” Jehl said. “We have young adults still coming back for the pickles they had as a kid, and talking about it the whole drive here.”
The pickles are pretty simple, she explained, but also simply delicious. Their pickle chips are lightly-fried with a basic breading and then sprinkled with Cajun seasoning and served with a homemade jalapeño ranch. “It’s just a delightful trio,” she said. “People love our fried pickles; they’re yummy, yummy, yummy!”
Jehl claimed the light breading is key to a crispy coating that does not fall off, but the only way to know for sure is to hop on the pickle tour and find out for yourself!