The Upper West Side is home to some great whitefish and – now – some down home spicy southern cooking.
Jacob’s Pickles is a sprawling, brick walled restaurant on the UWS. It specialises in homemade pickles, artisanal beers and cocktails, and good old-fashioned southern food. Though it is almost always packed, it is large enough to be seated without a wait, and also takes reservations. When I was there on date night, I saw a group of girls there for girls night out, friends coming out after studying at grad school, and a couple of families with young kids. This place really runs the gamut – more family oriented earlier in the evening, and a place to grab a few beers and get a little rowdier later and on weekends.
This beer is just as described – crisp, light, and extremely food friendly. It has enough of a yeasty, wheaty taste to stand up to spicy, hearty dishes, but is not so strong as to bitter or overly heavy. This is a winner among beer experts and novices alike.
Hot Sours – sour and spicy pickles, with only a little heat. It is mostly spicy, and definitely not too hot for anyone who is a spice wimp.
Candy Red Beets – these converted my boyfriend, a self-confessed beet-o-phobe, to a beet-o-phile. Sweet, thin sliced but with an al dente bite, and a bit tangy. These would be fabulous with a chunky blue cheese dressing, but they were also great on their own.
Sweet and Spicy Carrots – tender but with a bit of crunch at the center, these are a standout on a table full of delicious pickles. Gently spiced with what tastes like harissa, cumin, and maybe a touch of cinnamon, they are earthy and extremely fragrant. They give off a middle eastern taste that is entirely unexpected and at the same time harmonious.
Thyme Jalapeños – tasty, but the weakest of the bunch just because they were the least innovative. You can get similar things to these spicy, piquant peppers in the grocery store, whereas the other pickles are all totally unique.
This sausage is coarsely ground, not smooth, tightly packed breakfast sausage. It is rustic and hearty, with a strong porky taste mixed with bright orange and a few of licorice-y fennel seeds strewn without, The fries are exemplary – fresh cut, skin on, and crispy, but even better is the cabbage. A soft mound of it, sweet and juicy, lays under the fries. So delicate and resh tasting, it is like sauerkraut’s more genteel sister. Delicious and perfect to cut through the fat of the sausage. Eat it with some of the accompanying mustard for a bracing punch of flavor.
These shrimp are cooked with the head, then deveined and shelled for your dining pleasure. Briny and full flavored, these taste overtly like seafood - a bit muddy for me, but my companion wolfed them down. They are served in a garlicky,m savory broth and ladled over smooth, creamy grits strewn with crisp bacon and redolent of smoky pork fat. Pork and shellfish have a natural affinity for one another; the sweetness, saltiness, and smokiness balancing each other out, and when combined with luscious polenta, the combination works well yet again.
Jacob’s Pickles is heartily recommended. Service is fast and friendly, the vibe is relaxed, and the seriously long beer and cocktail ist is worth coming back for alone. But the food is so delicious and fairly priced, you won’t be able to deny ordering some pickles and a pork products.
And what’s a better follow up to an UWS bagel and schmear than some shrimp and grits?