The Vegetarian Option: Jacob's Pickles, House-Made Style on the Upper West Side
A restaurant that features house-made pickles, pours craft beer, and specializes in home-style Southern food seems tailor-made for Brooklyn, but it sticks out like a sore thumb on the Upper West Side. Yet that's exactly where you'll find Jacob's Pickles, and if the crowds were any indication on the night of my visit, the West Siders are clamoring for exactly this kind of thing.
I couldn't very well eat at Jacob's Pickles and not order any pickles. You can get one kind for $4, four for $11, or 8 for $16 I was torn between options like the candy red beets and the sweet & spicy carrots, but I decided to go for the straightforward special sours. The pickles were expertly made—slightly acidic, slightly sweet, with a buttery flavor and a nice burn at the back of the throat.
I made sure that the biscuits in the biscuits & fixins ($8) were not made with lard—just lots of butter and buttermilk, my server told me after checking with the kitchen. The biscuits themselves were slightly bland on their own, so slather on the accompanying organic butter, local honey, and house-made strawberry preserves and orange marmalade. After much experimenting, I discovered that my favorite combination on the biscuit was a smear of butter topped with the fantastic orange marmalade, which had a slight bitterness to offset the sweetness.
There's only one vegetarian entrée on the menu, but it's a good one. Mushroom mac & cheese ($14) comes out in an enormous plate, both wide and deep. The surface is crusty and brown, giving way to the rich creamy interior. Although sometimes the mushroom component of these kinds of dishes is minimal, here the mix of portabella, shiitake, and king oyster mushrooms make a huge impression. They all have distinctive flavors and textures, and they all lend great flavor to the mac & cheese.
In some respects, Jacob's Pickles is a quintessential UWS restaurant. They serve a busy brunch, and the prices reflect the chic location. And yet they also sell jars of their pickles and preserves as well as growlers of craft beers from around the country. This mix of two very different cultures sounds like it shouldn't work, but Jacob's Pickles pulls it off with aplomb.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.