While some pairings—peanut butter and chocolate, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, sriracha and, well, anything—seem like infallible combinations, other duos take a bit more imagination. Such is the case with Brooklyn’s Pickle Shack, which opened in October. A collaboration between Brooklyn Brine and Dogfish Head, the Gowanus restaurant and bar is expanding the definition of beer pairings by combining suds and pickles under one roof, with nary a meat product in sight. Think exclusively Dogfish Head taps, a bottle list touting hard-to-find beers, and a menu showcasing pickles and eschewing mock meat in dishes such as a house-made veggie burger and smoked tofu bánh mì.
When the space (formerly occupied by a burger joint) opened up, Brooklyn Brine’s Shamus Jones enlisted the help of longtime friend and chef Neal Harden to get Pickle Shack up and running, building the space up piece by piece. “It was sort of organic. We just came in here every day and did everything little by little and chipped away at it,” says Harden. “We did everything pretty much ourselves.”
The same ethos extends to the menu. Both longtime vegetarians, Jones and Harden agreed on nixing the meat and keeping the menu produce-centric to highlight the pickles. “With the pickles we’re making over here and the ways we’re incorporating pickles, we’re just trying to be really kind of interesting,” says Harden. “We want to challenge the preconceived notion of how you would use a pickle, or what you would pickle.”
Adventurous examples include pickling quail eggs with beets, fermenting fennel and mushrooms, and creating vinegars from the Dogfish Head beers. Harden also sources the eggs and dairy locally, works with the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative for the produce, and produces the majority of the condiments in-house. But the goal is always to produce the best possible dishes – not necessarily the craziest. “I try to make sure things in the final dish are not so outrageous and challenging that people don’t enjoy it,” Harden says. “But I do add little creative touches here and there.”
As for the beers, Jones’ friendship with Dogfish Head means Pickle Shack currently boasts the largest selection of the Delaware brewery’s draft beers in the city, and may even get some off-menu specialty bottles “for the fanatics.” Other future plans include installing eight additional taps, introducing delivery and catering, and rolling out the bar’s two Randalls, special contraptions that hook into the taps and infuse your beer with a variety of flavors. You can add fresh hops to one of Dogfish Head’s signature I.P.As, or imbue a stout with fresh chocolate notes. “We’re trying to create a special night earlier in the week when we’re not as busy for the real geeks to come in and enjoy that,” Harden promises. Beer geeks can also pick up quarts and growlers of the beer to swig at home.
Additionally, Jones and Harden would love to expand into Manhattan and add additional locations in Brooklyn, maintaining this first outpost as the flagship. As far as any plans for a pickle beer? “There have been some jokes about that, but nothing concrete yet,” Harden says. “Obviously, I think we would love to do that because it might be really gross, but it might be really fun.”