Restaurant Review: All-You-Can-Eat Pickles and Southern Comfort at the Pickle House
One wonders if there's such thing as too many pickles at this Southwest Austin restaurant
Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., July 26, 2019
Tue.-Sun., 11am-8pm; Mon., closed
It's a tricky business, building a restaurant concept around pickles: You run the risk of being too niche or scaring away pickle-phobes who might otherwise enjoy your food. And then there's the question of how many pickles is too many pickles.
This is the conundrum of the Pickle House, which opened out on Highway 290 toward Dripping Springs in March, the brainchild of Pogue Mahone Pickles' Sam Addison. Oddly, the Pickle House isn't the first restaurant in this space that started out on the farmers' market circuit. The previous tenant – the much-lamented Lox, Box, and Barrel – started out as Celtic Seafare nigh on a decade ago.
While a Southern comfort-food restaurant may conjure images of shabby-chic decor and warm tones, the decor here is more utilitarian in nature. Walk in and order from the counter, which is adjacent to a cooler stocked with pre-packed tubs of tuna and egg salads, whole and by-the-slice pies, and jars on jars of their pickles, pickle hot sauce, and pickle vinaigrette. It's a basic deli/fast-casual setup, not designed for lingering over drinks or after-dinner coffee. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer a lot of natural light but also afford a not-too-scenic view of Highway 290. So the comfort really has to come from the hearty fried foods on offer.
Because I love both Southern food and pickles of pretty much every variety, I was very excited to visit Pickle House. With a large menu of options like a Thanksgiving turkey melt, Cobb salad, and pot roast with red wine gravy, I had a hard time deciding what to sample. We opted for the signature fried pickle basket and Southern pimento cheese. The cornmeal-breaded chips, a combo of sweet heat and fresh dill, were perfectly crisp, and the sweet-and-sour flavors shone. The dipping sauce was reminiscent of a remoulade/creamy comeback sauce, but tangier. The pimento cheese, served with buttery club crackers, put every Southern meemaw's recipe to shame, but I couldn't stop myself from returning to the basket, even as I was (over?) sampling pickled okra, carrots, and cucumbers from the complimentary pickle bar.
The couple dining with us chose Mom's Marvelous Meatloaf (okay, but far too salty and slathered in a ketchupy tomato sauce better suited as a garnish than a primary component) and the Aunt Boo tuna salad sandwich (so delicious it disappeared practically on impact). Surprisingly, the Pickle Fried Chicken was breaded with the same cornmeal breading as the pickle chips, which made it a little weird because its texture deviates from the iconic, flour-based, Southern-fried chicken ethos. Brined in dill pickle juice and perfectly cooked, the chicken was tender and flavorful, although my spouse was not fully on board for the flavor profile. (My understanding is that if you want to make copycat Chick-fil-A, you should brine your chicken in pickle juice before breading and frying it, but this tasted nothing like the Jesus-loving fast food chain's signature protein, and that's just fine with me.)
My generously sized fish sandwich came with the now-ubiquitous cornmeal breading, very appropriate for the flaky white catfish fillet. If you, too, gorge on the pickles and pimento cheese, consuming the whole shebang – buttery soft bun, fresh crunchy toppings, and all – is, sadly, a near impossibility. In fact, the sandwich is so tasty that I wasn't (too) bothered that the standard-cut fries weren't made in-house, or that the green beans came from a can and were seasoned with bacon and onions (according to the employee who took our order).
Our kids enjoyed the basic, accessible kids' menu, declaring that the grilled cheese sandwich was among the best they'd had. (Kids eat free on Wednesday evenings, which makes verification of these claims a low-risk proposition.)
The pies were the perfect end to our meal, and the whipped cream swirls adorning their perimeters spoke to handcrafted care. The hands-down winner was the Key lime pie, perfectly tart and creamy, with a silky texture and flaky crust. Our next favorite was the incredibly decadent peanut butter chocolate pie (my favorite sweet combination). Anchored by a chocolate cookie crust, the peanut butter filling was flavorful and rich – almost too rich, if such a thing is even possible. The Mexican chocolate chess pie was creamy and robust, but the the back-end kick of cayenne wasn't cohesive: Instead of a harmonious blend of chocolate and spices, the chile was like a slightly out-of-tune soprano singing louder than the rest of the choir.
My biggest complaint about the Pickle House is that if you dive face-first into the all-you-care-to-eat pickle bar, you run the risk of blasting your palate with salt and vinegar, making it hard to enjoy the flavors the chefs worked so hard to develop. You also fill up more quickly because you're drinking buckets of water to allay your thirst (there's no beer or wine service yet, which seems like a missed opportunity). Adding insult to injury, the next morning my finger had ballooned around my wedding set and I was moon-faced with water retention. In short, it was a day without waistbands for those of us who'd dined at Pickle House the night before. But that's user error, and the wise reader ought to learn from our mistakes.
Still, I wouldn't turn down another trip, especially to try their new weekend brunch service with fresh-baked biscuits, chicken and waffles, and setups for micheladas and Bloody Marys. (I'd also return for one of their ongoing home pickling classes.) Next time, I'll certainly be more conservative in my pickle consumption.
The Pickle House: Southern Care & Provisions9521 Hwy. 290 W. #100
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