Fried Pickles at Blue Door, Town Hall, and Hazel’s

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Forget the corn dogs, Sweet Martha’s cookies, and various items on a stick — fried pickles from the Preferred Pickle always have been my favorite Minnesota State Fair indulgence. The crispy, salty coating combined with the briny pickle and a dunk in ranch dressing is nirvana. And until recently, I only reached this level of pickle enlightenment once a year because I hadn’t been able to find a true contender outside the fairgrounds. The now-departed Town Talk Diner featured “frickles” on its appetizer menu, but the skimpy layer of batter draped over the too-sweet pickles failed to excite me. But recently I’ve discovered some local versions that, while not quite achieving Fair fried-pickle perfection, come awfully close. At least they keep my craving in check until the next Great Minnesota Get-Together rolls around.

Blue Door Pub — The Adequate Substitute

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Though you’re probably thinking about a Jucy Lucy when you head to the Blue Door, the St. Paul pub offers deep-fried pickles ($6.50, right) as an app, too. Because, you know, you need more grease before scarfing down a cheese-stuffed burger and a pile of fries. While it’s hard to resist the hot, thinly battered chips when they arrive straight from the fryer, their appeal fades away along with the heat. The coating turns soggy as the chips cool, and even the garlic aioli can’t pep up limp pickles. We didn’t even finish the basket, which says a lot. (I don’t like wasting food, especially pickles.) Adequate if you’re desperate, but there are better choices in town.

Town Hall Tap — The Crunch Maker

Fried Pickles at Town Hall Tap

Kate N.G. Sommers / Heavy Table

My friend Deanna, who shares my fried-pickle fanaticism, introduced me to Town Hall Tap’s version ($6.50) one recent Saturday afternoon. Though I was skeptical of her claim that they were as good as the Fair’s pickles, I arrived with an open mind and ravenous appetite. While the cream cheese nestled next to the pickle slice initially threw me for a loop, the thick, panko-like crust on each chip made me an instant admirer. How come so few pickle-pushers can get that coating right? Bravo, Town Hall Tap, bravo. After a couple of pickles, I began to appreciate the cooling quality of the cream cheese since there seemed to be a dash of hot sauce thrown in the batter, and the accompanying sweet and tangy blackberry chutney contains jalapeños. But truth be told, that coating was so good that I preferred it sans dipper. These are fried pickles are reason enough to return to Town Hall Tap, but still, they’re the runner-up to…

Hazel’s Northeast — The Ragin’ Cajun

If it were possible to combine the crispy crust of Town Hall Tap’s pickles with Hazel’s Northeast’s Cajun friend pickles ($6, pictured at top), one could say he or she has successfully cloned the Preferred Pickle’s chips. Alas, this cross-town pickle mating doesn’t seem likely in the near future, but in the meantime, Hazel’s variety edges out Town Hall’s by a small margin. Though the batter is bit thin for my taste, it retains its crunch for as long as pickles remain in your basket, and the Cajun-inspired spice is hard to dislike. The pickle itself lacks any sweetness (seriously, why do bread-and-butter pickles even exist?), and the Cajun flavor carries over to the ranch dressing for a one-two punch that’s flavorful but not overwhelming. If my 1-year-old was able to keep pace with me on pickle consumption, you know the spice level wasn’t too extreme. Crave-worthy indeed, Hazel’s can wear the local fried-pickle crown proudly — until the second-to-last Thursday in August, when the Fair opens again.

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Jill Lewis

The great-granddaughter of an Eastern European Jewish baker, Jill Lewis cannot escape her genetic predisposition to carbs. Her love of baked goods, wine, cheese and chocolate may not come in handy for her day job as a Twin Cities PR professional, but it proves infinitely helpful for her gigs as a contributing writer for The Heavy Table and the co-author of the Cheese and Champagne blog. A former resident of Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and suburban Washington, D.C., Jill now lives with her husband, two young sons and cat in St. Louis Park.

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8 Comments

  1. I’m with you on the sweet pickle thing. Why do these exist? Nice article. I have been to Hazel’s a few times and really like it. They make a great burger with fresh cut fries as well.

  2. Same here. You’d think someone could replicate the state fair pickles? Try the fried pickles at Pat’s Tap. Much different than the fair pickles with more of a tempura batter, but a pretty good fill-in until the real ones are available in August.

  3. Hey, what’s with all the bread & butter bashing? Each year I make three kinds of cucumber pickles: Russian-style fermented sour dills; straight vinegar French cornichons; and bread & butters using the BH&G cookbook recipe (but I cut the sugar about in half). And I don’t fry any of them! While I love a sour pickle, there’s nothing like a pile of bread & butters alongside a quality grilled cheese sandwich, cheddar and swiss on country sourdough. And nothing like a sour dill with a ham on rye, or cornichons with a hunk of paté. And, people, there is no place for pickle bigotry in this great big food-filled democracy of ours!

    Brett

    p.s.~ Jill, nice meeting you at the Slow Food event.

  4. While the rest of the menu leaves a whole lot to be desired, my family really loves the fried pickles at Chatterbox. The coating is cornmeal and stays extra-crunchy.

  5. I first fell in love with fried pickels when I lived in New Orleans and haven’t been able to find any better ones ever since. I had the same experience at Blue Door Pub, bleh. Love Hazel’s but haven’t tried the pickels yet, can’t wait. Avoid at all costs the fried pickles at Big 10. Their wings are great…. and that’s about it.

  6. Hazel’s fried pickles rock! I ordered them after reading this post and my aunts thought it sounded crazy, but when they tried them, they couldn’t get enough! Yummy sweet potato fries too.

  7. you also need to try bullfrog in mpls.

  8. My husband and I found fried pickles at George’s in Appleton, WI, and I haven’t found any others to compare. They did them in spear form, and served them with a garlicky (ranch?) dipping sauce. Wow. Much better than the ones at the fair, which we tried this year.

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