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Lower East Side food: The Pickle Guys

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Pickles may not come immediately to mind as an iconic New York food, but with as many as 80 pickle shops and carts crowding Essex Street and surrounding streets on the Lower East Side during the first half of the 20th century, pickles were an essential and familiar part of life for many tenement dwellers. The last of the original pickle shops, Guss’, became ensnared in a legal battle that resulted in its move to Brooklyn or Long Island (depends on who you believe!) in 2009, leaving a lone relative newcomer to carry the pickle tradition of Essex Street forward.

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The Pickle Guys, begun by former employees of Guss’ Pickles, makes and sells kosher pickles under rabbinical supervision in an open air store near the corner of Grand Street. Tall red barrels crowd the left-hand side of the store, and traditional choices like sours, half sours, and olives have been joined by more exotic fare: pickled grape tomatoes, turnips, pineapple, and okra were all on offer.

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For my pickle-obsessed daughter, this store was absolute heaven, and I have no doubt we’re about to become frequent customers. The kind men behind the counter handed her a pickle to enjoy while we shopped (and warned her not to drip its juices inside the barrels as I lifted her up to look inside – the barrels are taller than she is!), and we left with a myriad of plastic containers, all overfilled with pickled vegetables. I’m not certain it counts as ‘eating your vegetables’ if each and every one of them is pickled, but for the glimpse of old New York and a delicious snack, The Pickle Guys is absolutely worth a visit.


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