Born after 1991? Sorry, no gherkins for you!

The Old Bay Steakhouse Chill Dill Starter Kit (patent pending). BY BOB YESBEK
July 3, 2012

Maybe it all started with the olive or the random onion submerged in a martini. Or possibly it was the garden of pickled goodies occupying valuable real estate in a Bloody Mary. (Get the bloody at Fins restaurant and enjoy a crunchy green bean!)

As Food Network and Travel Channel raised our collective consciousness about bartenders and the critical role they play in (some of) our lives, talented mixologists are taking free rein when it comes to merging cocktails and food - in the same glass.

One of my favorite thirst quenchers is the hot cucumber margarita whomped up by longtime Rehoboth Beach barkeep David Engel. After I brought my own jalapeño pepper to the opening night of a(Muse.), he has kept them in stock ever since. Cucumber, mulled with the pepper, becomes the base for the snappy drink. (Don’t be a wimp! Tell him to leave in the pepper’s seeds and ribs.)

Of course, you can’t swing a bag o’ limes around here without hitting a cauldron of fruit- or veggie-infused vodkas. Pineapple at Cabo. Cucumbers at Matt’s Fish Camp. Cantaloupe, mango, fresh herbs and pretty much anything else everywhere else.

A young friend of mine, Conor O’Hollaren, has been spending much of his post-college time exploring the countless Williamsburg drinkeries in Brooklyn, N.Y. He does occasionally take a break from this in order to ply his creative trade at a New York advertising agency. So it was with grand fanfare that he introduced his parents (and eventually me) to the Pickleback. What’s a Pickleback? (It almost sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it?) But it’s no joke, and the answer is deceptively simple: A shot of whiskey (Brooklynites swear by Jameson Irish Whiskey), swiftly followed by a shot of pickle brine. Period.

Now don’t turn the page! I admit that it took a while for Conor’s 24-year-old enthusiasm to convince me to take the plunge, but I did, and the resulting taste is nothing like Jameson or pickles. It’s a soft, savory blend of the two. Denizens of Billyburg love the brine from the locally sourced McClure’s pickles (I order them through the mail, thank you), but high-profile barkeeps just open the fridge and decant a shot from the nearest Vlasic jar.

So, armed with this revelation, I couldn’t wait to drop in on the equally young Zack King, the new proprietor of Old Bay Steakhouse on Coastal Highway. He prides himself not only on being a pretty good restaurateur, but also on being a really good bartender. “OK, Zack,” I snootily intoned, “I’ll bet you’ve never heard of a Pickleback!”

Can I tell you what it’s like to be laughed at by a 24-year-old? Not pretty. Between chuckles, King continued. “Are you really just finding out about this?” Before I could defend myself, Jameson, shot glasses and pickle juice mysteriously appeared at the table. After the proper evaluations had been conducted, Zack announced that he could do us one better. “How ‘bout a Chill Dill?” Apparently this was already a tradition at the one-month-old Old Bay Steakhouse.

The CD is a bit more complicated and involves (1) a mild hot sauce, (2) a shot of tequila and (3) bite-size pickle chunks. Turn your left hand sideways and deposit several drops of the hot sauce on the side behind your thumb (not unlike the traditional salt lick when quaffing tequila). Then, in rapid succession, lick the hot sauce off your hand, knock back the tequila and pop a pickle. Chew. Swallow. Smile. Repeat as needed.

From my vantage point, I predict that it’s only a matter of time before you’ll have to show your driver’s license to buy a jar of pickles. And I hope both Conor and Zack get carded repeatedly!

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at

    Masthead photo by Grant Gursky. Used with permission from Coastal Style Magazine.

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