Last Days to Ship
Loisaida Throwback Crawl: Kossar's Bialy
Loisaida Throwback Crawl: Doughnut Plant

There's a pickle war in town, did you know? In the Lower East Side, within a two block radius, at that. Well actually, two blocks, and up to Cedurhurst, NY. I had no idea, until Todd, a UM reader who came out with us, gave us a little LES pickle history lesson, which goes a little something like this...

- Izzy Guss opens Guss' Pickles in the LES in 1920, eventually moving to Orchard Street
- Izzy dies in 1970, family sells the LES business to the Bakers
- In 2001, The Bakers and Leibowitzs (who own United Pickle, the largest wholesaler of pickles on the east coast) allegedly decide to open up a Guss' together in Cedarhurst, NY
- Alan Kaufman, who worked at Guss' in the LES, opens up The Pickle Guys around 2002 on Essex Street
- The Bakers, meanwhile, sell their LES Guss' to Patricia Fairhurst around 2004 (whose son Robert Janin worked for the shop) when the Leibowitzs turned down offer to buy it
- The Leibowitzs claims that they had bought the rights to the Guss empire from the Bakers, and accuses Fairhurst for trademark infringement; Fairhurst files federal lawsuit
- To this day, the Guss' website solely represents its Cedarhurst location, with no mention of the Orchard Street Guss'. It slyly exclaims on the site, "Imitated but never duplicated!"

Don't want to oversimplify it, but after reading these NYT articles (here and here) ad infinitum, I think I covered all the bases. Although I have a headache now from trying to understand it all. Please excuse me if I misinterpreted anything, but I think that's the jist.

So anyway, we stopped in at The Pickle Guys first, and made our way two blocks to Orchard for Guss' Pickles. Pickle Battle! Thanks to Todd for schooling us on the battle along the way.

When walking into the long and narrow Pickle Guys storefront, you're greeted by huge red barrels and barrels of all things pickled. Turnips, tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, olives, green beans, the list goes on and on.

"Sour pickle" up top, which has been in brine for a few weeks. Bright green one is the "new pickle," meaning it's only been in brine a few days to a week. The third one is the horseradish pickle- I never knew they used so much horseradish in kosher cuisine, but that, I learned, on this crawl.


Green beans.

Poster of the LES waaayyyy back in the day. Nope, don't see the ugly blue building.

Milton, who has been pickling since he was a teenager and has been working at the Pickle Guys since it opened (and also worked at Guss' with the owner Alan Kaufman), gave us a pickle pep-talk, which was so sweet of him.
We all huddled around him in the front of the store as he explained the history of the pickle (from Eastern Europe), difference between "sour" and "new" pickles (sours are in brine for longer), and the health benefits of drinking the brine (some think it cleanses out your system).

[Todd: In terms of drinking pickle juice, I think that is an old tradition, its got lots of bacteria and the idea is that the bacteria is the kind that is good for you. Its the same concept behind yogurt, in fact it may be the same bacteria, both pickles and yogurt contain lactic acid as a result of the fermentation process.]

I probed Milton a little about Guss' and why he left to start The Pickle Guys. He keenly swerved the question, but did say that Guss' was now owned by a "conglomerate" (read: Leibowitz and United Pickle).

I'll give you everyone's reactions at the end- first I want to show you Guss' around the corner. Literally a 5 minute walk. What is so charming about Guss' is that they literally bring out their barrels INTO the sidewalk, rain or shine. They are closed for Shabbat, as are the Pickle Guys, to keep in line with the Jewish tradition.

Robert Janin, who packed all the pickles the little tupperware could hold, added brine to the top, forced the lid on, put in a plastic bag, spun the top of the bag super tight while simultaneously getting all the air out of it, and knotted it two times. It was amazing to watch him, I wish I got it on video- it was like second nature to him, to pack these pickles.

Mom and owner, Patricia Fairhurst. Holdin' Orchard Street and the Guss' tradition down!!!

A blown-up yellowing article about Guss'.
Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the pickles from Guss'!!! But I will say that I enjoyed their spicy pickle immensely. Overall, I would go back to Guss' for the spicies and the new pickles, which I thought were more flavorful than the Pickle Guys. Here's what everyone else thought.

Paystyle: I’ve always went to Pickle Guys because I didn’t know about Guss'. I’d say Pickle Guys wins the battle for variety, since they have olives, pickled okra, etc. But Guss' wins on the standards. Toe-to-toe spicy pickle battle: Gus hands down. Not sure how Guss' is owned by a corporate conglomerate though like the guy from Pickle Guys was sayin'—seems like some competitive puffery to me.

Alex: The "new" pickles [from Guss'] were delicious and kind of reminded me of a small plate at a Chinese restaurant.

Christy: The "new" pickle from Pickle Guys was tasty as well. The horseradish one was kind of gross. I have a low tolerance for pickled items, but a small amount of pickled beans, okra, etc. is fun.

Todd: Yikes, [the pickle war] is complicated. I think pickles are a natural product and they vary from batch to batch quite a bit and different people have personal preferences as well. I did not detect any consistent difference between The Pickle Guys and Guss'. I've been to both place several times, I've always liked the service better at Guss'. I myself like new pickles, less salty and still taste like cucumbers. I also liked both the okra and the green beans.

Still Todd: There are many threads on places such as Chowhound arguing whose pickles are better, and some people claiming that Guss' and The Pickle Guys from time to time use the same supplier. My experience with delis in NY such as Katz's, Second Avenue etc. is that their pickles are not consistent. When I leave NYC, one of the first things I notice is that the pickles generally become garbage, soft, yellow and tasteless.

The Pickle Guys
49 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002
Tel: 212-656-9739

Guss' Pickles
85 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
nr. Broome St.

Will be back soon for Vanessa's Dumplings (formerly Dumpling House)! Check out all previous Umamiventures here. Thanks to Christy, Michelle, Jill and Jessie for the pictures. Make sure to join the UM Facebook group to stay updated on all future Umamiventures.