When settling in to a new city, I search for three things: a saucy slice of pizza, a strong cup of coffee and a quality gin martini. Four days a North Carolinian, I set out in pursuit of new best-ofs. Several sources agreed that, for that special cocktail, I needed to explore Alley Twenty Six in downtown Durham.
The following Friday night, I found myself perched at the bar, wooed by the sound of jazz, the gents in bow ties and the ambiance of a dark lounge. I soon decided I might become a regular, but for tonight I vowed to keep it classy, have a drink or two and call it an early evening. That lasted, at least, until I noticed the cocktail waitress serving a stunning pickle platter down the bar.
If there's one thing I can rarely pass up, it's a good pickle. But despite the recent fad of pickled and fermented foods, a quality pickle plate can be hard to find. Alley Twenty Six's spread, however, offers a variety of locally sourced ingredients, flavors and, most important, the perfect pickle crispness.
"Alley Twenty Six isn't a restaurant, so bar snacks like our house-made pickle plate and yucca chips are quick and relatively easy to prepare," explains Alley Twenty Six owner Shannon Healy. "We strive for delicious small eats on par with our drinks."
They get there, too: Prepared by food zealot Jonathan Werz, these pickles are a substantial step up from those old neon-green grocery store dills.
"Once I learned the golden ratio of water, vinegar and salt," says Werz, who began pickling during his tenure at Carrboro's Glasshalfull, "I began experimenting with more complex flavors and combinations."
Pickled eggs, dark spiced cherries and ponzu mirin-pickled green beans "have been on the plate since the start," he says. Current seasonal specials include green apple slices done up in habanero ginger cilantro and—my personal favorite—the miso-pickled peaches. A distinct peach sweetness, supported by the umami flavors of white soy, chases the initial miso bite.
If you're looking for a more traditional pickled cucumber, Alley Twenty Six has you covered. The classic bread-and-butter cucumbers upgrade the expected sweet pickle flavor with turmeric-and-vinegar zest.
With the ever-changing seasonal harvest, I can't wait to see what's in store for Alley Twenty Six this fall.
"I have a few things in mind," says Werz, smiling. "Pumpkins, beets, carrots?"
See you soon, then.