I tried fried dill pickles for the first time back in the 1970s at The Hollywood Cafe, then in Hollywood, Miss.
The Hollywood isn't affiliated with the Hollywood casino and was in the area long before the casinos arrived. This is the place immortalized in Marc Cohn's song, "Walking in Memphis," and where the late Muriel Wilkins played piano.
I began eating at The Hollywood when it was in its original location in a building that once was a plantation commissary and one of the oldest buildings in the county. It burned to the ground in 1983. In an article in The Commercial Appeal, then Tunica County Sheriff Hugh Monteith said, "I'm sorry it's gone. It was one of the first places to specialize in fried dill pickles."
I recently ordered a plate of the pickles and some marinated catfish (another one of my favorites) at The Hollywood Cafe, which now is in Robinsonville, Miss. It bills itself as "Home of the Fried Dill Pickle." The restaurant even has its own little sunglasses-wearing fried dill pickle cartoon character.
You can order the pickles -- lightly-breaded thin chip pickles -- by themselves with some home-made ranch dressing or you can get The Hollywood Cafe "Vegetable Plate" platter: fried dill pickles, fried green tomatoes and fried onion rings.
Nancy Rosenbury and Mike Young, who were celebrating their eighth anniversary, sat at a nearby table. Rosenbury said she likes the Hollywood pickles because they're thin, not thick. Some places, she said, do "too much pickle and outweigh your breading."
Tait Selden, a member of an old Delta family, recounted how the fried dill pickle came to The Hollywood. Selden, who was a cook at the restaurant when it first opened, said some friends with hangovers were at the restaurant one Sunday back in 1969. A woman lying on a couch asked Selden, "How about frying me a pickle? Just cut it up into quarters, roll it in flour and throw it in the grease and bring it back here to me when it's brown."
It didn't taste very good, but a week later Selden and his brother Chad decided to come up with a good-tasting fried dill pickle recipe. They used flour and egg, but it was too soggy. They switched to flour and beer and added red pepper, garlic salt and Tabasco. They whipped the mixture to a crepe consistency. "We turned that grease up and got it good and hot, cut the pickles the size of a 'bo dollar' -- a silver dollar," Selden said.
They dragged the pickles in the batter. "You sling it (the pickle) over in the hot grease. As soon as it hits the hot grease it puffs up because of the yeast. It floats to the top. You flip it over and it doesn't get a chance to get soggy. You want to get it good and brown.
Fried dill pickles in various forms now can be found all over the place.
Young Avenue Deli sells 5-inch-long fried dill pickle spears. The pickles, which look like they're fried in Japanese tempura, are dipped in a batter made with Pabst beer, flour and a "secret blend of seasonings," said manager Phillip Stroud.
They go well with "a nice cold beer," said bartender Tommy Silk.
Soul Fish Cafe sells fried dill pickle chips made with corn meal, flour, black pepper and spices.
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken Downtown sells the fried dill pickle spears, but they're shorter than the ones at Young Avenue Deli and the batter isn't puffy.
No matter where I tried them, every dill pickle was delicious.
When I was at Gus's, Amir Abramovitch, 23, told me he and his family from Ramathasharon, Israel, also ordered the fried dill pickles, which he said were "very good." The pickles were a new experience for him. "I've never had 'fried anything' other than chicken breast," he said. "We don't fry everything in Israel."
The Hollywood Cafe is at 1585 Old Commerce Road in Robinsonville, Miss., (662)-363-1225; Young Avenue Deli is at 2119 Young, (901) 278-0034; Soul Fish Cafe is at 862 South Cooper, (901) 725-0722; Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken locations include 310 South Front, (901) 527-4877.
Michael Donahue: (901) 529-2797