Back in 2014, friends congratulated Pat Block on the clever marketing plan for his new pickle business, Barrio Brinery. What could be more fitting than to open the doors on November 14 — National Pickle Day? The only flaw in their reasoning was that Pat had never even heard of National Pickle Day. It was an utter coincidence, but apparently a fortuitous one as well.
After retiring from the State of New Mexico’s Department of Game & Fish, Pat was looking for a next act. A stint as bartender at the Santa Fe Opera led to his meeting his wife, Yvette de la O, and focused him on the idea of food and beverage.
During travel to the Pacific Northwest, Pat and Yvette came across a variety of hand-crafted small-batch fermented foods like Jewish deli-style pickles and sauerkraut, known for their probiotic benefits. These tangy dishes and others such as kimchi, yogurt, and kefir are created through lacto-fermentation. Most supermarket pickles and kraut are made a faster way, by simply heating ingredients in a vinegar solution. Genuine fermentation of pickles, in a salt brine, is the older, slower — we’re talking weeks or months — method of preserving, and creates deeper, more complex flavor.
Seeing that no one was offering these foods locally on any kind of commercial scale, Pat filled the niche just as the general public was just beginning to appreciate the value of probiotics and fermented foods. Research continues to show that healthy gut bacteria created by the lacto-fermentation process influence other bodily systems in positive ways, and offer anti-inflammatory and immune-system-boosting properties.
Pat set up shop on West Alameda, creating a line-up of mostly New Mexico-inspired pickles. Produce comes from the area, from Belen to southern Colorado, and is organic as often as possible. At the heart of the business is a classic New York kosher-style dill, with four variations. The riffs on the theme are half-sour, a crisper pickle that spends less time in the salt brine; a hot and spicy with extra garlic; and New Mexican red chile, garlic pickles with double the garlic; and a sweet and spicy bread-and-butter-style with a hint of honey. I’m partial to both the classic style and the hot and spicy, in particular.
The caraway-scented kraut is scrumptious on its own or piled high to add zest to a pastrami Reuben. Check out Dilly Beans, the garnish you’ve been needing for those Bloody Marys or on the side with a bowl of tomato soup. I’m completely head-over-heels for the escabeche, a mix of sliced jalapeños, carrots, and onions perfect for adding a little zip to a bowl of beans, topping a taco, or serving beside a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. If you can’t decide between the cucumber pickles and the escabeche, a newer addition to the line-up is cucumbers that are soaked in the oregano-scented escabeche liquid. Oh, my!
The latest member of the Barrio Brinery family is the perfect topping for nachos, Primo Nacho’s Pickled Jalapeños, named after Pat’s late cousin, Ignacio. I can’t wait to give these a try. All are available for tasting before you buy.
Barrio Brinery on Restaurant Plates
The pickles quickly received an enthusiastic reception among local chefs and restaurateurs. They show up on plates at — among other spots — Jinja, Loyal Hound, Hotel Santa Fe, Inn on the Alameda, Rowley’s Farmhouse Ale, and Dr. Field Goods Kitchen and Butcher Shop, where you can buy them to take home as well.
If you’re in the Albuquerque area, Los Poblanos Farm Shop offers the pickles for sale, too. Eating out, you might have had other proprietary condiments created by Barrio Brinery. Pat makes a special creamy sauerkraut topping used by Taco Fundacion and K’Bueno on fish, shrimp, and oyster tacos. He also whips up pickled red onions that top the Ranch Chicken Sandwich served at all 75 Blake’s Lotaburgers around New Mexico.
Pickles on the Christmas Tree
During that initial 2014 holiday season, I stopped at Barrio Brinery with my visiting young grandkids, who have always loved pickles. After tasting everything, we stocked up with several of our group’s favorites. Pat gifted us an electric green cucumber Christmas ornament, while regaling us with tall tales of how a pickle became a favorite tree decoration. A grain of truth in the story is likely that cucumbers were among a shipment of glass fruit and vegetable ornaments from Germany to the U.S. many years ago, and they caught on far better than, say, eggplants. My grandkids don’t make it here every Christmas, but I get a smile each season when I see the pickle dangling from a sparkling branch. You can bet my fridge is loaded with pickles too then, as well as the rest of the year.
1413-B West Alameda, Santa Fe
Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.