Strange things happen at neighborhood pubs, and the Pickle Barrel on Market Street is no exception. Known more for its eclectic atmosphere and clientele than its food, the Barrel goes to odd (some would say superstitious) lengths in providing authentic pub grub.
Case in point: Sauerkraut, that fermented sour cabbage that completes the classic Reuben sandwich. Owner Nick Bowers makes his in-house, producing the key ingredient for the Barrel’s signature Reuben under specific, mystical conditions. Though the bar and restaurant has been open for 30 years, Bowers said they have only been making homemade sauerkraut for the last decade, but it’s a process he doesn’t take lightly.
“Don’t make your kraut when the signs are in the bowels,” Bowers said, recalling his grandmother’s advice. He said his mother never quite understood that expression, but he decided to look into those strange, wise words a little further. Bowers explained that all body parts have astrological signs, so he unearthed a copy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac and began seeking connections between the body, the stars and, well, sauerkraut.
The more he researched, the more Bowers learned about the art and process of making sauerkraut. Besides the Almanac, another astrological suggestion came from a fellow patron at the Chattanooga Farmer’s Market. She told Bowers not to make sauerkraut when signs are in the feet.
Research and advice in mind, Bowers examines his Alamanac and determines which days are prime for kraut-making. Through the motions of the moon and the old lady’s omen, Bowers’ kraut is crafted—sans bowels or feet (a very good thing, we think).
But sauerkraut is just one star in the constellation that is the classic Reuben. At the Pickle Barrel, a crisp, buttery crust sets the stage for the rest of the show. Dollops of mustard and Thousand Island dressing flavor the bread before thick slices of corned beef are laid to rest. Then, and only then, Bowers adds his sweet, crunchy, well-proportioned kraut atop the beef. The flavor is sealed with melting Swiss cheese.
With a pickle spear on the side, your lunch may linger. You may even be inspired to make your own sauerkraut. But do yourself a favor, Bowers adds: “Buy a Farmer’s Almanac.”