Leave it to a guy called Fatman to take the South's fried-food love affair to new frontiers. Chicken, okra, and green tomatoes have been dredged in flour and crisped in hot grease since time immemorial. Dill pickles, on the other hand, first found their way into the fryer at Bernell "Fatman" Austin's Duchess Drive-In in the '60s. The kitchen window faced the Atkins, Ark., pickle plant, providing just the inspiration he needed to invent a briny, crunchy new snack.
Round these parts, however, something's clearly been lost in Yankee translation. Our sampling of the city's fried pickles turned up a mess of limp, lackluster spears sheathed in oil- and brine-sodden coatings -an absolute dill-breaker. We finally speared two worthy versions at Cambridge Common and Redbones. Both kitchens mastered the cuke-to-coating ratio, their crispy batters adding just the right layer of crunch to the pickles' snap.
Cambridge cloaked its steamy spears in spicy beer batter and encouraged double-dipping with a cool, creamy ranch dressing and an even better chipotle aioli, which aced Redbones' ho-hum ranch. But picklewise, the Somerville smokehouse served up a lighter, crispier shell and packed even more heat with an accompanying pile of fried jalapeño rings.
TRY IT TONIGHT Fried pickles and fried jalapeños (left), $3.99
Redbones, 55 Chester St., Somerville. 617-628-2200. redbones.com
JUST TRY IT, ALREADY Fried pickles, $4.95
Cambridge Common, 1667 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-547-1228. cambridgecommonrestaurant.com