Back-alley, Earth-conscious, locally sourced Rock & Roll burgers are exactly the kind of thing one would expect to find in Northside. When driving down Hamilton Avenue on a recent Tuesday afternoon, I decided to try Tickle Pickle, which happens to serve just that. Having only opened the second week of October, most establishments would still be ironing out the kinks. But owner Sarah Cole already runs a successful catering business (Sarelli’s Catering in Newport), so it seemed likely that the food would be review-ready.
I parked on the street by a chalkboard sandwich sign that guided me down an alley under a canopy of twinkling lights. The inside dining room of the café isn’t open yet, but the adorable courtyard is. It’s a small fenced area with more draped strands of lights and an awning with just four tables.
Patrons order their Rock-themed burgers — like the Nom Petty (with mushrooms, Swiss cheese and mayo), Bread Zeppelin (American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo and ketchup) and Grateful Shred (shredded pulled-pork on a pretzel bun with spicy slaw and grilled onions) — from the stoop on the back of the building from a staff as full of genuine smiles as they are of tattoos. I ordered lunch for my boss and myself — burgers (one meat and one vegetarian), sides and a shake — at the window and sat at a picnic table to enjoy what was surely one of the last warm days of fall.
The smells wafting by were pretty incredible. My piping-hot food arrived less than 10 minutes later with an ice-cold milkshake I couldn’t wait to try.I’ve heard the most buzz about Tickle Pickle’s vegan milkshake. Vegan milkshakes are a tough thing to find, and the restaurant is located dangerously close to a lot of vegans, so daily consumption is a real possibility.
I wanted to try the non-vegan variety, however, because the James Brown ($4) had me thinking, “Please, please, please.” It’s essentially a big cup of chocolate ice cream with a broken-up crispy brownie, topped with whipped cream and a cherry. It’s decadent and rich, and now I can’t stop thinking about the next time I can slurp up a chewy brownie chunk through a straw.
Vegans have one burger option on the menu, the Buns N Roses ($8.50), which, as a vegetarian, is the one I went for. It’s a housemade black bean burger topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion and spicy ketchup. The vegan flax bun is large enough to hold up to the generous black-bean patty. I would have preferred a thinner patty, but the flavor was nice — a bit smoky with a nice mouthfeel and crispy edges, minus the textural surprises vegetarians have become accustomed to in burgers. The thick-sliced zesty pickles were really nice. I would have liked a larger portion of spicy ketchup, though, to balance out the dryer bun. I think next time I’ll switch it up with a pretzel bun — which turns the vegan burger vegetarian. I didn’t have nearly the appetite for destruction you’ll find necessary to finish both this burger and a side.
With 11 side options ($2 each), all of which I would have definitely tried, selecting one was tough. I was already drinking a brownie, so I went all out and ordered mac and cheese. It reminded me a lot of my favorite oven-baked variety that my sweet Southern grandma makes, just without the crispy layer of breadcrumbs. They didn’t skimp on the sharp cheddar cheese, and it was just the right amount of salty, sloppy and gooey with a hint of pepper.
My boss ordered the Red Hot Chili Peppers ($9), a beef burger on a regular bun with onion, green pepper, spicy ketchup, pepper jack cheese and goat-cheese-stuffed jalapeños. He really liked the burger.
The square meat patty was well seasoned and not over-cooked, and the lightly caramelized onions had a nice bite. It was about a seven out of 10 on the spicy scale. It would have been taken to higher ground with one more stuffed jalapeño, he thought. Both of our meals came with coleslaw. We agreed that it was nice and crispy and fresh, but we would have liked it better if it was thicker.
He chose the dirty smashed potatoes as a side and slid some my way. We both loved them. They were the perfect texture — nice, big, soft lumps. The garlicky taste wasn’t lacking, either. I’m known to doctor up lackluster potatoes with lots of salt, butter and pepper, but I didn’t have to add a thing. In addition to their focus on delicious and fast food, Tickle Pickle prides itself on serving local, honest and fresh ingredients from purveyors like The Pickled Pig, Sixteen Bricks, Aunt Millie’s Covington and Marksbury Farms.
Go: 4176 Hamilton Ave., Northside;
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Sunday.