The chain gang
Mr. Pickle’s Sandwich Shop3200 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95816
The Mr. Pickle’s delis are the Tribbles of the Sacramento restaurant world. Over the past winter, I seemed to see new ones (or maybe old ones I hadn’t noticed before) constantly. This regional chain stretches from Chico to San Mateo, but the restaurants seem to be most concentrated in the Sacramento area. Every time I passed a mini-mall, there was another Mr. Pickle’s.
The one I saw the most, however, is the Folsom Boulevard location, which is just blocks from my house. Formerly the retail operation of Merlino’s Freeze, it offers several outlets under one roof: In addition to Mr. Pickle’s big sandwiches, it has the freezes of yore, as well as a House of Fries operation.
I’m awfully glad about the freezes, now that we’re back in the heat of summer. They’re just the same as they ever were, cold and fruity and not too sweet—an indispensable part of my neighborhood. I was less certain we needed another sandwich chain. Merlino’s hadn’t been able to make its deli operations work (the last time I stopped in there, at the beginning of last summer, its former sandwich business had dwindled to hot dogs only), and there’s a Togo’s just a couple of blocks away. But I thought it was high time I gave Mr. Pickle’s a shot. After all, we’re surrounded. Plus, they often have a giant dancing pickle (well, a guy in a pickle suit) out front. Who can resist a dancing pickle?
This branch of Mr. Pickle’s has a spacious storefront, with not much changed since the days it was Merlino’s, except the menu. The wall décor, however, has been changed and for the worse: Rather than the charming historic photographs of Sacramento, there’s now a giant and slightly creepy Sopranos poster and prints like an aerial view of San Francisco, none of which bear any clear resemblance to the Mr. Pickle’s theme.
Mr. Pickle’s offers a long list of sandwiches, all of which come with “everything”—mayonnaise, mustard, garlic sauce, lettuce, tomato, onions, peppers and (yes) pickles. I appreciated, however, that the people taking the orders asked before automatically putting everything on the sandwich. Better yet, when I specified just a few things for my BBQ Melt sandwich, they left off what I didn’t want. (They omitted one thing I did want—the garlic sauce on the side—but I will confess that asking for that was maybe a little more high-maintenance than necessary at a deli.) The BBQ Melt comes with a chicken breast, barbecue sauce and melted cheddar cheese, so I felt there was already plenty of mess and flavor without the addition of goopy condiments. I therefore stuck with just the veggies, all on a big wheat roll. The bread was a little soft and characterless, but the filling of the sandwich was quite tasty—rather sweet sauce, moist and tender chicken, and a modest amount of cheese.
My husband went for the BLAT—a slightly unfortunate name for a classic sandwich, the bacon, lettuce and tomato with avocado. This sandwich occasioned a debate at our table: The menu proclaims it a triple-decker, and the sandwich does have three slices of bread (two on the outside, of course, and one on the inside). Is that, however, a true triple-decker? Would that not make every sandwich a double-decker?
Such questions veer dangerously close to an ontological argument about the very nature of sandwiches, so we concentrated on the sandwich itself, decks be damned. The tomato was unfortunately pallid, and the bacon a little limper than would be optimal, but the sandwich overall had a nice balance of crunch, saltiness and sweetness, plus the unctuous avocado and a nice toastiness on the wheat bread. Again, the person taking the order asked whether my husband wanted the BLAT traditional style (without the works) or with everything; in this case, going with just mayo seemed the best choice. It was a good thing, too, because the sandwich would have been tremendously unwieldy with more fillings.
This order-taker was a different person from the guy who took my order, and different again from the woman who rang us up; service was friendly, but this multiple order-taking system occasioned a certain chaos behind the counter and also made the group more prone to forget things, such as our orange freeze, for which we had to ask yet another server after the rest of our order had been delivered.
We were pleasantly surprised by an order of fiesta fries from the House of Fries section of the menu. They come with chili, tomato, sour cream and green onions—and plenty of all. The sturdy waffle fries were crunchy and golden, and the chili was meaty and not bad at all. We also tried out the hot wings, which were just OK: perfectly unobjectionable but not so much actually hot.
One curious omission, with both of the sandwiches, was pickles. Yes, they come with pickle slices within, but I don’t care about pickles in the sandwich. I want a spear of pickle alongside! It strikes me that Mr. Pickle’s is missing a golden opportunity to cement its name recognition. On the other hand, each sandwich does come with a Blow Pop—a fun touch, to be sure. But, for a place that puts a dancing pickle out on the street and has expanded with such vigor, the lack of more pickles is an inexplicable oversight in branding.