Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with fried pickles from Arkansas, which joined the union on June 15, 1836.

The state: Arkansas has either the most bewildering spelling or the most bewildering pronunciation in the union—it's the French pronunciation of a Quapaw word meaning "land of downriver people." Downriver is where Bill Clinton got tail with the help of state troopers, and it's where Johnny Cash learned how to play guitar. Despite its status as the birthplace of Sam Walton, who has quite possibly created more minimum-wage jobs than any man in America, Arkansas decided to change its state nickname from the "Land of Opportunity" to the "Natural State" in 1995. Other nicknames? "The Toothpick State" and "Rackensack." 

The food: Y'all ain't never fried a pickle? Sheeeeeeiiiittt. In a long southern tradition of taking a perfectly good thing and then making it even better by frying the living crap out of it, Bernell "Fatman" Austin of Atkins, Arkansas, started battering, frying and selling pickles out of his Duchess Drive In in 1963. The family still has a secret recipe even today, served up only at the Atkins Picklefest (a festival name that is, perhaps, my personal definition of heaven.) Some people fry the pickles whole. Some slice them up. But one thing is certain: The damn thing better be dill. And it better be a little bit spicy. And the dipping sauce better be called secret sauce.

Other dishes considered and rejected: Twce-cooked chicken potato salad, fried catfish, possum pie, sugared rice, biscuits and chocolate gravy, Grapette soda.

Get it from:
 Crown Q (445 NE Killingsworth St, 281-0373, has a plate of dill pickle chips with secret sauce for a cool $5, to get on the side with your BBQ pork ribs or brisket from Stroupe Family Farms. The dipping sauce is somewhere on the spicy side of the Thousand Island family—I'd guess ketchup, horseradish, mayo, black pepper, maybe some worcestershire—the chips lightly battered but still crisp, with the pickle soft in the middle. The thin batter splits a bit sometimes, freeing the pickle within, but all in all a fine fried pickle.


Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.

Pennsylvania Maine Louisiana Texas West Virgina Nevada NC Colorado Alaska Mississippi Washington Minnesota Tennessee Nebraska Missouri Massachusetts Michigan Wisconsin Ohio Arizona south carolina newyork Connecticut rhode island Wyoming New Mexico Kentucky Idaho alabama new jersey georgia kansas california iowa montana oklahoma indiana vermont hawaii utah arkansas maryland Virginia oregon Illinois Florida New Hampshire South Dakota Delaware North Dakota