We’ve all seen lettuce wraps and the carb-phobic sub-in-a-tub concept, but neither of those breadless wonders are the kind of things that spawn true excitement among foodies. I don’t care how health conscious you are, nobody is bursting with enthusiasm over the prospect of eating more lettuce.
But the same can certainly NOT be said for pickles. And at Elsie’s in Northfield, that is exactly what is standing in for the bread on every sandwich they sell. And people are losing their minds over the concept.
“We are a sandwich shop without any bread — we have no bread in house at all,” says Katherine Cohen, the bubbly, bespectacled brine lover who created the pickle sandwich concept. “We started making our pickles for my mom, who is a diabetic, many years ago at the old deli my family owned. That shop (which was in Linwood and also known as Elsie’s) is now closed, and we started this new pickle-only concept when we opened our store in Haddon Township a few years ago.”
The lack of bread makes Elsie’s a perfect spot for those with dietary restrictions, the keto tribe or for anyone who simply loves pickles. But why not also offer a bread option? For Cohen, it simply doesn’t seem necessary.
“Pickles are the perfect vessel for a sandwich,” she says matter of factly.
The world seems to agree. In 2019 the Instagram-worthy images of pickles in sandwich form from Elsie’s quickly went viral, putting Cohen’s creations in high demand, getting her mentioned on sites like Buzzfeed and Thrillist and booked on shows such as “Good Morning America.” With that level of buzz going for Elsie’s, it was only natural to begin opening more locations, which is how the Northfield shop — run by her sister Molly Cohen and her husband Matteo — came to be.
The shop itself is a simple, square-shaped space set up for takeout only. The menu, while incredibly creative by its very nature, is fairly compact and easy to navigate. There isn’t a rat’s nest of appetizers or endless sub categories to fight your way through, just a list of various pickle sandwiches that can either be served on one of their signature giant dill pickles or rolled sushi style in either a pickle slice or a fresh cucumber.
Creations include the Katz ($9.50), which is made with turkey, corned beef, Swiss cheese, an incredible sugar-free house-made cole slaw and Russian dressing; the Philly ($9.50), with roast beef, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion; and the Italian ($9.50), which stuffs its pickle vessel with ham, capicola, salami and provolone, as well as your choice of toppings.
“The Italian is by far our most popular sandwich — it’s really caught on,” Cohen says.
Other menu highlights include the Jersey Devil ($9.50), a spicy favorite made with turkey, American cheese, sriracha mayo, long hots and topped with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos; and the Phat Farm ($10) with roast beef, turkey, ham and corned beef and your choice of toppings. There is even a falafel sandwich ($9.25) made with falafel, lettuce tomato and red onion. And for the non-carnivores, the Taylor ($8.75) is a perfectly pickle-y meatless option filled with hummus, cucumbers, roasted red peppers and your choice of toppings.
In addition to the many signature sandwiches, at Elsie’s you also have the option to create your own masterpiece, where you select your own meats, cheeses, veggies, condiments and toppings. And in case you just have to add a touch of carbs to your meal, you do have the option to top any sandwich with crushed potato chips, Doritos or the aforementioned Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
In a pickle
The pickles used at Elsie’s come from an old family recipe that dates back many years. Though the sandwich versions of them have the insides scooped out to make it easier to hold all the meats and toppings, they can be ordered in non-sandwich form as well.
“We call them loosies, and they are giant. They should last you for two or three days,” Cohen says.
Their standard dill pickle is what gets used in the Northfield location presently, but they have intentions to expand the options soon, with half-sour and spicy versions planned for the summer.
Perhaps the most fun thing you can do when picking up your pickle sandwiches at Elsie’s is to throw back a shot of pickle brine. Yup — they have a self-serve pickle brine dispenser at the counter with mini plastic cups for folks to enjoy a quick shooter while they wait. And though the brine is for sale in bottles, if you bring your own container you can fill it up for free (up to a gallon). And, according to Cohen, it’s more than just a gimmick.
“Pickle brine is great for leg cramps, migraine headaches, hangovers. Some say it lowers your blood sugar, but I’m not a doctor and I haven’t researched that. But there are many different benefits,” she says.
And if medicinal benefits aren’t your thing, the brine at Elsie’s is also used in their line of bottled cocktail mixers, which can be grabbed right from the fridge case at the shop. They offer three varieties: Pickled Surfer combines pickle brine with lime juice and jalapeno; Pinney Baron mixes up pickle brine, pineapple, lime juice and jalapeno; and their house-made pickle brine-infused Bloody Mary mix will blow away any premade mix you might find at your local liquor store.