Carolina Street is narrow and quiet, and just three blocks from Babeville. In one of its tidy storefronts, RJ and Lindsey Marvin prepare batch after batch of pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut, dilly beans and kombucha in flavors that have won the hearts of Buffalo’s foodies.
Lightly processed, Barrel + Brine’s pickled items retain vivid colors and crisp textures. IPA dills, brilliantly hued beet and caraway sauerkraut, and pickles brined in a virgin bloody mary mix each have their own fan base. But its most elusive, most coveted creation is its Chinese peanuts.
Marvin isn’t giving up any secrets as he sits across the table from me in the little pickle factory’s customer area, a plate of pickled beets between us like a chessboard as I grill him for details. Here’s what he will tell me:
- He didn’t realize exactly what he was making when he made the first batch of Chinese peanuts.
- Barrel + Brine’s Chinese peanuts sell out faster than he can make them, but they require so much more time and effort than everything else he makes, it’s unlikely that he will try to create a more efficient system to meet the demand.
I first succumbed to Marvin’s magical peanuts along with several hundred other people at the Iron Event last September, a charity fundraiser where he debuted many of the pickled items for which he has since become known.
Braised chicken was served over steamed rice with a Willy Wonka-esque selection of pickled additions. The dish’s flavors were Korean, but the components were relatively American. Pickles in every shade and flavor—from pickled watermelon rind to, well, boiled peanuts—gave each diner a customized edible experience. For the next three days, all any of my chef friends wanted to talk about was RJ Marvin’s peanuts.
He's tight-lipped about them, but here’s what I can tell you. Immersed in a soy solution fragrant with star anise, cinnamon, fennel, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and cloves, Barrel + Brine’s groundnuts are redolent of Chinese five-spice powder, but there’s more going on.
Intoxicatingly scented, they offer any dish something I’ve not found in any other ingredient that readily comes to mind—these peanuts are simultaneously chewy, soft, and crunchy. They also manage to be sweet, salty, sour and packed with umami.
Marvin suggests cooks use them in any stir fry preparation, but I’d be surprised if you make it to dinner once you’ve lucked into a jar all your own. Many of Barrel + Brine’s most popular items can be found in the refrigerator sections of markets across the area, including three Feel-Rite stores, Guercio's, Elm Street Bakery, and Premier Gourmet.
But you’ll have to visit Carolina Street’s haven of fermentation to score Chinese peanuts. The sale of these jarred gems is announced on the company’s Facebook page, along with other rare treats. Between those, and the occasional Saturday pop-up lunches, queues outside the little shop sometimes wrap around the block.
Price: $5 for 8 ounces; $10 for 16 ounces
Info: Barrel + Brine, 257 Carolina St., 322-5756; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.