‘The Pickle Guys’ on Lower East Side serves up horseradish so strong, you need a gas mask

LOWER EAST SIDE, Manhattan — The Pickle Guys are best known for their sour pickles, but this time of year, their hot seller is their horseradish.

Although they sell the root vegetable dish year-round, they make a special variety for Passover.

“Right now, we’re grinding horseradish for Passover,” said owner Al Kaufman. “We do this once a year it’s a super-hot horseradish!”

So hot, Kaufman has to wear a gas mask. Much like wasabi, the fumes and pungent nature of the horseradish can get to you, inflaming your nose and eyes.

“At the Seder, you’re supposed to have a tear come out of your eye it’s to signify the suffering the Jews went through when they were wandering around the desert for 40 years,” said Kaufman.

“In the old days we never had a gas mask we had a fan behind us that blows it out,” he adds. “But we had a few guys who came back from the military, came back from Desert Storm and they couldn’t handle it so they brought their gas masks and ever since then, we’ve been using gas masks.”

The Lower East Side pickle specialist is the city’s top supplier for horseradish. In the 10 days leading up to Passover every year, they grind up to 5,000 pounds of horseradish.

Located at 357 Grand Street, Kaufman stands outside, using a grinding machine.

“If you’re doing it from 9 o’clock in the morning till 6 o’clock at night for six days straight, it kind of gets to you after a while your nose is runny, your eyes are tearing.”

Inside, the line is long and outside it’s a neighborhood attraction drawing a crowd and curious onlookers of all ages.

Sixth-grader Priscilla Wu stops by every day on her way home from school. “The shredding of the horseradish is really amazing and the smell is really strong,” said Wu.

“My father started the ritual probably 30 years ago getting fresh horseradish ground so now I’m continuing cause my mom, who’s going to be 88 next week, insists we get fresh ground horseradish for Passover and there’s no place that does it like this it’s just part of a family tradition,” said Rosenblit.

It’s $10 for a small jar, $19 for the large. Just for the holiday they’re selling either white vinegar or red beet juice horseradish. Of course, there’s also a variety of pickles and pickled fruits and vegetables for your choosing.

The Pickle Guys is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. They will close on Passover and remain closed until April 8.