15 February 2010

Benito vs. The Pimento Cheese Burger

Sometime during elementary school, you start to notice people with weird food preferences. I say "weird" because they obviously conflict with the rules set down at your home. "Can I have OJ on my cereal instead of milk?" "No! Are you crazy?" Mom and Dad make the decisions about dinner, and there are certain Things You Just Don't Do. Then one day during lunch a kid breaks out a peanut butter and pickle sandwich and you look on in horror while he chomps away. Of course, he's just following the rules of his household, and your bologna and mustard sandwich looks equally weird.

I bring this up because, after a lifetime of living in the south and a lot of experience with pimento cheese, I only recently found out that some folks put it on hamburgers. Even better: there was a place nearby that sold these things. Childhood revulsion at breaking the food rules eventually gave way to, "Why not, I'll give it a try before I criticize it."

Now, I might have to explain this for the Yankees and other Ausländern. Pimento Cheese is a mix of shredded cheese, mayonnaise, sweet peppers (like inside olives), and various seasonings. Traditionally it's served with crackers, celery, or in the most common form, sandwiches. Just a layer of the spread between two slices of white bread, often with the crusts removed and then cut into triangles. Anyone that's ever had to make a hundred of these for a church gathering knows the joy of snacking on the crusts while you try to make perfect finger sandwiches.

Jim & Nick's is a Birmingham, Alabama based chain of BBQ restaurants, and it takes some guts for a resident of the Yellowhammer State to come to Memphis and try to sell 'Q. But even I must admit that they do a great job, and I'm quite fond of their beef brisket. Don't believe me? Check out the review by my friends the Knipples, who note the restaurant's support of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

What about the burger? I felt strange ordering it, felt strange looking at it when I got home, and bit into it with some trepidation. Lesson #1: pimento cheese went everywhere and Wolfie got some of the bits that hit the floor. It's messy if you're not paying attention. That being said, it was really good. Good as in, two hours later, I wanted another one. Unlike most supermarket pimento cheese, this had some real bite to it, with sharp cheddar and some hotter than normal peppers. The cheese doesn't really melt over the burger; if it did so it would most likely separate in an unpleasant fashion.

I really don't know why this isn't more popular, aside from the mess factor. It's a stupidly obvious food combination and a perfect way to use up leftover pimento cheese after you've finished making three hundred triangle sandwiches for Wednesday night Bible Study. My fellow Southerners: you don't have to try this at Jim & Nick's, but I urge you to try it sometime this spring or summer. I believe you'll be pleasantly surprised.

15 comments:

fredric koeppel said...

this is an acquired taste which i will eschew. never could stand pimento cheese, perhaps because i lived my first 10 years in Rochester, N.Y., where, as far as i know, nobody ever heard of pimento cheese.

Benito said...

Fredric,

I agree, you've got to get a taste for this early on. Out of the wide range of southern foods it's not a favorite of mine, but I do like it every now and then. Particularly when it's made well, on good bread, and fresh lettuce doesn't hurt either. Spongy Wonder bread is too bland.

Cheers,
Benito

Allen said...

At the Pub one afternoon the question of what happens to all the old stale white Wonder bread. Answer from Cliff at the end of bar was "they grind it up and make cheap Styrofoam ice chests."

Samantha Dugan said...

Okay, I've never had Pimento Cheese but I think it sounds delicious and I putting it on a burger seems like a natural....

Kimberly said...

As a fellow Southerner, I have some experience with pimento cheese, and I'll tell you, I always hated the stuff growing up. But that's b/c my Dad bought the slimy grocery store variety, so I just thought I hated it! When I finally grew up and had some of the "real" thing -- homemade, by someone who knew to perfection how to make it -- I discovered that I really, really liked it.

In fact, there is a kick-ass, awesome pimento cheese burger served at a restaurant here in town where I live that some say is the best burger in town, and I agree. This same place sells this amazing stuff in their deli case as well, and I buy it often.

Just two days ago I had a panini with this pimento cheese, some bacon and turkey, and it was one amazing lunch.

Joe said...

Definitely a taste I've never craved (by itself on bread). However, I think the lowly spread has found a soul-mate in the hamburger. There's a place just outside of Athens, GA where I cut my teeth on pimento cheeseburgers, and it's a pretty damn tasty situation.

As I am often traveling to Birmingham and stationed at the Trussville Hampton Inn (right near a Jim n' Nick's), I'll give the burger a try. We go there regularly on business. 100% make sure to ask if they have "Good People" Oatmeal Stout on draught. Tiny brewer in B'ham making a mighty tasty brew.

Benito said...

Dad,

That's the best use I can think of. I would feel bad feeding it to the ducks--they deserve better than that!

Sam,

If you ever make it out here I'll try to get you a good pimento cheese sandwich. Ought to pair well with a crisp Champagne.

Cheers,
Benito

Benito said...

Kim,

I liked it as a kid, but probably went a full decade without eating it--it just wasn't the kind of thing I would specifically look for. Good ingredients definitely make a big difference--I like a little hot mustard powder in mine.

I'll give your sandwich idea a try sometime--sounds tasty!

Joe,

Yeah, sometimes on its own pimento cheese can be too sweet, too creamy, or slathered in too much mayonnaise. The meat helps balance it out.

Our Jim & Nick's carries a few of the Yazoo Brewery beers that are made in Nashville (the Pale Ale is great). Always glad to see a restaurant adding some local products to their menus.

Cheers,
Benito

Samantha Dugan said...

Benito,
Will be in Memphis this year, most likely around July...would love to meet you!

Jim Wilkerson said...

When I lived in Memphis (1990-2000) there used to be a couple of joints called Varsity Grill, I think. It was an old-school counter-service place. The one I went to was near the Oak Court Mall. They did a pimento cheeseburger. It was pretty darn good.

Do you know of the place?

Benito said...

Jim,

Varsity Grill doesn't ring a bell, and I lived in the U of M area near Oak Court from 94-98. It's entirely possible that I missed it--I was vegetarian for a few of those years and not really focused on the food and wine scene of our fair city. As far as I know there's no place in town by that name today.

I don't know if you remember this or not, but the fried green tomatoes at Mick's in Oak Court were amazing--topped with goat cheese and a roasted red pepper sauce. I've recreated it a few times and it always makes me happy.

Cheers,
Benito

Allen said...

Jim
There was a place next to Oak Court Mall called the Gridiron. Open 24/7, steak and eggs, hash browns, old style burgers on the flat top and krinkle cut fries. They had about 10 locations around town.

Ed Thralls said...

Never understood the pimento cheese craze. My grandmother loves them and my in-laws love them too, but I never liked it. Not sure I would risk trying it on a burger though I generally do like to try things at least once.

Benito said...

Dad,

I'd completely forgotten about the Gridiron. Definitely possible for what Jim's talking about.

Ed,

It's worth a try. Get a pint of the good stuff at Whole Foods or something and test it the next time you make burgers.

Cheers,
Benito

Jim Wilkerson said...

The Gridiron! That's the place I was thinking of.