The Best Pimento Cheese Dishes in Charlotte
Pimento cheese is arguably Charlotte’s favorite snack—here’s where to find the best “paté of the South,” in all its delicious incarnations.
by Lauren Levine
You see it in the grocery store and on menus at popular restaurants around town. If you grew up in the South, it’s been a fixture at your family gatherings. Practically reared on the spread, you’ve seen it slathered on everything from sandwiches to saltines.
We’re talking, of course, about pimento cheese, the mayonnaise-based spread affectionately known as “the paté of the South.” The delicacy’s popularity here is indisputable: About 80 percent of all pimento cheese spreads are sold in the Southeast, and North Carolina is the country’s leading pimento cheese consumer. In true Queen City style, Charlotte leads that charge. We eat more “Carolina caviar” than any other city in the state, and local producer Ruth’s Salads, open since 1953, dishes out 45,000 pounds of pimento cheese per week, making it one of the largest pimento cheese producers in the country.
“There’s something to be said for the fact that it’s been passed down from generation to generation,” says David Smith, sales director of local producer Trade and Tryon Pimento Cheese. “Also, not long ago, pimento cheese was a Southern thing and pretty much a grocery item. Now it’s branched out to restaurants and grown to reach far beyond the Deep South. It seems like anywhere you sit, they’re going to have a burger topped with it or an appetizer. It’s growing far beyond what it used to be. Pimento cheese is enjoying its moment in the sun, and we hope that continues.”
Smith is right; Charlotte itself has plenty of restaurants that play into the South’s ongoing love affair with pimento cheese. Kick off your meal with the pimento cheese nachos at Tupelo Honey in South End or the pimento cheese ball at NoDa hot spot Haberdish. Head up to the patio at Whiskey Warehouse and order the Whiskey Poppers, which are homemade pimento cheese bites. Plaza Midwood’s Soul Gastrolounge dishes up the Dirty South Nachos, which come topped with pimento cheese goodness. If you visit Pinky’s West Side Grill, pick the Pimp’n Fries, which are waffle fries with homemade pimento cheese on top. For extra indulgence, add chili or bacon. Feeling adventurous? Head to J. Sam’s to try the pimento cheese doughnuts.
The Main Course
When you’re in the market for something heartier, try Bang Bang Burgers’ pimento cheese burger earned a spot on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” for good reason; it’s got homemade pimento cheese and fried pickles, and it’s just as delectable and decadent as it sounds. At The Cowfish in South Park, zero in on Granny’s Southern Pimento Cheeseburger, which includes a beef patty, homemade pimento cheese, a fried green tomato, jalapeño bacon and Duke’s Mayonnaise, all served on marbled rye. Could it get more Southern? Stone Mountain Grill’s meatloaf is the ultimate comfort food. Caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms and housemade pimento cheese come together alongside mashed red skin potatoes and green beans to present the cure for any bad day.
Some people are of the belief that pimento cheese must be served strictly in sandwich form. If those rules apply to you, Sunflour Baking Company dishes up a Southern BLT—three guesses what the “Southern” stands for—and The Common Market’s award-winning pimento cheese sandwich goes pimento overboard with homemade pimento cheese served hot or cold and a side of pimento cheese grits. Known for its classic Southern cooking, Plaza Midwood’s Dish offers a number of ways to get your fix. You could try the pimento cheese appetizer, the pimento burger or even the pimento veggie burger. Nellie’s Southern Kitchen does a homespun pimento cheese sandwich with heaps of bacon, plenty of pimento cheese and tomato, all served on white bread.
Non-traditionalists, take heart. There are offbeat pimento cheese options for you, too. Local producer Queen Charlotte's Pimento Cheese Royale churns out four varieties of the stuff, including Her Royal Hotness (jalapeño), Black and Bleu Blood (cracked black pepper and blue cheese) and Baconham Palace (smoked cheddar and bacon). In addition to being shipped nationwide, it’s available at dozens of specialty food shops around the greater Charlotte area—Reid’s Fine Foods, Rhino Market, and Pasta and Provisions, among others. John Morgan, the brand’s owner, gets why people are so invested in the spread. “The fact is, pimento cheese is most versatile thing you can imagine,” he says. “It’s a dip. It’s a topper. It works cold. It works hot. Bake with it; mix it into mac and cheese. If you’re going for something with a little more substance, throw a tablespoon on top of a burger the next time you’re grilling. The possibilities are limitless.” Perhaps it’s that versatility that has helped pimento cheese retain its popularity. Regardless of whether you’re craving a burger, opting to keep it healthy with sliced up veggies or apples, or buying into the tapas trend, pimento cheese finds a way to fit in—especially in Charlotte. And any way you mix it, every dollop of the culinary mainstay is just as satisfying as the last. Our advice? Just dig in.