Plenty of Pimento Cheese in Richmond
Enjoy the caviar of the South at a restaurant near you
Southerners, be proud! Though Northerners originated pimento cheese, theirs was a mass-produced spread of cream cheese or American Neufchâtel with imported canned Spanish peppers (hence pimiento).
While the rest of the nation (understandably) tired of this, Southern families began making a luscious, creamy, tangy cheese blend from scratch, sharing it and creating memories. I remember my excitement when my mother mounted her hand-cranked grinder on the kitchen counter, pulled out jars of pimentos, mayonnaise, seasonings and a block of (gasp!) Velveeta to make her fresh pimento cheese. Though the recipe is simple, the variations give each chef – or each family – bragging rights.
Arguably, the gold standard in Richmond comes from Chef Jason Alley, presented at his Comfort and Pasture restaurants. His recipe calls for sharp cheddar cheese, roasted red bell peppers and Virginia-favorite Duke’s mayonnaise, seasoned with shallots, tarragon, Worcestershire, black pepper and hot sauce.
BOOMER staff explored Richmond-area restaurants to sample the interpretations. We discovered variations in how the spread was served and in how creamy, chunky, tangy, spicy, mayonnaise-y and pimento-ey each dish was, finding few we didn’t swoon over.
Since taste is subjective, our descriptors don’t pass judgment – if a spread is too creamy, too dry, too chunky, too spicy is a matter of opinion. Sample for yourself!
- Pasture. Jason Alley’s masterful concoction is served with Ritz crackers, which add buttery notes to every bite. The spread itself is of the perfect consistency: smooth but not creamy, with a touch of chunky. Chives sprinkled on top further enhance the flavor. The appetizer can also be ordered with cured ham.
- Comfort. At lunch, order Alley’s gold-standard pimento cheese on a sandwich, optionally topped with fried green tomato or country ham; or order at dinner as an appetizer.
- Southbound. At their south-of-the-James restaurant, chefs Lee Gregory and Joe Sparatta present their slightly chunky, dry and herbal appetizer on seeded crackers. It’s topped with pickles, adding a complementary taste, and with a drizzle of hot sauce, which dominates the pimento flavor.
- Savory Grain. This generous scoop of creamy pimento cheese served with housemade crackers offers a noticeable cream-cheese taste and scattered hints of Peppadew peppers. A lighter color results from their use of goat cheese, white cheddar and cream cheese.
- The Roosevelt. Served with pork rinds and pickles, this thick spread highlights the thinly grated cheddar cheese and a complementary contrast of tastes and textures – sharp and pimento fresh to crunchy, salty and meaty umami.
- Chez Foushee. Order this chunky housemade spread as an appetizer, in a basic pimento cheese sandwich or as a complement to the roasted turkey and bacon or grilled London broil sandwiches. The pimento flavor blends throughout the spread. The mayonnaise comes through as does a touch of, perhaps, sweet onion.
- Julep’s. Go all-out Southern at Julep’s, as the creamy spread, with a nice mouth-feel of cheese bits and generous-but-not-overwhelming pimento flavor, is served on traditional fried green tomatoes with Peppadew aioli.
- District 5. The white cheese in this chunky spread mutes the cheddar bite as both blend with flavors of pimento, mayo, garlic and spices. Served with crackers and crostini.
- Lemaire bar menu. Lemaire’s spread presents a traditional Southern taste and a chunky-chewy consistency, though the accompaniments overwhelm the cheese. Toasted local Billy Bread serves as a basic vehicle for enjoying the spread, but the basil-infused olives and roasted garlic confuse the palate.
- Capital Ale House serves their pimento cheese in a dip, hot and creamy, with baguette slices and gherkin pickles. Cream cheese seems to play a part in this ingredient mix, or perhaps the warmth removes the cheddar sharpness. A touch of chili powder heat seems to play on the palate, too.
- Union Market. Chow down on a warm, gooey grilled pimento cheese sandwich served with a side of greens. Though delectable, the Southern spread lacks the full flavor ofpimentos.
- Home Sweet Home. This grilled-cheese Mecca in Carytown dishes out pimento cheese three ways: in a bowl of creamy spread with a light kick served with toasted pita triangles as an appetizer; in the River City sandwich with shaved country ham; or in a build-your-own sandwich.
- Lunch and Supper. Introducing a sublime balance of spices and mayo in pimento cheese served atop thick slices of fried green tomatoes sprinkled with bacon. The appetizer focuses on the tomatoes, leaving you wanting more pimento cheese. Also try the Southern delicacy in the Farm Table Sampler appetizer, in the Southern Pride BLT (bacon and fried green tomatoes on grilled Texas toast) or atop beef sliders.
- Fancy Biscuit. Enjoy the pimento-laden PC in a BYOB (build-your-own biscuit).
- Perk! Thinly grated white cheese blends with spices and chopped peppers. The lunchtime sandwich comes with sliced ham and pickles.
Perk co-owner Christophile Konstas produced an informative and entertaining video on the history and popularity of the spread. At Vimeo.com, search for “Pimento Cheese, Please!”