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, which he once 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. In fact, Alley’s recipe is so classic that Wine Enthusiast magazine presented it as the “Virginia-Style Pimento Cheese” recipe.
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!
- 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. (Not available at latest update, but menu changes often.)
- Chez Foushee. Order this chunky housemade spread as an appetizer. 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.
- Lemaire. Lemaire’s spread presents a traditional Southern taste and a chunky-chewy consistency, served on a cheeseboard in the lounge and with as a starter with cornichons and flatbread crackers at lunch.
- 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 of
- 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, or with pork rinds (talk about country cuisine!). 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.
- Fall Line Kitchen & Bar. This downtown eatery embraces its Richmond home in the name, cuisine, and décor. It pays homage to the city’s raison d’etre: the rocky stretch along the James River – i.e., the fall line – prohibited upstream navigation, so European colonists settled here. The kitchen serves up Southern highlights, such as the pimento fritters with buttermilk dressing. Imagine the cheese delight rolled into balls, lightly breaded and fried, served warm – rich and ooey-gooey. You can also enjoy it on the local meat and cheese board, which includes pimento spread, grilled sourdough, and pickles.
- Sally Bell’s Kitchen. Talk about tradition! This family-owned eatery has been serving homemade sandwiches, salads, and baked goods to Richmonders for nine decades! The box lunches are not only tasty – they’re adorable! In fact, if you get your pimento cheese sandwich in the box lunch, you’ll also get a side, a deviled egg half, cheese wafer – and the signature upside-down cupcake (which makes so much sense, you’ll wonder why everyone doesn’t do it that way).
- The Fancy Biscuit. Enjoy the pimento-laden PC in a BYOB (build-your-own biscuit). Also available to take home at the Shyndigz market next door.
- Perk! Thinly grated white cheese blends with spices and chopped peppers. Buy it on a bagel or in the lunchtime sandwich, with sliced ham and pickles.
- Ardent Craft Ales. Yes, this craft brewery has a small kitchen, serving hearty sandwiches, salads, charcuterie boards, Nightingale ice cream sandwiches, and toasts – including Ardent pimento cheese, clover honey, green onion on toasted sourdough bread. Oh, and craft beer, wine, cider, and non-alcoholic drinks as well.
- Also worth spreading on your crackers, crudités, or bread are spreads from Belmont Butchery, Red Rooster Country Store, Ukrop’s Cheddar Pimento Cheese (also available with jalapeños, can be purchased at several regional grocery stores or the Ukrop’s Market Hall), Birdie’s, and Tom Leonard’s.
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!”
Originally published on April 17, 2017 online (and in the Boomer print edition, April-May 2107), the article was updated 10/6/2021 to reflect changes, including the closing of Pasture and Comfort and the addition of Fall Line Kitchen & Bar. On May 5, 2022, and Feb. 20, 2023, other businesses were added to the list, removed, and/or verified – but be sure to check before you go, if you have your chops set on pimento cheese!