Guide to the South: Pimento Cheese

Photo Credit: the title of this blog results from a misunderstanding between myself and my friends from the North, I thought it appropriate to put together a guide for those friends to educate them on the nuances of the South. This is the first in what should be a series of posts on the topic.

Last Labor Day, I had the opportunity to spend the weekend with a group of friends at a beach house outside of Wilmington, NC. In addition to my wife and I, this group included friends from Kentucky, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Now, I know what you are thinking. Why would any self-respecting Southerner admit to hanging out with anyone from New York or Pennsylvania, much less New Jersey? I mean, it is one thing to be courteous in passing, but to actually plan a weekend, and then admit it? That may be crossing the line. In their defense, these friends are not fans of Jersey Shore, so I guess they are all right.

For lunch one day we visited a local restaurant and ordered an appetizer of pimento cheese dip. When it arrived, my New Jersey friend pointed at it, looked at me and said, “What is that?” Well, up until that point I just assumed that everyone knew what pimento cheese was, but you know what assuming does.

In its basic form, pimento cheese is shredded or grated cheddar cheese mixed with mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s brand), black pepper, and diced pimentos (small, red, peppers). Many people try to dress it up by adding fancy styles of cheese, pickles, garlic, cream cheese, or some other spice, but to me the basic version is the best. At our lunch we had it as an appetizer, but in my mind pimento cheese should always be on a sandwich, preferably on white Sunbeam bread, and perhaps with barbecue flavored chips. Served with lemonade or sweet tea, it makes a great warm-weather snack or lunch. Pimento cheese sandwiches, cut into small triangles and with the crust removed, have been a staple at church gatherings in the South for generations, right there with pigs-in-a-blanket and meatballs.   More recently, pimento cheese has begun to creep onto menus across the south, as everything from an appetizer to a topping on a burger.

If you have never tried pimento cheese, it should definitely be on your to-do list before you can call yourself a Southerner. Until next time…

Basic recipe (mix all of the following):

1 pound grated/shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup mayonnaise (Duke’s preferred)

1 small jar pimentos, drained

salt and pepper to taste

Whatever additions suit your fancy

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Sunday at Augusta National

Not much says that springtime has arrived in the South more emphatically than Augusta National during Masters week.  The dogwoods, the azaleas, the pageantry (not to mention pimento cheese – for my Northern friends, I’ll explain what that is in a later blog) – all of them signal that it is time to put away the dreariness of winter and welcome warmer weather with open arms. 

I’ll admit, I don’t watch a lot of golf on TV.  The tournaments last too long and there is generally not enough action to keep me interested.  However, Sunday at the Masters is probably one of about two times a year that I turn the clicker to golf.  It just doesn’t get much better.  The memory that stands out most to me is Greg Norman’s epic collapse in 1996.  Norman was my favorite golfer at the time, and he was poised to capture the green jacket.  Leading by six shots entering Sunday, Norman had a catastrophic day by anyone’s standards and ended up losing to Nick Faldo by five.  Unbelievable.  Most of us have bad days, but not like that, not in front of a worldwide audience.  Meltdown aside, Norman appears to have done well since, topping this list of Australia’s biggest sports earners for 15 years.

Looks like I’ll have to wait at least one more year to check Augusta National off of the bucket list.  Oh well.  Enjoy Sunday.

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The Grit Tree BBQ Thursday

If you like Georgia BBQ, check out this blog.

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‘Cue Review: Allen & Son, Durham/Chapel Hill, NC

Since the time I first moved to North Carolina, I have been hoping to sample some of their famous barbecue.  Where I grew up in Georgia, I always heard folks talks about “Tennessee style” or “Carolina style” barbecue.  I was never sure what that meant, as I only had tasted “Georgia style”, which as most Southerners know is just a mixture of everything.  With that as the backdrop, I certainly hoped to have authentic Carolina style barbecue during my time here.  I have tried Bullocks and Q Shack in Durham, both with much fanfare, and I have tried several other less well-known restaurants.  Up until today, they had all fallen short. 

Enter Allen & Son.  Before this week I had never heard of it.  It sits in the space between Durham and Chapel Hill that is lost somewhere in rivalry purgatory.  It is probably a little closer to downtown Chapel Hill, so I assume it carries that address, but it is far enough out of town to need rural free delivery.

When I drove up to Allen & Son, I knew I was in for a treat.  Very unassuming, tucked in between the train tracks and the woods, and sitting atop a gravel parking lot, it is the ideal setting for a fine barbecue restaurant.  As I walked in, I was very pleased indeed.  Long tables with white and green checkered tablecloths greeted me, as did a deer head and a duck on the panel and cement-block walls.  If you want fine five-star dining, this is not the place; if you want fine barbecue, this is perfect.  “Sit anywhere ya like” came the call as my eyes were adjusting to the light.  I took a seat in a corner next to an old stand-up radio and across from a Coca-Cola machine fit for the Atlanta museum.  The menu was straightforward – nothing fancy, just straight-up barbecue and sides.

After glancing at the menu (not that I needed to, as I knew what I wanted), I ordered a barbecue (pulled pork) sandwich and stew.  After a few minutes, my order came out, and it was exactly what I expected.  The barbecue was moist, with a hint of sauce, but cooked perfectly, with enough burnt ends to get good flavor but not so much as to be overwhelming.  The sandwich was served North Carolina-style with slaw on top, something that I am still unaccustomed to, being from Georgia and all.  Allen & Son only has one sauce, and it is deceptively good.  It is vinegar based, very thin, and almost clear.  I kept thinking I needed to shake up the bottle more to get the real sauce to come out, but that was it.  However, the flavor is almost perfect.  Not to hot, not too sweet, but just enough to give it authentic barbecue taste.  After a few test bites, I liberally applied it to half of my sandwich (not that the meat needs it at all).  The stew was fairly good, although a lacking a little flavor for my tastes.  It was made up of pork, potatoes, butter beans, and a tomato base.  Good, not great.  Accompanying the meal was another North Carolina staple, hush puppies.  These were very good, crispy, and flavorful.  And, oh, the sweet tea.  It was spot-on, sweet without tasting like bad candy in your mouth (Chick-fil-A, I’m pointing at you). 

All in all, easily the best barbecue I have had in North Carolina.  I would recommend with two enthusiastic thumbs up, and I can’t wait to go back.  In fact, I may take my father-in-law, who is in town from Georgia, tomorrow for lunch.  Allen & Son is easily worth the drive or a detour on your trip.

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Nice read from “Here in Franklin”

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Welcome to the Blog!

Growing up in rural southeast Georgia, I had many occasions to sample some of the finest barbecue around.  I would venture to say that barbecue was one of the four main food groups: fried meat (and vegetables), baked desserts, slow-cooked buttered vegetables, and barbecue. Of the four restaurants in my town, two were fast food, one was pizza, and the other barbecue (and seafood, a common combination in those parts). 

I have spent significant time in five other cities since, all of them having varying degrees of appreciation for the prized dish.  Atlanta was one of my stops.  Please don’t judge Georgia barbecue by what you find there.  Atlanta barbecue is kind of like many of my Atlanta friends from college.  They drove big trucks and listened to country music, but they didn’t know the difference between a cotton bale and a hay bale.  The same is true for Atlanta barbecue: it just isn’t the real thing.

Perhaps the best barbecue I have sampled was during the summer I spent in Kansas City.  Generally, I prefer all things Southern over anything Northern, Midwestern, Southwestern, Northwestern, or anything else that ends in -ern.  However, I have to give credit to the good folks in KC.  Their barbecue is different, and their sauce and sides aren’t the best, and you can’t get sweet tea to wash it down, but the actual meat is a slice of heaven.

I currently make my home in Durham, North Carolina.  The “First in Flight” state prides itself on its unique style of barbecue, which often includes slaw on top.  That said, I have been somewhat dissatisfied with my choices here over the last two years.  I still have a few months before I move on to Houston, so I hope to be able to find something authentic before I leave. 

Since moving to Durham, I have had the chance to meet a lot of Northerners.  Generally, I would recommend avoiding this lot if you want to keep your reputation in check.  That said, I have made great friends with several of them.  Unfortunately, they just do not know what barbecue is.  They think it is something that you do or something you attend, what we in the South would refer to as “grilling” or a “cookout”, respectively.  They would even go so far as to say that hotdogs and hamburgers are “barbecue” or can be “barbecued”.  Now I don’t claim to be an expert on everything, or even many things, but that is just wrong.  Thus was born the idea for the blog.

Thanks for checking out the blog.  The theme here is to blog reviews and general musings about barbecue.  Of course, that is subject to change, and I may deviate from time to time, so humor me.  If you have suggestions for reviews, feel free to share in the comments!

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