The Best Pimento Cheese in Columbia, SC. | We Have 12 Place To Try and a Side of History

In its simplest expression, pimento cheese is a delicious spread associated with Southern cuisine, typically made of shredded cheddar or processed cheese, mayonnaise, and (sweet) pimento peppers. It is usually eaten with crackers or vegetables, or in a sandwich (crust or crustless).

Spelling and culinary variations abound: certain places may refer to it as pimento cheese, pimiento cheese, or even by the brand name of companies that produce it. Most often the peppers are the Spanish Pimiento, but pimento is the more common English word for the peppers used in the cheese.

Culinary variations and matters of individual preference may see other components added to the basic recipe, especially cream cheese, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, onions, and garlic.

Much like sweet tea, every Southern cook believes his or her recipe for pimento cheese is the best, and (also like sweet tea) every last one of them is basically correct, because it’s all good.

Before we give you our favorite places to eat Pimento Cheese in Columbia, SC, let’s take a look at some interesting history.

A Yankee Pedigree

Whether you call it pimento cheese, Carolina caviar, or the pate of the South, there’s no denying that the delicacy is Southern to its core, or is it?

While the spread is now considered to be a Southern staple, pimento cheese can actually trace its roots back to the North. What?? That may sound like culinary heresy but that’s where pimento cheese actually got its start: up North (New York, specifically).

According to food historian’s back in the 1870’s, New York farmers started making a soft, unripened cheese that eventually evolved into cream cheese at the turn of the century (some say accidentally, but that’s a whole other story). About a decade later, pimiento peppers, canned and shipped from Spain, entered America. The Americans dropped the “i” and it is now known as “pimento,” which we also nicknamed cherry peppers. These peppers soon caught people’s attention and became a staple of many kitchens in the North.

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It wasn’t long before these two ingredients were merged by housewives in pearls, and bingo: the birth of the first pimento cheese! The first documented recipes started popping up in as early as 1908 in Good Housekeeping and The Up-to-Date Sandwich Book.

How totally trendy: take two modern ingredients and combine them into one. Spread some on sliced white bread (although you had to slice it yourself until 1928) and you have the perfect tea sandwich.


Picture from:
iwm.org.uk

It Was a Popular Ration For WWI Troops

This recipe became commercialized in 1910, with grocers offering it for around 20 cents. And with the outset of World War I, it became even more popular in an MRE (meals ready to eat) for US troops.

Going Below the Mason-Dixon Line

Everyone had fairly easy access to packaged cream cheese, but the pimento peppers were expensive to import. An industrious Georgia farmer saw an opportunity and started growing and distributing them in the U.S. Eventually, 10 million cans of pimentos were sent around the country from the South each year. Some say this is what brought the dish to the South.

The South Claims Pimento Cheese as Their Own

The recipe (and the Pimento Cheese culture even) was not only changed when it made its way South, it was improved. Getting a taste for pimentos, Southerners kept the idea and prepared it scratch-made and flavorful, essentially more Southern.

While pimento cheese was being served at dinner parties in the North, the South’s version shifted into the home kitchen. The flavor of the original was very mild, so it was traded in for bold cheddar cheese. To balance out the texture mayonnaise was added. The diced up pimentos, though, never left the recipe. The mayo-to-cheese ratio made the whole dish a little chunkier and a whole lot tastier.

Each family has their own recipe handed down. Some swear by Duke’s mayo, some by Hellman’s, some absolutely have to make their own. Some add their own secret spices and some keep it simple. At Lowcountry Style & Living our favorite includes a little mustard.

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The South also moved the dish from stuffy parlor rooms out into picnics, church lunches, and community gatherings. It is a dish that pops up on July 4th or on a trip to the beach, right next to the potato salad and deviled eggs.


“A Friend in Need” SC Cookbook written by Janie DuBose
Ctto: esotericcolumbia.blogspot.com

Columbia, SC: The Cradle of Pimento Cheese?

Columbia, South Carolina, has long been known for playing an important role in the history of pimento cheese, being the undisputed birthplace of the pimento cheeseburger (invented by J.C. Reynolds, proprietor of the now defunct Dairy Bar in the 1960s). It’s also saturated throughout the city, with almost every church cookbook containing one or more versions and almost every restaurant utilizing it in one or more ways. What hadn’t been known until recently is that the first published recipe using shredded cheese, pimentos, and mayonnaise was contained in a 1912 cookbook.

The recipe was first written in the 1912 Columbia cookbook, A Friend in Need, which was published by the First Kindergarten Association of Columbia, SC.

Janie DuBose wrote the recipe and it contained the same ingredients used in today’s delicious versions (pimentos, cheese, mayonnaise) but it offered a zesty twist: an optional sprinkle of finely chopped sour pickles.

Where to Eat the Best Pimento Cheese in the Home of Pimento Cheese (Columbia, SC)

Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering


Image from:
Official Website

This cozy cafe feels like a local secret, tucked back away from the main streets and listed on most apps as only a catering company. Lunch is the only meal served here, and hours are short (11:00am to just 2.30pm) but if you’re looking for a delicious midday pick-me-up, this is the place. The house-made pimento cheese is seductive, with plenty of cheese and just the right amount of mayo to hold everything together. The spread is served with toasted baguette slices, which stand up admirably to the thick pimento cheese.

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If you want to try more, the Pulled Brisket Pimento Cheese Sandwich is a winner. The bold flavor of the pimento cheese is a great balance to the sweet/tangy BBQ sauce.

Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering
1531 Richland Street
Columbia, SC 29201
(803) 556-2197
https://www.spottedsalamandercatering.com

Market On Main

Market On Main is centrally located in the city and close to many downtown attractions.

Sitting outside with a hot skillet of Roasted Red Pepper Pimento Cheese with a side of fried Naan is a perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon.

Market On Main
1320 Main Street #150
Columbia, SC 29021
(803) 722-4222
https://www.marketonmain.com

Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits


Picture from:
Official Instagram

Pimento cheese on a biscuit, that’s about as Southern as you can get. State of the art, fluffy, flaky biscuits with a tantalizing, smoky, chipotle pimento cheese.

Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits
2430 Main Street
Columbia, SC 29201
(803) 881-9060
https://fatcatcolumbia.com/

Roy’s Grille


Photo credit:
Official Instagram

This small cafe is located at one side of a convenience store in an Exxon service station. Most meals are prepared for the takeout trade, and even if you do decide to eat at one of the five tables the tiny eating area, plates and utensils are of the disposable sort.

For all that, it is amply clear that an accomplished hand is at work in the kitchen. Taste the Carolina Bacon Patty Melt and you’ll be a regular customer.

Served on Texas toast with house cured and smoked bacon and grilled onions and topped with possibly the most luxurious pimento cheese in South Carolina, it is not to be missed. And while you’re at it, make sure to order the banana pudding.

Roy’s Grille
7971 North Woodrow Street Ste D
Irmo, SC 29063
(803) 359-0994
https://roysgrillesc.com/

Bourbon

This whisky bar and Cajun-Creole restaurant adds a creative twist to their pimento cheese. The addition of Creole spices and crunchy, peppery, peppadew peppers is an interesting and delicious detour. Pair with some crispy boudin balls (pork, rice, collard greens, pot liquor, red pepper jelly), jalapeno hushpuppies, and a crafted cocktail.

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Bourbon
1214 Main Street
Columbia, SC 29201
(803) 403-1404
https://www.bourboncolumbia.com

The War Mouth


Image from:
Official Website

A casual, upscale spot with a focus on artisanal cocktails and chef-forward dining, the War Mouth has one of the best pimento cheese concoctions we’ve ever tasted: the smashed Pimento Cheese Yukon Potatoes. Served in a heaping bowl, hunks of Yukon potatoes are generously covered and intermixed with creamy pimento cheese.

The War Mouth
1209 Franklin Street
Columbia, SC 29201
(803) 569-6144
http://thewarmouth.com/

The Root Cellar

A welcoming spot serving pub style dishes with Southern flavors. Order their southern egg rolls filled with housemade pimento cheese, pulled pork, rolled in a lightly fried spring roll, with Root Cellar bbq sauce. It’s an original and flavorful spin on this Southern delicacy.

The Root Cellar
420 Columbia Avenue
Lexington, SC 29072
(803) 359-5436

The Gourmet Shop


Photo credit:
Official FB Page

Since 1979, this upscale market has been the go-to place for gourmet items, prepared foods, cheeses, fine wines, meats, desserts, and spreads…including their homemade pimento cheese. If you don’t want to take your pimento cheese to-go, they also have a cafe for indoor and outdoor dining.

Diners can enjoy the pimento cheese on its own, with a warm baguette or pita, as an appetizer, or as part of a pick-three combination.

The Gourmet Shop
724 Saluda Avenue
Columbia, SC 29205
(803) 799-3705
https://www.thegourmetshop.net

Cafe Strudel

Popular cafe & espresso bar serving creative dishes in a warm atmosphere. This might be the best bite in Columbia: Low Country Hash Browns (layering your fork with a bit of shrimp, a chunk of fried green tomatoes, a sprinkle of bacon, and a piece of a hash brown, all smothered in a sharp, tangy pimento cheese). Words do not do this dish justice. Just remember, when at Cafe Strudel, order the Low Country Hash Browns. You’re welcome!

Cafe Strudel
300 State Street
West Columbia, SC 29169
(803) 794-6634
https://www.cafestrudel.com

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Terra

A neighborhood bistro with a farm-to-table concept and eclectic menu. Maybe the wildest use of pimento cheese in Columbia is found on their pimento cheeseburger pizza. Yes, pimento cheese and ground beef on a pizza. Doubts? We had them too, but don’t worry! This is a great combination that makes for a sharp savory pie.

Terra
100 State Street
West Columbia, SC 29268
(803) 791-3443
https://www.terrasc.com

Rockaway Athletic Club


Image from:
Official Website

Columbia is ground zero for pimento cheese excellence, and the Rockaway Athletic Club is one of the primary outposts.

Although the menu lists many kinds of burgers and sandwiches, salads and fried seafood, the pimento cheeseburger is the star. It is a rugged round of beef smothered with mild orange cheese. The cheese is not a crazy flavored kind, it’s smooth, creamy comfort. Not showy, but solid and mouthwatering. Another option is the Rockaway Pimento Cheese Fries: crinkle cut deliciousness topped with melted pimento cheese.

Rockaway Athletic Club
2719 Rosewood Drive
Columbia, SC 29206
(803) 256 1075
https://www.rockawayathleticclub.com

Di Prato’s Delicatessen

Di Prato’s pimento cheese has long been considered the gold standard in Columbia. Not only do they prepare a classic version with Cheddar cheese and pimentos, but they also feature two other types.

How about a version with sharp white Cheddar? Trust us, this subtle change creates a whole new flavor. Want a new level of indulgence? Sample the smoked Gouda and bacon pimento spread. And don’t forget the fried pita chips, taking your pimento cheese up a notch, regardless of which variation you choose.

Di Prato’s
342 Pickens Street
Columbia, SC 29205
(803) 779-0606
https://www.dipratos.com

The next you find yourself in Columbia, these 12 restaurants are just the start of your pimento cheese journey. In fact, the city is so fixated with pimento cheese that it has its own Pimento Cheese Passport program that allows locals and tourists to experience the best in the city.

Yes, Columbia is the rightful home (thank you Janie DuBose) of the Pate of the South.

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