I had a craving the other day for a pimento cheese sandwich at Holiday Deli & Ham Co. I love them.
After ordering it, I realized I didn't know the history of this sandwich, which I consider one of Memphis's greatest delicacies. I did a little investigative reporting. The restaurant chain's marketing director, Andie Mason Ray, told me to come by Pimento's Cafe & Market, a new member of the Holiday Deli & Ham Co. family. It has been open for only three weeks.
I ordered the pimento cheese sandwich, which is called "Papa's Pimento Cheese," shortly after I arrived at the restaurant. My server, Max Witherington, also is a fan of the sandwich. "It's what the store is named after, so it must be good, right?" he said.
Trey Jordan, owner of all four Holiday Delis, Pimento's Kitchen + Market in Memphis and Pimento's Cafe in Starkville, Mississippi, said the pimento cheese recipe came from his dad, Don "Papa" Jordan. In 1993, they decided to do a business together. "It was one of the first four items on the menu," he said. "And it was wildly popular at that point in time. Now we're selling well over 80,000 pounds a year."
They originally were serving it on white bread at their first location at Poplar and Perkins. Chicken salad, tuna and turkey were the other sandwich options, said Jordan, who worked behind the counter back then.
Later, they added the jalapeno pimento cheese. "We threw a little spice in there and changed it up. That was probably more my mom's (the late Marlene Jordan) side. She was kind of the spicy person."
The pimento cheese was so popular it spawned another restaurant. "We had a chance to recreate ourselves in this concept. We expanded what we do with Holiday and use our pimento cheese in a lot more things. Therefore the name 'Pimento's.'"
In addition to the pimento cheese sandwich, you can get pimento Holiday Ham, pimento house smoked turkey and pimento honey glazed pepper bacon BLT sandwiches. And you can order pimento cheese quesadillas, pimento cheese fries and pimento cheese dip. And at dinner: pimento cheese biscuits made from scratch.
They also serve a Memphis Cheese Steak. "We put our pimento cheese on it and grill it on the panini press and throw on some onions. We throw on a little bit of banana peppers. It is probably our No. 1 hot seller sandwich here at Pimento's.
By the way, there is a secret ingredient in the pimento cheese, Jordan said. "And everybody's been trying to get it out of me for about 25 years. So, you're not getting it out of me."