A few years ago, we discovered that the secret to why the crusts of the fried pickle chips at The Penguin Drive-in in Charlotte, NC are lighter and crispier than ones in Los Angeles eateries is that the tangy, fluted pickle rounds soak in a buttermilk batter (made with flour as opposed to the more conventional cornmeal breading) and aren't lowered into the roiling oil of their hot fryer until your order is called in.
But what satisfies the cravings of the people who work at a circa 1950's road house famous for Big Block burgers, frosty pints of Yuengling beer and a clientele of hungry cops, tattooed twentysomethings and hairy guys who look to ZZ Top for fashion inspiration? We asked the pointy-bearded, T-shirted guy who waited on us and he said pimento cheese fries, which isn't even on themenu (although one of their sandwiches features pimento cheese oozing between two slices of buttered Texas toast).
The Penguin didn't invent this popular Southern artery-clogger, but when our server offered to get the kitchen to make us his favorite dish what he returned with was inspired: a red-flecked pale yellow mudslide of sharp cheddar, pepper jack, chopped pimentos, a touch of dried garlic and onion and green pepper sauce oozing over crinkle cut fries.
This uncomplicated cardboard basket of comfort was the closest thing in the Queen City to L.A.'s Roy Choi's Ooey Gooey fries at Chego. Lately, The Penguin has been in embroiled in headline-generating dust-up involving new owners, old owners, an expired lease, talk of franchising The Penguin concept nationwide and lots of horrified regulars predicting the death of a Charlotte landmark. How it will end up is anyone's guess. But until then, here's a recipe for their pimento cheese.
From: Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and Greg Auten, co-owner of The Penguin.
Note: This recipe was provided by professional chefs and has been scaled down from a bulk recipe provided by a restaurant. Food Network Kitchens have not tested this recipe in the proportions indicated and therefore cannot make representation as to the results.
1 pound grated Cheddar
1/2 pound grated Pepper Jack
1 (4-ounce) can diced pimentos
1/3 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/3 teaspoons granulated onion
about 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
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pinch of cayenne
about 1/2 tablespoon green pepper sauce
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1. In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients well and refrigerate for 30 minutes.