When it comes to mayonnaise, many southerners are as loyal to the Duke’s brand as they are to Coca-Cola. Made in Greenville, South Carolina, since 1917, it differs from Kraft and Hellmann’s in that it has more egg yolks, which makes it nearly as creamy as custard, and it contains no sugar. It leans towards being vinegar-tangy more than sweet.
Duke’s is a key ingredient in thousands of home-cook recipes, from pimento cheese and deviled eggs to chocolate cake and pumpkin bread. At Duke Sandwich Co., it is featured in many different spreads that are a legacy of Eugenia Duke, who invented it. The spreads are available in bulk to take home or in sandwiches that can be eaten at tables near the counter.
I won’t tell you that these are four-star sandwiches. If, in fact, you judge a sandwich by its creativity, its abundance, its clever layering of ingredients, or the interesting bread on which it is made, Duke Sandwich Co. will likely not make you happy. The sandwiches served here, served ready-wrapped in cellophane, are made on utterly plain bread (white or wheat, toasted or not), and the spreads within are barely one finger thick — a legacy of more frugal days. Lettuce, tomato, and other such garnishes are not an option.
Still, there are some clever combos that taste right smothered in spongy-soft bread. Foremost among them is known as HPO — ham, pepper, and onion — in which the ham is a bit chunky, its porky sweetness well balanced by the vegetable sweetness of the onion and pepper.
Another yummy combo is cream cheese / pineapple / pecan, which has a fresh, tropical character. I am less enamored of the Duke Original Salad, which is a paste of both beef and chicken that has a helter-skelter character in which neither meat is quite identifiable.
So, don’t go to Duke Sandwich Co. if you want the most delicious sandwich you ever ate. But if you are a fan of Duke’s mayo or a student of classic American foodways, a pilgrimage is fun.
There are two other locations in Greenville: at 626 Congaree Rd. (864-234-7166) and in the Pickwick Pharmacy at 3219 Augusta Rd. (864-277-4180).
Finally, as a punctuation nerd, I cannot explain why Duke Sandwich Co. isn’t called Duke’s Sandwich Co. The mayonnaise is Duke’s, with an apostrophe. Why the store doesn’t have one, I do not know.