My first pimento cheeseburger was at the Ruby Seahorse Café on Edisto Island in South Carolina. It was billed as “the original Dairy Bar Pimento Burger,” referring to the generally accepted belief that it was J.C. Reynolds, proprietor of a place called the Dairy Bar in Columbia, who sometime in the early 1960s first had the brilliant idea of crowning a burger not with ordinary American or cheddar, but with pimento cheese. The Dairy Bar is gone, as is the Ruby Seahorse Café, but South Carolina in general and Columbia in particular remain a bonanza of excellent pimento cheeseburgers.
It is hard to imagine one more impressive than that listed on The Kingsman’s menu as “The Palmetto.” It is ten ounces of ground ribeye hand-pattied into a thick, rugged disc, grilled and put into an enormous bun along with a massive amount of rich pimento cheese, thick strips of bacon, and crisp-fried chips of jalapeno pepper. Connoisseurs get theirs all the way, meaning garnished with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. The awesome monument of a meal arrives at table with a sharp knife plunged into it up to the bolster. The knife is a welcome tool, along with a fork, for this burger will test the dexterity and strength of anyone who tries to pick it up like some ordinary wimpy.
Somewhat less outrageous is the Kingsman’s regular pimento cheeseburger – six ounces of certified Angus beef that is, in fact, quite delicious when paired with the zesty pimento cheese and topped with all the fixins. The French fries and onion rings I got alongside these four-star burgers were ho hum. Those in search of hot lunch rather than a burger will find satisfaction here. There are meat-and-three specials every day, including barbecue on Thursday and fried pork chops and/or chicken livers Friday, the vegetable list including superb peppery collard greens. For a non-burger hot sandwich, I highly recommend the Philly cheese steak, an upscale torpedo made with succulent strips of ribeye.
The Kingsman is a fascinating hybrid of restaurant genres. The room into which you walk at first looks like a tiny diner, complete with counter and short-order chefs working the flat tops. Beyond that is a larger room that has the feel of a neighborhood café: upholstered booths and unclothed tables, a short counter here with a view of whiskey bottles on the shelf, but also of the big urns of ice tea, a favorite lunchtime drink. Then there is a third room – deeper, quieter, more tavern-like. By mid-meal, all three rooms are perfumed by hamburgers and filled with rollicking conversations of customers. I arrived just before noon. Soon thereafter, all seats were occupied and there was a wait for tables.