Pimento cheese (spelled without an “i” in the middle) is a favorite southern-hostess spread of cheddar, mayo, mild red pepper, and, sometimes, horseradish, pickles, and more. It goes back a hundred years and has been the featured sandwich ingredient at the Masters Golf Tournament over in Augusta for as long as anyone can remember. Sometime in the early 1960s, J.C. Reynolds, proprietor of an eatery called The Dairy Bar in Columbia, South Carolina, had the bright idea to put it on a hamburger. Today Columbia remains Ground Zero of pimento cheeseburger excellence, and the Rockaway Athletic Club is one of its primary outposts.
Although the menu lists many kinds of burgers and sandwiches, salads, and fried seafood, the pimento cheeseburger stars. It is a broad, rugged round of beef smothered with mild orange cheese dotted with bits of innocuous red pepper. The cheese is not the crazy-flavored kind; it is smooth, creamy comfort. The standard configuration includes lettuce, tomato, raw onion, mayonnaise, and a few pickle chips on the side.
Crinkle cut French fries are standard-issue, good and crisp. Smothered with pimento cheese, they become a luxury spud casserole.
The original Rockaway Athletic Club, opened in 1982, was destroyed by fire in 2002 but quickly rebuilt. Ambience is utterly tavernous: dark and beery with television sets everywhere. The long bar, known as The South Carolina Liquor Library, boasts the biggest selection of spirits in the southeast. Mr. Peanut overlooks the bar (above a 25-cent peanut-dispenser); and a vintage Zoltar fortune-telling machine lets you know the future for a dollar.
In keeping with tradition, there still is no sign on Rosewood Drive to let passers-by know they have arrived. Everyone who wants or needs to know where Rockaway is already does.