On the Road: Woody’s Southland Restaurant

Woody’s Southland has been a staple of my family for three (now four) generations. First opened in 1947, the restaurant has changed locations, owners, and menu’s multiple times. But it’s current iteration, opened in 1989 has been one of my personal favorite haunts for nearly all of my life. For the uninitiated, I suggest ordering a hamburger steak and cheese stuffed potato (Woody’s signature dish.) Also, don’t miss out on their famous steak sauce (a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce) as well as their salad bar, complete with a basketball goal sized wheel of cheddar for customers to slice cheese off of at will.

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Woody’s Signature Sauce

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Hamburger Steak and Cheese Stuffed Potato

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Cheesy Potato Awesomness

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Steak and Sauce

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Generation #4 Sizing Up the Competition

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Success!

Woody’s Southland Restaurant

5388 Skyland Boulevard East

Cottondale, Alabama 35453

Phone: 205-556-3070

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Quick Tip: Clumping Cheese

Is your grated cheese clumping when you mix it in to something hot? (Think cheese grits.) Here’s a simple solution to that problem.

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Toss your cheese in a little corn starch right after grating. This keeps the individual pieces from sticking together.

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That way, your end result will be nice cheesy (in this case southwestern) grits. Instead of plain grits with chewy cheese blobs.

TST

Pimento Cheese…?

Image Credit: "A Trip Down South"

…not “pimento cheese dip,” or “pimento cheese spread,” but “pimento cheese.” If you’re a non-southerner, and you want to ask a dyed-in-the-wool southerner what this much revered dish is, make sure you just refer to it as “pimento cheese.” “Dip,” and “spread” are only verbs to us. We find no need for an adjective to describe the proper procedure for using it. We’re quite well versed in it’s ability slather on, dip in, or dump over just about anything. We also don’t care that referring to the dish as “pimento cheese” is a complete misnomer. If you’re expecting a block of cheese filled with pepper pieces, go look for some pepper jack, you won’t find it here.

So what is this marvel of southern design? This versatile carrier in which half the things in your house would benefit from it’s unique taste? (Crackers, veggies, meats, the doorknob… whatever’s handy…)   Surely anything this good requires a full page of ingredients, hours of prep, and a lifetime of dedication to master it’s subtle nuances.

It’s sharp cheddar, mayo and jarred pimento peppers.

The base recipe is as follows:

8oz Shredded Cheddar Cheese

4oz Jarred Pimento Peppers (Drained)

1/4 Cup of Mayonnaise

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Mix all ingredients, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors meld.

Now, this may seem to be the epitome of backwoods, redneck cuisine. Especially to the untrained eye. But, believe it or not, a pimento cheese sandwich is THE thing to eat at one of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world. The Masters, held every year in Augusta, Georgia. Only something so special, so southern, and so tasty, can not only appeal to the masses, but can appeal to those who could afford to eat it on a golden plate with a platinum knife. From golfers, to spectators, to sponsors, everyone lines up to taste the one of the simplest staples of southern comfort food.

But, they do modify the recipe slightly.

The Masters Pimento Cheese Sandwich (Makes two sandwiches.)

4oz Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar (White or Yellow, Shredded)

3oz Jarred Pimento Peppers (Drained and Finely Chopped)

2 Tbs Mayonnaise

1/2 Tsp Hot Pepper Sauce

4 Thin Slices of Vidalia Onion

1 Cup of Watercress Sprigs (Stems Removed)

4 Slices of  White-Wheat bread.

Salt and or Pepper to taste.

Follow the base instructions for making pimento cheese (but remember to add the hot pepper sauce.) Once it has been well chilled, and the flavors have combined, spread pimento cheese evenly on bread. Top with onions and watercress sprigs.

As you can see, The Masters makes use of the base recipe and adds the flavors of red pepper, sweet onion and watercress. I would suggest that you experiment with other flavors as well. Jalapeño and garlic tend to be very popular additions in mass produced pimento cheese, and their flavors blend even better when incorporated into fresh pimento cheese.

Simplicity is the rule of the day when it comes to pimento cheese. It’s simple to make, simple to modify, and simple to serve. Therefore, I humbly suggest the next time you’re in the grocery store, bypass the Mrs. Stratton’s and try it the old fashioned way. The difference between fresh pimento cheese, and the pasturized, processed stuff that comes in a plastic tub will rock your tastebuds.

I’m pretty sure you’ll never go back.

Quick Recipes:

1. Pimento Cheeseburgers (Standard hamburger topped with pimento cheese)

2. Filled Veggies

Cream pimento cheese in food processor (add a little milk if too thick).  With a star tipped icing bag, pipe the puree into vegetables (pepper slices, tomato cups, celery ribs) Garnish with a dusting of minced parsley.

3. Southern “Canapés”

Top Ritz crackers, with thin Vidalia onion slices, cherry tomatoes (sliced into discs) and piped pimento cheese puree. Garnish with a small parsley sprig, or an olive ring.

Hoop Cheese

Image Credit: jacksonbros.com

Never heard of hoop cheese? Probably because it’s rarely available anymore. It’s a traditional farmers cheese, made by draining the whey from a cottage cheese then placing the curd into a round mold (the hoop) and pressing it out. Some are aged slightly to increase firmness, but the vast majority of hoop cheese produced is semi-soft. At one time, hoop cheese was a staple of southern cooking, and more widely available than any other type of cheese. Now, you’ll be lucky to find a wedge or two in you local supermarket. For two distinct reasons;

1. It’s hard to standardize the manufacturing process, and it spoils quickly.

2. It’s not the most flavorful cheese in the world (especially by today’s standards.)

Both of there reasons, in the minds of cheese producers, make it a product that’s not worth their time and effort.

But, for me to be writing this article, there must be some kind of redeeming factor. Right?

Of course there is!

Actually, not only is there redemption for this cheese, there’s also an explanation as to why it was NEVER mass produced, even in it’s hey-day in the deep south. Ask any southerner that was alive before 1960 about hoop cheese, and they’ll probably tell you that they bought it at a market, cut fresh off the wheel. Nine times out of ten, it was actually cut and weighed on a machine that was made specifically for store’s use.

Not only did the store cut it off the wheel, they probably made the cheese in the back-of-the-house. At the very least, someone in the nearby community made it, and sold it to the store for immediate sale. Because the cheese is a fresh farmer’s cheese, and spoils much quicker than the aged cheeses that the store could outsource and keep on hand. It will only keep for about a week or two after it’s been made, and cutting off of the wheel increases the surface area which shortens the spoilage time.  So it was in the best interest of the store to be able to get in in the door, and out the door, as quickly as possible with as few cuts as possible. I’ve included a picture of a hoop cheese cutter/scale machine below.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

Now, on to taste.

The thing that makes hoop cheese stand out among all the other cheeses in your dairy case, it it’s ability to impart a distinct creaminess to cheese based dishes, while keeping it’s flavor profile limited. I like to use it in combination with a sharp cheddar to offset the bite, and keep my dishes from becoming blocky or sticky. Not to mention, because it has a neutral flavor, it’s WONDERFUL when paired with fruits. It makes the sweet taste of strawberries or melons sing out while giving a firm creamy texture to the palette.

One of my favorite dishes to cook with hoop cheese, is  “Apple Cheese.” A casserole that normally pairs cheddar and apples, I add a bit of hoop cheese to give it a creamy texture:

Ingredients:

9 apples (peeled and sliced thin)

1 cup of flour

1 cup of sugar

10 ounces of cheddar cheese. (grated)

3-5 ounces of hoop cheese (grated)

1 sleeve of Ritz crackers (crumbled)

1/2 cup of melted butter

Simmer apples in boiling water until tender. Drain and place a layer in a buttered casserole. Combine remaining ingredients and sprinkle over apples. Repeat layering until all ingredients are used. Bake at 350 degrees, 35-45 minutes.

So what’s your best bet for finding hoop cheese?

Occasionally you’ll find it in a local supermarket. But, your best bet will be to find a farmers market. You might be surprised to find that in addition to the vegetables and preserves that frequent the market, local artisan cheese makers often make an appearance too.

Finally, if you’re feeling like worming your way into nouveau southern cuisine in your own home and want an easy recipe, try substituting the mozzarella in an insalata caprese with hoop cheese. Throw in a few good acidic heirloom tomatoes while you’re at it (I prefer a purple heirloom with a nice smoky bite.)