The patty melt, which is said to have originated in William “Tiny” Naylor’s restaurants in Southern California, is pure Americana. With the heft and satisfaction of a cheeseburger, browned onions for sweetness, and the crunch of grilled cheese, it ticks every pleasure box.
When chef Chris Bradley put this on the menu at Phoenicia Diner, he substituted pimento cheese for the traditional Swiss or cheddar. Pimento cheese is a creamy sandwich and hors d’oeuvre staple throughout the American South that is tragically underappreciated in these Northern parts. Here, the tangy pimientos and piquant spicing cut through the rich fat of the sandwich. The melted cheddar cheese binds to the onions, while the mayo and cream cheese keep things extra luscious. While you could certainly slather on additional condiments if you want, there’s no need—this is a fully loaded sandwich all on its own.
This recipe is from The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook.
- To make the pimento cheese: Place the cheddar, cream cheese, mayonnaise, pimientos, paprika, garlic powder, white pepper, salt, and cayenne in a large bowl and, using a wooden spoon, mix thoroughly until all the ingredients are well combined. Use immediately (or cover and keep in the fridge for up to a week; see note).
- In a large, heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over high heat. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt and a sprinkle of fresh pepper. Reduce the heat to low, and cook until the onion is a deep caramel brown, another 10 minutes. Transfer the onion to a bowl or plate and set aside. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel and return to the stove.
- Season the hamburger patties liberally with salt and pepper. In the skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over high heat, just until it begins to smoke. Gently lay the patties in the skillet and press down with a spatula until the patties are about ¼ inch thick and roughly the same size as your pieces of bread. Cook undisturbed until the patties are well browned and begin to char and crisp, about 2 minutes. Flip the burgers with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side, about another 2 minutes. Remove the patties to a plate.
- Carefully wipe out the skillet and return to the stove over medium-high heat. Spread 1 tablespoon butter on each slice of rye bread, making sure to spread it completely over the slice. Place 4 slices, buttered side down, into the skillet, and top each with about ¼ cup of pimento cheese. Then top each with a burger and divide the caramelized onion among the 4 patties. Spread another healthy spoonful of pimento cheese on the remaining 4 slices of rye (opposite side from the butter), and place them on top of the burgers, pressing down to seal. Cook until the bottom slice is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Flip the sandwiches, and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 2 minutes more. Serve immediately.