The Pit has now been open for nearly two months, and I finally made it there for lunch. Yes, that’s right, for lunch — they started offering the mid-day meal in the last couple of weeks. But others — many others — have beaten me to the punch. Greg Cox of the N&O has already visited and will be reviewing it shortly. Bob Garner‘s crew is editing his review for his television report. And I, after writing about it extensively (including my first ever post on VarmintBites), finally got down to Davie Street to see how good it was. Damn good is the answer.
For some reason, I was a bit skeptical of The Pit. Most of the early reviews were favorable, with a few high praises and one or two “no, thank yous” mixed in. I knew Ed Mitchell could cook a pig as well or better than anyone else, but I also remembered that his Wilson restaurant was plagued with quality control problems. Blame it on inattentiveness, bad management, or just lack of consistent turnover, but I had some pretty lousy barbecue at Mitchell’s. That’s why I was hoping, but not overly optimistically, that this partnership with Greg Hatem and Empire Eats would result in a quality eating establishment.
Based on my one lunch at The Pit, I shouldn’t have worried. If the food is this consistently good at all times, The Pit can now be listed as one of the iconic barbecue establishments not only in North Carolina, but in the country. Hyperbole? I don’t think so. The barbecue is that good, and the couple of sides that I sampled also shined. Frankly, I was completely taken aback. Raleigh finally has a top-notch barbecue joint, and for that, I sing hallelujah.
I first had a cup of Brunswick Stew, which I ordered because I have yet to taste a decent rendition of this classic barbecue fare in a restaurant. My buddies and I have come up with a kick-ass version, but restaurant stew usually reminds me of overly sweet and thick Campbell’s vegetable soup. After my first spoonful of The Pit’s Brunswick Stew, I knew I was in for not just a treat, but an experience. Here is a stew where the sweet and tart elements are both there, but nicely balanced, all pulled together by smoky chunks of pork. I loved this stuff and could have eaten a large bowl. Fortunately, I didn’t.
Instead, I had the chopped whole hog and smoked brisket, both of which were very moist (but not fatty) and contained just the right amount of smoke. The pork barbecue was classic Ed Mitchell style, with a bit of the outer cracklin’s cut into the meat. Not overly sauced, the barbecue was as good as anything I’ve eaten in North Carolina, except for when it came right off a pig (which you can also experience if you sit at the small bar in the back of the restaurant, where Ed Mitchell will serve you whatever he pulls off the hog). The brisket was a bit more heavily smoked, as beef should be, and lightly sauced with a more viscous, Texas style concoction. It might be sacrilege to mix beef and pork barbecue styles, but I have no problem with The Pit serving both (and they also offer smoked turkey and chicken wings, neither of which I tried). We were also provided with a small sample of smoked baby back ribs, complements of the house. These were some of the most tender and flavorful ribs I’ve ever eaten in a restaurant.
The slaw is coarsely chopped, slightly creamy, with a proper balance of sugar and vinegar. This is actually my favorite style of slaw, but some folks may not like the mayonnaise. The macaroni and cheese was a great side, rich with sharp cheddar and just a touch of pepper. Fries are cut in house.
Everything I tried was great, and I’m really surprised. The Pit has its act together, has a fairly vibrant lunch crowd, and is in a space that has the potential to be a fun hang-out. And one other thing: they have a great kids’ menu (and you know how I am about kids’ menus) offering their mac n’ cheese with steamed broccoli, their ribs, a barbecue sandwich, and house made chicken tenders. Why is this great? Because all of things are already offered on The Pit’s regular menu (OK, they also offer a burger, which was added for the kids only). Plus, the kids’ dessert menu includes a chocolate covered frozen banana. Now that’s a cool way for a child to end a meal!
The Pit is a restaurant that the locals will want to take out-of-town guests. They’ll get to meet a genuine North Carolina pitmaster, they’ll experience some really good barbecue, and they’ll have an experience that will make them remember Raleigh.
So my hat is off to the folks at Empire Eats and the crew of The Pit. I can now save my gas money from my trips in search of top barbecue, and just stay here in Raleigh. I’m proud to have you here!