Okay. Inquiring minds wanted to know so I went there for a late lunch. In at ~1:30, out at about 3:00.
Restaurant Review……………..The Pit, Raleigh, N.C.
as seen on Throwdown With Bobby Flay The Pit
The Pit is located in a formerly industrial section of downtown Raleigh. It is in an area that has been taken over by design firms, antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. The Pit contributes more by far than any of these other ventures to the ambiance of the area by way of the smells coming from their smoker. The whole block smells great!
The interior of The Pit is hardly pit like at all, being well lighted and modern. Upon entry you’re faced with something unusual for a BBQ restaurant, a hostess. Hmmmmmm……. I’m a big guy, but quick as lightning, and aggressive as a Cayman alligator on crystal meth, so seeing a hostess standing there in front of me really mitigates the advantage that these qualities usually afford me under competitive seating situations. Oh well.
But the inside smells as good as the outside too, which is a plus. Looking beyond the hostess stand, you’ll see a wine wall, and looking further still, you’ll see a handsome dining room with multiple glass dividers and many accent walls painted to provide color to an otherwise open room. I like the look if that matters, but there is nothing that says you’re in a BBQ restaurant, and if you’re from NC like I am, everything pretty much says you’re NOT in a BBQ restaurant, including the full bar. Also, the music; late ‘70’s-early ‘80’s pop, rock, and soul. Aretha Franklin, The Clash, David Bowie, and disco of various descriptions. Not bad music, but do the people that own this place even know where NC is located? No Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, Faith Hill, and not one little bit of Willie Nelson! That’s just crazy.
Anyway, on to the menu. You can check out the attached link for menu specifics. In general they offer what an upscale BBQ restaurant should offer, and the prices are reasonable in my opinion. Their apps are a little pricey, but that helps to keep the costs down on their plates and sandwiches I’m sure. I ordered the onion rings because I’ve been in the mood for onion rings lately. These weren’t bad, but they were of the battered variety and I would have preferred the lightly breaded type personally. Onion rings soaked in buttermilk and tossed in flour then fried to crispy perfection define the product for me, so battered rings will always come in second due to my bias. The rings were served with Oak Island sauce, whatever that is. I’ve been to Oak Island and I’ve never seen a sauce like this served there on anything, but it did remind me of the stone crab mustard sauce you get in Florida. Also, it took close to 30 minutes to get the rings even though I ordered after the lunch rush. Not great marks for timing.
I tried to order the NC spare ribs, but was told they were out at the time. I did however confirm, at least according to the waitress, that the ribs are smoked and/or baked before being finished on the grill, so there goes the 20 minutes per side claim from Throwdown. Speaking of the show, the cooker(s) from the show were sitting outside the building. For those of you that like to think the secret of good Q’ is in the equipment, a feeling promoted by folks that like to sell equipment, let me describe the cookers: one was a moderately rusted 250 gallon oil tank modified, as so many are in NC, to hold a cooking grate and charcoal. No big deal. As to the other “specially designed” cooker Ed Mitchell spoke about on the show, it was typical in every way to any other purpose built cooker. Nothing unique at all. If the pig is good, it’s because someone knew how to cook it, not because the cooker was “custom”. Oh, and the melted wheel on the cooker has been replaced for those of you that were worried.
On to the meal that arrived about 15 minutes after the onion rings. I ordered smoked meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and slaw. Meal also came with 2 quarter sized hushpuppies and a single 1.5” diameter biscuit. It was all good. Meatloaf was reheated on grill and had the grill marks to prove it, then topped with an extraordinarily average brown sauce. Potatoes were good also, topped with same sauce (gravy), but nothing exceptional even though they were claimed to be organic. I would usually take non organic Yukon golds mashed with a bunch of butter and buttermilk most days over these, but they weren’t bad. Slaw was above average mayo based. Biscuit was better than most, but likely made with Southern Biscuit Formula L mix, which is some darned good mix for those of you that can get it down south. No problems there. The hushpuppies were smaller than I like, but tasted good anyway. But only two?
So I didn’t even try the ribs or the pulled pork, but I saw plenty of it going out. Looked good, smelled good, and I’m sure tasted good. They cook it in the kitchen over charcoal with some hickory wood thrown on or flavor. The side effect of this cooking arangement is that the fire alarm went off 3 times during my visit almost blasting you out of your seat. The bartender said it happens several times a day. Nice! There were two sauces on the table, an eastern NC sauce, very similar to the one I make where I’ve been accused of not being traditional because I add a little brown sugar and hot sauce. But mine tastes good, and not just like plain vinegar. This one tastes good as well. Good for them! The other sauce was like a modified Lexington style sauce, but with quite a bit of brown sugar and worstershire sauce added. Quite tasty, and very similar to another NC restaurant, Short Sugars BBQ in Reidsville, NC.
So, in summary, pros and cons:
Smell, reasonable prices, good service, pretty waitresses, good food, great iced tea!!, nice but non-BBQ specific décor.
Slow kitchen (bordering on very slow), music and décor, that while appealing, caused disorientation and confusion as to my exact whereabouts, waitresses too young to call me “sugar” and “honey” and not make me feel slightly dirty for letting them, and lastly, maybe a little too much hype. Oh, and they also charged me dinner prices instead of lunch prices, adding about $2.50 to my order. Probably an accident.....
The company that owns The Pit owns several restaurants in the area. I don't know, but I suspect, that Ed Mitchell's presence and involvement is limited to when the camera's are rolling. And to be honest, the footage they showed on Throwdown of Ed kind of doing a two step tableside, took me back to the not so good ole days of the South. I hope he doesn't really do that type of thing when he's there.
This isn’t one of those places where you take bets on how long they’ll be in business, it could be here for a long time, but it is one of those that if you came back in a year you wouldn’t be surprised to see a new name, a French menu, and the same décor and staff. Overall score on scale 1-10 piggys: 7.5-8 piggys