By Kelley Dodge – 2014
Driving through downtown Raleigh, it would be easy for one to miss the Pit, a barbecue restaurant situated in a restored 1930s meatpacking warehouse. Seeking out this hidden gem,we arrived at the Pit with high expectations due to its prominent reputation. The Pit has been featured in magazines Bon Appétit, Southern Living,Men’s Health, GQ, Imbibe, Delta ,and Food Network, in addition to many television shows like the Travel Channel’s Man v. Food, NBC’s The Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CBS’s The Morning Show. The Pit even won a rib challenge on the Food Throwdown with Bobby Flay.
Walking up to the ordinary looking brick building, we were pleasantly surprised with the swanky, contemporary décor on the interior. Even better was the smoky smell of barbecue filling the room. We were greeted by an enthusiastic hostess and seated in the center of the main dining room, left to browse the menus and admire the eccentric artwork on the walls. Our waiter, a blonde-hair, blue-eyed boy about our age, was a shy, soft-spoken fellow, but tolerated our questions, often smiling and blushing. “What is with all these abstract paintings on the wall?” Miranda inquires. “Are you art students?” Taylor responds. After assuring him that we certainly were not art students, he shared that instead of going to college he decided to become a waiter at the Pit. While he did not have a personal interpretation of the painting above the table across from it, he recounted an interpretation of a previous guest, stating that the loops and wings in the painting represent “movement.” Taylor also explained that all of the paintings displayed in the restaurant were by local artists, and many of them were for sale.
This “local” theme continued in the Pit’s menu. The pigs used in the Pit’s barbecue are all free-range animals from local North Carolina farms. Additionally, all produce featured in appetizers, sides, and desserts are fresh and locally grown. Browsing the menu there was an assortment of salads, sandwiches, and meat and vegetarian options to choose from, as well as thirteen different choices of sides. All of the barbecued entrees came with the choice of “Eastern NC Style” which was prepared in the vinegar-based sauce. The other option was to order the meat “lightly seasoned and ready to sauce” with a more traditional, homemade barbecue sauce.
When Taylor returned to the table to take our order, Caroline, a North Carolina native, opted for the “Eastern NC Style” chopped barbecue pork, while I stuck with the “ready to sauce” version of the pulled pork. Miranda and Jenna opted for some non-traditional dishes with Miranda ordering barbecue tofu and Jenna ordering chopped barbecue turkey. Each dish came with two sides, so we ordered an assortment of French fries, sweet potato fries, fried okra, and macaroni and cheese.
Less than ten minutes later a server was setting dishes in front of us, allowing us to take in the mouthwatering smells. When the food was served, we were in paradise; not only was each entrée accompanied by two sides, but each plate was also served with crispy, golden brown hush puppies and the most divine biscuit I have ever eaten.The macaroni and cheese was also delicious, baked with some chunks of crispy cheddar cheese. Then there was the meat (and tofu) that was cooked to perfection. As we dug into our entrees, the table immediately fell silent with pleasure. Though we did not order drinks, we were offered a drink menu upon arrival and read that all of the spirits served at The Pit are handpicked to enhance the smokiness and spiciness of the barbecue. For most entrees there was a suggestion of specific wines and beers to pair with the barbecue. They also offer a selection of bourbon whiskey, drinks that further enhance the barbecue’s flavor.
When Taylor came to deliver the check, he was impressed by our clean plates. I, for one, ate every last bit of food, savoring my last few bites. We paid a very reasonable amount for our lunch, just $8.99 per meal, which considering the amount of food is a great deal. As we left the Pit, although our stomachs were stuffed, we were already craving more. Of all the barbecue joints that I have tried, the food, ambience, and price at the Pit is unbeatable. Whether you are a North Carolina native or just passing through, this hidden gem is a must for any barbecue lover.