Outside brown, Eastern chopped, fried okra, and collards. Photo by “Hominy” Halpern.
On Monday I had the pleasure of dining at Durham’s newest barbecue restaurant, The Pit – Durham. And when you visit The Pit you really are dining rather than just eating. The ambience is upscale but relaxed, the space is large, and the menu is diverse.
This is the second location of the restaurant, following on the heels of the original The Pit – Raleigh by a few years. Much like the Raleigh location, The Pit in Durham is owned by the Empire Eats restaurant group and is located in a beautifully restored historic (or at least old) brick building on the edge of downtown. Most importantly to me, The Pit prepares barbecue the right way–on a charcoal and oak-fired cooker out back.
Between the Raleigh and Durham locations, The Pit is exposing huge numbers of people to barbecue, many of them probably never having had real (i.e., wood-cooked) barbecue before. They take educating people about barbecue seriously, as evidenced by the presence of legendary barbecue TV host and author Bob Garner on their staff as a sort of barbecultural ambassador. Among his duties is to train the staff of the restaurant, all of whom must pass a test on barbecue. He also helps coordinate “heritage dinners” that bring well regarded, mostly rural BBQ owners to The Pit for special meals/events.
Although I still reflexively get my hackles up when I see brisket (not to mention tofu) on the menu of a North Carolina barbecue restaurant, I recognize The Pit is a business and not a NC barbecue museum. If I ran a barbecue restaurant, I’d probably be out of business in a week. Thus, I applaud The Pit for helping bring real barbecue to the masses, and to Durham and Raleigh, which (like many urban areas in NC) have very few restaurants that serve real barbecue. Let’s hope someone in Charlotte, to give one woeful urban example, can convince The Pit to open a location there too. On that note, it’s worth pointing out that Texans have figured out how to bring real barbecue to urban areas, and the BBQ scene is exploding without losing traditional cooking techniques. I hope we follow the Lone Star state’s lead on this trend. (But don’t tell anyone from Texas that I said all that, as they probably don’t need the self-esteem boost.)
Finally, while I’m rambling, stay tuned to the Durham barbecue scene. In a few months (I’m guessing) Durham will get another real barbecue restaurant as Ed Mitchell, formerly of The Pit, opens ‘Que on the other side of downtown. As someone who works right in the middle of downtown, I’m counting my lucky, greasy stars to soon be in walking distance of two wood burners. I have a sneaking suspicion 2014 will be a good year, provided I refrain from any diet-related New Year’s resolutions.
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