BBQ Jew’s View: The Pit (A Non-Review)

328 W. Davie St., Raleigh, NC
The Pit’s Website
(caution: this website is dangerously slick)
BBQ Jew’s Grade: I for incomplete
Porky Says: “Can’t we leave well enough alone?!” 

I just can’t bring myself to go to The Pit.

If barbecue was meant to be upscale it wouldn’t be made of chopped pork. And if folks in Raleigh need cloth napkins and a glass of chardonnay to enjoy barbecue, then perhaps they should just do without and leave the pork for the huddled masses. That said, The Pit’s pitmaster Ed Mitchell is a legend of NC barbecue. He used to own a joint in Wilson that had a stellar reputation, and sadly I never had the good fortune to visit it. That fact alone has almost drawn me to visit The Pit.

Main Course
Unfortunately, The Pit is a far cry from Mitchell’s old place—it is set up as more of a barbecue zoo than a barbecue joint, putting the wild barbecue beast on display for visitors to stare at while keeping a safe distance. The Pit’s website claims the restaurant is “a celebration of all of the great culinary offerings of the Old North State.” Based on the menu, apparently North Carolina’s “great culinary offerings” include Hot Spinach Bacon Dip with Baked Baguette Chips, Meatloaf with Onion Demi and Blue Cheese Crumbles, and Barbecued Tofu. I have never seen tofu slow-cooked over wood coals but I can only imagine tofu lets out a squeal that would scare the vegetarian right out of even the most devout PETA member. If serving tofu at a barbecue restaurant is not a sin in the First Church Synagogue of ‘Que, I am not sure what is.

Judging a book by its cover... (photo by Alaina B via Flickr)

Judging a book by its cover... (photo by Alaina B via Flickr)

Just Desserts
In fairness, The Pit’s menu features some classic whole hog NC barbecue and sides, and I have little doubt that Ed Mitchell is a great pitmaster. Plus, the focus on locally raised organic hogs and local produce is admirable. I just can’t quite bring myself to visit a barbecue zoo when a true barbecue safari can be had within 20 miles in any direction.

17 Responses

  1. I was in agreement with everything you wrote, but then I tried Ed Mitchell’s chopped whole hog a year ago. It’s truly some of the best Eastern NC ‘cue I’ve ever had. It’s definitely worth the 30 minute drive from Durham, because it is worlds above than any of the BBQ that Durham has to offer – yes, even Allen & Sons. If you feel ‘dirty’ setting foot in the upscale restaurant and want to save some significant cash, just call ahead and carry-out a couple pounds of ‘cue. You won’t be disappointed.

  2. Dave, thanks for your comment and for your face-saving carry-out idea. I remain stubbornly skeptical about trying The Pit, but I’ll write a real review if I ever change my mind.

  3. I have to say, I’m with Dave on this one. We went to the Holy Smoke book launch at The Pit, and while I wasn’t really that impressed with their pulled pork, their chopped was absolutely incredible. I also devoured about 20 pieces of fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese (and felt quite ill afterward, but it was totally worth it).

    I agree that The Pit isn’t for BBQ purists, but everything has its place, and Ed Mitchell is really very talented. Would I rather he serve his food cheaper? Sure, but that’s not a reason to dismiss The Pit.

  4. […] yuppicue, the owners have resisted any temptation to turn their joint into a Chapel Hill version of The Pit.  You continue to order at the counter and it’s a charmingly casual […]

  5. […] who reports that The Pit is expanding.  The Pit, which I “reviewed” awhile back (see what I mean here), is an upscale BBQ restaurant in downtown Raleigh.  Apparently the people of Raleigh were not […]

  6. Let’s not even discuss the pittifull “Pit”. Over priced, questionable service and really not very good bbq. I’m sure Ed Mitchell is a true “Pit Master” and deserving of a kudo or 5, but I would much rather a non-pimped up venue to eat my bbq. Gotta say, Backyard Bbq in Durham has the best Bbq chicken. Mouthwatering, fall off the bone yummy goodness.

  7. Need info on how to find vendor for bbq in Norfolk, Va,call 757-587-2543

  8. The PIT has its place- it’s a decent way for NC visitors to at least get an idea of what NC BBQ is all about. Is it the best? No- not by a long shot. But the chopped plate is good, and the ribs are great.

    Service/speed is so-so and it’s no bargain.

    Best reason to go to the Pit? Two words: Banana Pudding.

  9. My wife and I have tried literally all the barbecue joints in North and South Carolina in the last 20 years and The Pit is not the place to eat barbecue!

    It has tasteless veggies and really mediocre service!

  10. More of a conventional restaurant scene with a nice atmosphere and several cold tasty beers on tap, brick walls, good lighting etc. This is not your down home country mom and pop. The chopped cue was very good, but not great. The rack of ribs was fantastic, fallin’ of the bone lickin’ good. Everything could have used a bit more sauce imo. sides were very good as well. table service was solid but the front of the house needs a personality uplift and completely lacked that southern kindness one would expect. Great place for a dinner out with friends and family but if you’re looking for that country BBQ experience, keep lookin’.

  11. The Pit is a fine restaurant that is dedicated to serving authentic wholehog BBQ (cooked over wood) and well prepared sides and desserts, not to mention a fantastic selection of craft beers.

    I have had their pork both pulled and chopped and equally good, full of flavor and fat that one gets in whole hog preparation. The BBQ chicken was smoke infused and fall-off-the-bone tender. The sides are expertly prepared, with collards approaching nirvana in their cider vinegar tinged hamminess.

    As for the beer selection, try a Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA aged in a bourbon cask. Sure it was $12, but it costs that at any bar. This ain’t Allen & Sons on Hwy. 86 (my favorite BBQ in all of NC). This place is an upscale restaurant, and one should applaud the owners for cooking with wood.

    To answer the question of why eat here when there are so many traditional choices within a 30 minute drive? If you are in Raleigh for business, why not choose a local restaurant that serves BBQ, instead of going to a steakhouse?

    Eat here before becoming a hater.

    P.S. I don’t like the Skylight Inn, but I do like B’s and Parker’s in Greenville, which should give you insight into my palate.

  12. Carey,

    In all honesty, I think you make a very reasonable case. However, I reserve the right to be unreasonable from time to time. Seriously, I’ve since tasted The Pit’s ‘cue and found it quite good. Some day I will actually review the place for real. I do like Dogfish 90 Minute IPA too, though have not had the bourbon aged variety, sounds excellent. Thanks for the comments!

  13. […] blog entry.  According to the Mouthful blog, legendary BBQ pitmaster Ed Mitchell, who helped found The Pit in downtown Raleigh, has parted ways with the restaurant (or vice versa).  Mitchell will pursue […]

  14. Wines and tofu?? Pretty much says it all.

    This place doesn’t fly for the NC BBQ purist. My wife and I went and were completely underwhelmed. I looked over reviews on TripAdvisor and they were quite divided with as many “5” ratings as ratings of three or below.

    The “5” raters included some NC residents but also many people from benighted, BBQ deserts like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Canada, and Boston. Many ate ribs (which might be the strength of this place). The low ratings tended to come from NC residents and people who ate chopped or pulled pork.

    This might be the kind of place to go if you live in Raleigh and your Yankee mother-in-law comes down for a visit and wants to try this BBQ that she has been hearing about but also wants a place with cloth napkins, a decent wine selection, and little fake candles on the table to give the restaurant atmosphere.

  15. Frank, good to hear from you, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Right on target!

  16. […] According to its Twitter profile (yes, I spent a lot of time researching this post), Buxton Hill will offer “All wood, Pit Smoked, Pastured Whole Hog Barbeque & Heirloom Southern Fare.”  At first blush this sounds an awful lot like a western North Carolina version of Raleigh’s (and soon Durham’s) down home-upscale restaurant, The Pit. And, yes, that is both a compliment (wood cooking and whole hogs should be encouraged) and an insult. […]

  17. The only reason for going to the Pit is that (unlike normal BBQ restaurants) they’re open on Sundays. So, if you’re desperate, and don’t mind paying triple the cost, it’s worth it, I guess, once in a while. At least, the food is actually quite good (which is surprising, since, considering their naive customer base, they could probably serve chopped horse and get away with it). They’re expanding, and no longer playing blues music, so the decline will probably be soon.

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