image courtesy of flickr
Raleigh’s The Pit has received so much attention over the years that you’d think it was some kind of legendary establishment – the kind of place that makes Raleigh. In fact, the place is more of a curiosity, in terms of ambiance and popularity, and, unfortunately, not terribly exciting in terms of food. It’s about as far as you can get from Allen & Son’s – a little shack lost between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, where the meat cooks over wood for most of the night – and still be called a North Carolina barbecue restaurant.
The interior of The Pit is moderately swanky, mostly as a result of the building’s previous incarnation as an upscale steakhouse, but partly, one suspects, as a deliberate branding angle. It’s not a white tablecloth affair, but the wait staff does wear all black and shuffles to and fro discreetly. It’s certainly a far cry from your average no-frills bbq joint. There’s a large bar area with plenty of high tables near the front door, and a couple of more stately dining areas. The place is huge, but it gets packed, always. You can take a date here, or your family, but it seems best suited to a business meal.
On a recent lunch visit, I ordered the chopped bbq plate ($7.99), which comes with two sides, a biscuit, and a couple of hushpuppies. The plate is a much better value than the bbq sandwich, which comes with only one side (and no biscuits or hushpuppies), but costs only $0.40 less. At dinnertime, the cost of the plate entrée jumps up 50% to $11.99, so beware. The barbecue itself was rather flavorless, even with a liberal application of sauce at the table. It lacked smokiness but at least it wasn’t mushy. I chose collards and cole slaw as my side items. The collards were pretty bad – too vinegary and not tender enough; the cole slaw was average. My biscuit was also lackluster. It was soft and buttery, but it seemed like a frozen biscuit rather than a scratch-made creation. The Pit does have good sweet potato fries, and some regular fries I tried were also pretty tasty. But the best part of my meal was the excellent hushpuppies. I would have traded all of my side items for a basket full of those.
In the end, it was an uninspiring and forgettable meal. While the value at lunchtime is good – you get a lot of food – I’m not really eager to return. I have heard that the ribs are very good, but I’ve yet to try them in several visits. [Although former head chef and NC bbq icon Ed Mitchell defeated Bobby Flay in a rib "throwdown" a couple years ago, he is no longer associated with the restaurant]. So, even with a general lack of good bbq restaurants in Raleigh, The Pit doesn’t really stand out. I’d rather drive a little ways out to the aforementioned Allen & Son’s, or perhaps to Stephenson’s (near Benson), or The Pig (Chapel Hill) for a more rewarding bbq experience.