People not familiar with southern barbecue assume that it’s all the same. Au contraire. Regional favorites dot the landscape far and wide across the south. Some barbecue restaurants are straight-up, no frills, get-down-to-business barbecue joints, others take a different approach. The Pit Authentic Barbecue in Raleigh, North Carolina is upscale barbecue. However, it’s not so upscale that it’s pretentious.
This is date night barbecue. Barbecue with atmosphere. Chic. The food? Delectable. It is exactly what you conjure up in your mind as great barbecue. This is the stuff of dreams. In North Carolina we have barbecue two ways: Eastern barbecue and Western barbecue, approximately divided down the fall line. I’m not pretending to be the premier barbecue expert, but I do like to eat. In both scenarios, the pig itself is cooked low and slow. It’s the sauce that makes the difference. Eastern barbecue has a vinegar based sauce and has varying degrees of heat. Western barbecue sauce is tomato based and can be either sweet or sweet & spicy. All of them are mouthwatering, especially when paired with pork. Chopped or pulled pork? Which should you choose? Again, there are experts that weigh in on that as well. My preference? Pork. Chopped? Yes, please! Pulled? Sure thing! I like it both ways.
The Pit Authentic Barbecue is located in a repurposed building, a warehouse perhaps, in the heart of Raleigh across from the old train depot. Parking can be a little tricky, but if you park in the lot across the street you can make a pit stop in Videri Chocolates on your way to the car. Once your got parking under control, it’s off to The Pit!
It’s no surprise that the The Pit roasts its whole hogs in, what else, a barbecue pit. I mean, that is what pit barbecue is all about. This roasting is done by the Pit Master. It takes time, skill, and a lot of practice to master the art of barbecue. It doesn’t happen overnight, well the roasting might, but the art of barbecue itself is cultivated. And that’s what separates good barbecue from full-bodied, mouthwatering pork barbecue.
Food choices are difficult when the menu is chockfull of selections! The Pit menu has a variety of Southern fare, making your decision a tough one. Plate or sandwich? Chicken or turkey? Chopped pork or pulled pork? Ribs or brisket? One selection or a combo? And don’t get me started on the sides! Examining the menu from top to bottom a few times I finally decided on the Double Combo and selected chopped pork and brisket with green beans and sweet potato fries. The server brought a basket full of biscuits and hushpuppies to tide me over until the main event made its appearance at the table. The hushpuppies were savory, with a slightly onion taste, yet a touch of sweet as well. Dipped in a little whipped butter they hit their mark.
Next up, the meal itself. The tender brisket glistened with a tangy sauce and the moist chopped pork beckoned for my fork. Rounding out the food color wheel were the garlicky, vibrant green beans and the delicate ochre colored sweet potato fries. This meal did not disappoint! The pork was juicy and flavorful and the savory, tender brisket melted in my mouth. Living on the wild side, I mixed the two sauces together (!) to get a sweet, vinegary, yet slightly hot sauce to drizzle over my meats. I can still conjure up that taste in my mind. A little bite of pork, a forkful of garlicky, buttered green beans. Another bite of pork followed by the sweetness of a sweet potato fry. I continued this way short of licking the plate clean. It was worth every single morsel. Whatever you do, you must follow-up this meal with banana pudding! Even if it means having to unbutton your pants for the ride home. Yes, it is that good.
I’m a UNC-TV/PBS gal. Love it. One of my favorite shows is North Carolina Weekend on Thursday nights. A man of many talents, Bob Garner – author, speaker, pit master, and restaurant reviewer – hosts a segment on NC Weekend highlighting and reviewing local restaurants. His segment is my favorite! Mr. Garner expresses his love for NC food in every segment. Perhaps it’s because he’s never met food he doesn’t like or maybe it’s because we share a love of eating, no matter the reason, I love to watch his restaurant highlights. I read on The Pit website the other day that Mr. Garner was involved with the restaurant. In my head I was thinking consultant. Imagine my surprise when Bob Garner walks past my table while I’m shoveling a spoonful of velvety banana pudding in my mouth. Was that him? Hmmm, strange. Why would Bob Garner be here? I think it’s him. [Walks past the table again] It really looks like him. That’s got to be him. [Makes eye contact as he’s walking towards table] That is definitely Bob Garner!
Mr. Garner is every bit as kind and sweet as he appears on his show. After making eye contact with him, Mr. Garner came over to the table to converse a few moments. We talked about his show and I asked what he was doing at The Pit that day. He was working! Bob Garner was serving people lunch. I don’t know how many realized that a local celebrity and barbecue pit master was serving their table, but I knew it, and it made my day. I’ve even got a photo to prove it!