The Pit, Raleigh, North Carolina

I ate at the Pit in Raleigh some years ago, and more recently I ate at the Pit in Durham with the inimitable Jim Oliver. Most recently I was passing through Raleigh on my way to Charlotte and arranged to have lunch with my brother, Jim, and his sons, Jimbo and Henry. As a special treat, Jimbo’s son, Eli, was able join us. Anna Clayton, Jimbo’s daughter, had a better lunch offer, and Eli’s twin brother, Jack (the New Much-Improved John Tanner), was tied up in Chapel Hill.

After ritual dithering over where to eat, we headed to the Pit. It took us a little while to assemble — Henry bought a cheeseburger and fries for a guy who had asked something to eat, and who presently walked by the Pit with joyful shouts of “Cheeseburger and fries!” We got an outside table, one side of which was in shade and the other in sun, so prepare yourself for vagaries in my photography. Note that the Pit does an excellent job with social distancing and cleanliness. They even had little paper bags in which we could keep our masks while we were eating. One shows up below by Eli’s plate.

We were greeted by a basket of biscuits and hushpuppies, shown here after some depletion. That’s a warm welcome indeed.

Good biscuits. I’m not talking Oak Level Cafe good, but very good biscuits. And the hushpuppies were quite good — small and freshly fried, with a nice flavor.

I ordered a chopped pork plate with Heritage Cabbage Collards and creamed corn.

(The Pit also offers pulled pork. I’m not sure why anyone would order pulled pork. It comes in long, unwieldy strands, unless it is … chopped. I tend to like a rougher chop, but chopped barbecue should be.)

Jim ordered a chopped pork plate with the collards and, I think, cole slaw. It looked a lot like my plate. You can see the cole slaw on Jimbo’s plate,

where it accompanied sweet potato fries, and a combination of barbecued chicken (white meat with a sweet sauce), and chopped pork.

Henry ordered the chopped pork with nice looking fries and okra.

And finally, Eli ordered fried chicken, dark meat, with Brunswick stew and fries.

Eli was marching to a different drummer in ordering the fried chicken instead of pork. Eli volunteered, “I’ve been eating a lot of barbecue sandwiches lately.” It seems that recently one of his friends had cooked six pork butts for a party. That’s a whole lot of pork, especially since at the time, North Carolina prohibited gatherings of more than 40 people. I asked Eli about the fried chicken and he said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s … pretty good.” He’s a natural for Congress. The chicken certainly looked good, and Eli’s “pretty good” was upbeat. I might try it next time.

We all liked our pork. It was fresh, hot, and had been tossed with a nice Eastern North Carolina vinegar-pepper sauce. Very good. The Pit is a good barbecue place, better in my experience than in their Durham outpost, which may just be too near Duke.

And Jimbo liked his chicken, which suffered only slightly from dryness, the besetting sin of the chicken breast. And everyone seemed very happy with their fried stuff — french fries, okra, and hushpuppies. The Heritage Cabbage Collards also were good. The Heritage Cabbage Collards are the same collards that are celebrated in the annual Ayden Collard Festival. The leaves are thinner, much more tender, and less bitter than standard collards. They flourish around Ayden, North Carolina, and achieve the Platonic ideal of collardness at Bum’s Restaurant in Ayden, one of my favorite restaurants in the world. There the cabbage collards are cooked with ham and other meats, and (I believe) in the pot likker from previous batches of collards. Wonderful. But I digress. The collards at the Pit were good, especially with a touch of the vinegar-pepper barbecue sauce. Not Bum’s great, but two notches above the usual run of collards. And the collards produced some lovely pot likker, one of the healthiest substances on earth. I used six or eight to ten hushpuppies to soak it up, thereby achieving a sort of cosmic nutritional balance.

The creamed corn — not so good. The corn was past its sell-by date, and the dish was under-seasoned. Ah, well, it was a great meal. Some very good food, and nothing makes a meal taste better than eating with family that you see too seldom. I’m eagerly awaiting the opening of a bunch of good new barbecue places that are in the works for Raleigh — see here — ’cause that’ll give me a good excuse to head back down there.

Meanwhile, head on over to the Pit if you’re in Raleigh. Get some chopped pork and collards and some Brunswick stew. A great meal is yours for the having.


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