I went South for the week of Thanksgiving this year and spent most of the week in South Carolina visiting family. We left SC on Black Friday to head to the Raleigh area for my friend Chris Short‘s wedding that night. I made reservations for lunch Saturday at The Pit in downtown Raleigh. I had heard a lot about it before from people with North Carolina connections as well as seeing television segments about it on various cable channels.
I’ve heard you really need to make a reservation for dinner and they ended up having a good crowd for Saturday lunch so you might want to make reservations via OpenTable no matter what time you go. We arrived a bit early and parked at the Raleigh Depot next door (it was $5 for the whole day there and if you shop in any of the business at the Depot – which does not include The Pit – you park for free.)
We were seated back towards the kitchen and had a nice chat with Executive Chef Darrell Brown after he had been talking to one of his subordinates at a vacant table next to ours. His bio says he was born in NC and he also discussed his family still in Maryland. It was a nice talk and he is a really nice guy.
They have a nice beer list including some local/regional beers – and I had been sampling local beers all week in SC and NC – but I just stuck with sweet tea since I was headed back north across the Sweet Tea Line as soon as I left there. We started out having a fried pimento cheese appetizer (pictured at right.) I’ve always been a fan of pimento cheese but I’d never had it like that before. It was amazing. It was served on top of pepper relish.
Moving on to the main courses now – I ordered their chopped barbecue plate while my wife got their fried chicken. Both dishes came with a biscuit and hushpuppies. The biscuit was light and not too heavy. It tasted great. Their hushpuppies were small and savory and delicious. (Personal note: both hushpuppies and cornbread are better savory and not sweet as far as I am concerned.)
Additionally, I had sweet potato fries and fried okra as my sides. I’m a fan of fried okra if it’s done well, but many restaurants do a poor job of it anymore. Not so at The Pit – their fried okra was perfectly fried. It wasn’t overcooked or undercooked. The sweet potato fries were perfectly seasoned and not greasy at all.
The chopped barbecue itself was amazing. I tried it first without any sauce and it was tasty and moist just like that. They had two kinds of sauce. I tried the vinegar-based sauce and it was great. They also had a molasses-based sauce. I will discuss more barbecue/sauce issues in a later post.
My wife had the fried chicken with sides of braised cabbage (which included bacon) and macaroni & cheese (which had been recommended to us by Chris Short.) I tried the mac and cheese and it was great. My wife told me that the chicken was very good and she also really liked the cabbage.
Some other highlights from their lunch menu (the dinner menu is slightly different) include the following appetizers: barbecue fries (“hand-cut fries with melted pimento cheese, chopped cue, chives and barbecue ranch dressing”), deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, pumpkin skillet cornbread, Vidalia onion rings, and selection of house-made pickled vegetables.
They have ribs, barbecued turkey, brisket, and even barbecued tofu in addition to the chopped plate I had. The sandwiches on the menu include a pulled pork sandwich in addition to a chopped sandwich. One thing that’s a big plus to me – they have a pimento cheese burger.
I first discovered the joys of a burger topped with pimento cheese at a long-defunct place called the Dairy Bar (someone correct me if I got the name wrong) that was near the Statehouse in Columbia, SC. I went there with a friend while we were in town for Youth in Government’s Model Legislature one December in high school. Since then I’ve had pimento burgers at various places – most of them in South Carolina. (One place with a good one is Rockaway Athletic Club in Columbia. President George W. Bush had pimento burgers from there on one of his trips to the Palmetto State.) I will put The Pit’s pimento burger on my to do list for a future trip.
Another Southern staple is found on The Pit’s dessert menu – banana pudding. I wish I could say I tried it, but I had no room for it. I’ll have to save that, along with the pimento burger and some other things, for a future trip. There will definitely be future trips whenever I’m in Raleigh. I would recommend you definitely dine there if you have the opportunity.
(Photographs are Copyright 2011 by Jeff Quinton)