Spoiler: North Carolina has good barbecue. Durham, to be specific, and the Pit, to be precise.
I’m not telling you anything that anyone in Durham doesn’t already know. I had been in the city for about 24 hours, and just about every person I met name-dropped the Pit as a restaurant I shouldn’t miss. And I’m glad I didn’t.
It’s not that Boston doesn’t have a some good barbecue options (hey there Sweet Cheeks Q and Redbones) but obviously, the further you are from the Bible Belt, the fewer choices you have. I was excited for my first visit to true barbecue country.
For my first visit to the Pit, I meandered in around 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. There were plenty of free tables.
I could have filled up on the basket of warm, fluffy biscuits with even fluffier butter, PLUS crispy hushpuppies … but I exercised restraint.
Being indecisive, I opted for the sampler of appetizers rather than picking just one.
Not that the other items weren’t devoured, but the bruschetta stole the show. It was anchored by red pepper, mixed with jowl bacon, red pepper, spinach, goat cheese, and caramelized onion on toasted baguette.
Aside from the dash of pickle relish mixed in with the yolk paste, the deviled eggs tasted exactly like my mom’s, which is to say they were excellent.
The barbecue soul rolls — a twist on egg rolls, I was told — were packed with chopped pork barbecue, collard greens, and candied carrots, served with a spicy, mustard-based Oak Island sauce. The pimento cheese balls, served with a sweet red pepper jelly, were standard; not a standout on this particular tray of delectables, but would solidly satisfy any cheese-ball craving.
I wished that I could have tried the fried green tomatoes and the pumpkin corn bread with maple butter, but one person can only eat so much, and I had to save my appetite for the actual barbecue.
… Speaking of actual barbecue.
The Pit offers two options for eastern North Carolina-style whole hog barbecue: “chopped,” pit-cooked and seasoned with the most vinegar-y of the Pit’s three sauces; and “pulled pork,” seasoned with salt and ready for you to sauce. Also available: “Lexington-style” pork shoulder barbecue, a milder and sweeter take, coarse-chopped with crispy bits.
I love vinegar. I love salt-and-vinegar chips, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and vinegar peppers strong enough to numb the roof of your mouth. Thus, it should come as no surprise that I opted for the “chopped” and proceed to douse even more of the vinegar-y sauce on the heap of piggery goodness.
For sides, I went with the uber-creamy cole slaw and the sweet potato fries sprinkled with brown sugar. I recommend both.
My meal was so good that rather than explore a new restaurant in Durham on Wednesday, I came back to The Pit for a second visit. I skipped the apps and dove right into the baby back ribs.
The menu described the ribs as “cooked for hours but eaten in minutes.” I can vouch that this is accurate, though I would have personally used the word “devoured” to describe what I did to that plate of food. The ribs were super tender with a thin coating of sweet barbecue sauce.
Sides: apple sauce (because pork + apples = magic) and fried okra (because okra is divine and not enough restaurants in Boston have okra).
Dessert was some of the best peanut-butter pie I’ve ever had. The filling was struck a Goldilocks-esque balance: not too dense, not too fluffy. Dark chocolate top, a few peanuts on top, chocolate sauce squiggles all over.
I spend a lot of time researching restaurants, especially before a trip. But due to poor planning, I touched down at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport with no restaurant itinerary at all.
Luckily, the good folks in Durham saved me the need to do research because the answer was so obvious.
Barbecue? Durham? The Pit. Of course.
INFORMATION as of May 2017
Address & Phone
321 W Geer St.
Durham, NC 27701