Everything but the Squeal. Some may squirm at hearing this phrase, but the newest restaurant to open in The Warehouse District has the phrase in large script on its menu and are dedicated to this slogan in their BBQ. The Pit opened its doors last night for dinner in what used to be Nana’s Chophouse. Nana’s closed just over a week ago, all the signage on the front was taken down (side signage still remains) and a new sign hangs above the front door stating: The Pit: Authentic Barbeque, Whole Hog, Pit-Cooked, Ed Mitchell Pitmaster. For many folks who have lived in Eastern North Carolina for more than a few years, the name Ed Mitchell may be synonymous with the word BBQ.
Ed Mitchell (photo by Dean M. McCord) was the owner and pitmaster of Mitchell’s BBQ in Wilson, North Carolina and was close in fame to Wilbur’s BBQ in Goldsboro, until it closed in March, 2005. As soon as the doors closed, Mitchell was already speaking about the next BBQ joint he was going to open. At first, he had hopes of opening Mitchell’s in another location in Wilson, but soon after, his dreams switched to Raleigh, North Carolina. The Pit is a collaboration between Mitchell and local downtowner Greg Hatem, who owns the building. The Pit is Whole Hog BBQ which is “pit-cooked all night over hickory or oak coals, basted with a homemade vinegar and pepper sauce, pulled from the bone, chopped and served hot.” This style of cooking BBQ is very popular in Eastern North Carolina. Also, the hogs at The Pit will be from Bunting Farms and are top grade premium, hormone-free, all natural hogs. Mitchell has a great location for his new establishment and his dreams of having a restaurant in New York, Charlotte, and re-opening in Wilson may be possible if The Pit is successful.
The interior hasn’t changed much yet, but it will. It won’t be a radical shift, but many surfaces and materials will be updated to make the restaurant feel new and not simply Nana’s part two. The changes that have occurred are mostly in the art work on the walls and the previously mentioned logo. A new graphic of a whole hog, with parts of the body labeled relative to the food they are used in, is hand drawn and then printed on a large piece of glass on the wall immediately to the right when walking in the front door. A handful of drawings and paintings of pigs and cows are hung throughout the restaurant and bathrooms as well. The menu comes in two large pages,one each for food and drinks, and one small one, for dessert. The draft beers have been strategically picked from local and foreign breweries and come in an option of 10 or 20 ounce sizes. Wine has its own back page of the drinks menu and ranges from $6 glasses to a bottle for $208. They also have a nice selection of Cocktails and Bourbons.
The food menu centers around the Chopped Whole Hog, which is very rich in vinegar, and the other entrees and appetizers spread out from there. The new restaurant is not limited to only pig, but includes various fish, chicken and steak dishes. There is a regular list of sides as well as Country and City lists as well, contrasting two forms of living into two forms of tasting. There are a couple of combo varieties on the menu to combine various meats into one dish, as well as a Family Style sample of everything from the pit, and Pig Pickin’, which is “everything but the squeal” and requires 24 hour notice. What a tease.
Overall, the restaurant still has the Nana’s Chophouse feel atmospherically, but that may change when all of the interior is resurfaced. The food selection is a bit different and The Pit looks to set a new standard on what urban BBQ is in North Carolina and Raleigh specifically. Hideaway BBQ on Capital Boulevard is the closest comparison to bbq style, but the atmospheres are completely different. The Pit looks to add the word “upscale” to BBQ and it seems it will do a great job. During my visit, upscale and urban were definitely two words that defined the restaurant. The meats at dinner were definitely the highlight, the chopped bbq and pork chop are both tasty, but the sides seemed to be the parts that needed a bit more care. The BBQ cocktail sauce that comes with the shrimp appetizer was fantastic and the sweet potato baked grits have lots of potential. It was their first dinner open so some hiccups are certain, but Greg Hatem and Ed Mitchell have a good thing going in the west end with their collaboration.
Mitchell left the kitchen for a small walk around the restaurant at one point last night and he stopped at Hatem’s table for a chat and a hand shake. Hatem and his company attested to how tasty the food was, Mitchell thanked them and continued his walk around the tables assuring that his customers were satisfied. This was a great personal touch. They will be open for lunch in the coming months which will give the workers and residents of downtown a bit pricier and fancier option than Cooper’s, which is still a local favorite and is holding on as long as it can to its location just up Davie street. It seems Davie Street has become Raleigh’s BBQ alley and as The Pit’s website boasts, “Raleigh’s West End is Heating Up”. The west end has definitely never smelled as good on a Tuesday morning as it did today.
Another highly anticipated Hatem project, The Smoking Times, which is an annex of the current downtown hot spot, The Raleigh Times, should open its doors sometime this week, if not tonight.
328 W. Davie Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
Current Hours of Operation: Mon-Weds (5-10 pm), Thurs-Sat (5-11 pm), bar until 2 am