No Longer The Institiution or BBQ It Once Was
The Pit out on the Tamiami Trail almost to Chrome Ave. was about one of the last places that escaped the newer environmental / pollution control laws enacted during the 70's and was grandfathered in or simply exempted due to it's outpost from civilization. Long after the burn down of the original Shorty's during the early 70's and the demise of places like Flynn's Dixie Ribs, New and Old Hickory, and the original BBQ Barn, they still finished their previously smoked meats on an open pit, wood fired grill. If you grew up in old Miami, this was the signature method to old Fl Q. Up until 2007, Tommy Little preserved this form of BBQ relatively unchanged from the 70's when he opened the place. In fact, nothing really changed and he was smart to resist changing anything that would have altered any part of the experience, flies and a vintage jukebox with an unchanged play list from installation included during it’s initial installation.
Tommy died in '07 and what appears to be a major takeover of the premises and upgrade by a "Yucca" Latin family has made a total makeover of the premises with a hyper dominant female co-owner that seemingly appears to micromanage every aspect of the restaurant. True, she has made significant changes and creature comforts that pale to the rustic, everglades end/last stop BBQ joint that everglades ATVers, starved shooting range patrons, and many tour bus stopovers have enjoyed for over 30 years. To Sonia's credit, she's savvy to realize that weekend Anglo stragglers don't make for a successful restaurant. With the recent residential boundary extensions, what were once everglades and uninhabitable wetlands have been transformed into dense residential homes and townhouses. She's smart enough to realize that she's suddenly inherited a mostly Latin demographic and has altered the menu to reflect that with Latin offerings.
Many of the original BBQ offerings still remain. The price and quantity have both increased and decreased. The deeply smoked ribs and chicken are no longer the flavorful entrees that have graced the plates for a lot more money and much less quantity. The once signature sauce Tommy prided himself on is no longer served in place of a sour , brown, sauce with a dominant horseradish taste. Perhaps a good sauce for some, but definitely not the original that many have come to expect.. In fact, many of the menu items such as the Cole slaw don't even taste like the original leading us to suspect that She got the property, but not the recipes ..or chose to alter them. Reading many of the local reviews that appear to confirm our experience finds her combatively defending her operation and negating the reviews published. My own conversation on the phone with her concerning our earlier experience quickly turned into a hostile reaction that I dared questioning the changes with a lot of hyperbole of how they improved the place. In truth, they did and she should be very proud of her efforts. She's managed to turn a sleepy piece of Miami history in to a jumping joint with hundreds of patrons with vehicles parked on the shoulders of the road and standing room only for the Latin music, food, and liquor bar that never existed before. I'm sure she's very proud of her accomplishment as Tommy could never have dreamed of this amount of customers and traffic during his tenure. She's stuck gold with the recent Hispanic populace that's moved into the area. No matter what you might think, in my opinion, she's struck gold within the area demographic and had made a commercial success of a shack in the boonies.
However, Miami lost the last example of great Q. Even more so, was Tommy's sauce that managed to break free of the traditional mustard and catsup sauces that tasted similar to Heinz 57 while avoiding the herb mixture that served Shorty's for many years and deterred many customers to otherwise great bbq during years past. Yet never cave to the KC style ubiquitous smoky-sweet molasses based sauces that have overtaken American tastes for a universal BBQ sauce since the early 70's
For those of you that remember Tommy's sauce, it was a sweet, red sauce possibly made from puree and maybe chili sauce with a hint of either Chipotle or Ancho powder, enough for the smokey taste and not the heat. That wonderful combination is apparently lost and I hope someone with more culinary experience or former employee might remember something of that old sauce that it could be replicated.
The restaurant is a definite go if you're looking for a Latin vibe, a place to be, and Latin foods with some mediocre BBQ served along side. If you're into that, it's probably a 5 star rating. Based on our expectations of the way it was, 3 stars is rather generous. You have to admire success though, and she's apparently found it with a mostly Latin clientele.
Would anyone remember any significant details about the sauce? I do remember quite a bit about the process from previous employees, but not the sauce.
Tamiami Trail Restaurant
37790 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33125
re: mr. potato head
Well, I did have two independent confirmations that the sauce was made by them. Once during the early 80's, the then manager had told us so during a catered event. Years later during the mid 90's, the manager then told us that they had changed one ingredient when we remarked how much thinner the sauce was. We hadn't been there for quite a while. The sauce tasted the much the same as we remembered, just didn't seem to have the richness and viscosity the earlier one did. They also had augmented the sauce with what tasted like plain Tabasco for another Hot version on the tables. During that period of the 90's we made it a frequent weekend event again and two new changes occurred. The sauce lost it's granularity and they had a heated dispenser with a gold sauce that seemed to be very popular. During return visits, I noticed they were opening boxes with 4 plastic gallons labeled "The Pit" BBQ sauce. Apparently they had outsourced the home sauce, but the label had no ingredients or nutrition information, just the Pit name on the label. Also less noticeable was the spice content in the sauce. That would indicate that the spices had been replaced with oleoresin extracts that you would expect from a private label manufacture. The gold sauce was being dispensed from foodservice Cattlemen's Gold bottles before they went retail and now called Cattlemen's Carolina Gold. There were magic marker notations on the bottles and they looked like they had been wet or wiped down, so I would assume that they were using it as a base and augmenting it with other ingredients to make it their own. Only later change I recall was a poor attempt at a Chimicurri and the addition of a honey mustard sauce only offered in little plastic containers with the chicken fingers. I remember reading an interview with Tommy either in Tropic or maybe it was the New Times. I can't find that one in their archives, so it might have been Tropic. He mentioned opening the Pit after managing a coffee shop or some concession in a hotel. IIRC, I don't think he said he developed the original sauce, but he got the recipe. I’m not sure on that one. After the sauce was outsourced and bottled, perhaps he was selling it through Cantor’s too.
2120 NE 123rd St, North Miami, FL 33181
I couldn't agree with you more Dawn. I hadn't been there in years, but a few weeks ago I was out that way at the range and couldn't wait to stop at The Pit for lunch. What a disappointment.
We were the only people eating there which is usually a bad sign, granted it was a weekday, but it was between 12:00pm - 1:00pm. The pulled pork sandwich was dry, didn't taste like smoke, and was pretty small. If I remember correctly they used to have fried biscuits that were awesome, but I didn't see them offered any more. Also I don't remember having a waitress, especially one that could barely speak English.
I won't be back, the Cubans can keep that place because it's NOT real BBQ!