Fire Pit BBQ, Wake Forest - First Impressions
Thanks to a brief mention in the News & Observer, we decided to try out the new Fire Pit BBQ (http://www.firepitnc.com/) in Wake Forest today. They claim to use only oak and hickory wood smoking... No gas allowed. I was pleased to see that they are open on Sundays, giving us barbeque fans a 7th day option for getting our pork on.
Factual stuff first... This is a relatively small restaurant in a shopping center in an outlying part of Wake Forest. There are around 10-15 tables (depending on how many have been pulled together for larger groups), plus 10-12 stools at a long wooden bar. You look at the menu on a big chalkboard at the front, order and pay at a register, then sit down and wait for your name to be called. Bare wood tabletops. Pick up some silverware wrapped in a napkin. There are about six fountain sodas, sweet & unsweet iced tea, and bottled beer.
You can look at the full menu online, so I won't bother to go through the offerings. Even though they had a good crowd this afternoon, our food was ready very quickly. Portions are large. We felt we could have easily shared a two-meat platter. Beware... They list hush puppies as an option for a side, but when I ordered them, she didn't bother to tell me that you get a few hush puppies and a roll automatically with the platters. So I was rolling in carbs and would have preferred to try a different side if I had known.
I truly believe there are no absolutes in the world of barbeque. So all impressions and opinions stated from here on out are mine and mine alone. They reflect my personal prejudices and preferences and probably won't match yours.
We tried the St. Louis style ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. Sides included the Lexington-style red slaw, collard/mustard greens, and corn pudding (as well as an abundance of the aforementioned hush puppies, which were light and airy, but missing some seasonings to make them more interesting).
The slaw was swimming in vinegar. Far too much liquid for my taste. The vinegar covered every other possible tasting note. The greens seemed very real and home-cooked. Slightly bitter, as those greens typically are. The corn pudding was very moist, with lots of corn kernels. But it was so sweet I felt it worked better as a dessert than a side. They need to cut the sugar a bit.
The ribs are cooked with a dry rub coating the outside to form a crispy dark bark. It features a good amount of pepper, but is not "mouth on fire" hot. The meat was tender and came off the bone easily. It had the telltale pinkness from wood smoking that it should have. They were perfectly acceptable, but not quite up to the greatness of the best of that style that you can get through the central part of our country. Pretty good for North Carolina however.
The brisket was moist and tender, with just a touch of fat left at the tips, but otherwise lean. It was cooked gray throughout. I felt it was very bland tasting... no discernible flavor notes to comment on. It cried out for a sauce, but the only sauces available are NC style vinegar sauces, which I don't like to use with brisket. I felt that both the ribs and the brisket should at least have the option of a thick "sweet 'n tangy" red sauce (Midwest/Texas style) for those of us who want to goop 'em up that way. However I realize that this is considered heresy in many parts of NC.
The pulled pork was unquestionably the standout for me. Thick, big pieces of pork easily identifiable as pulled from a slow-cooked hog. Just like going to a pig pickin'. Thoroughly juicy, tender, and melt-in-your mouth. Highest marks in my book.
I'll be interested to hear your takes on it to compare and contrast our preferences.
Overall, reminiscent of Durham's Q-Shack, but I think on the whole slightly better: the Fire Pit has desserts for one, and good desserts at that. I had the pulled pork (and it really was pulled; it came to the table in long strands), which had a smoky flavor, the classic pink smoke ring, and more flavor than the pork at the Q-Shack. But like most pork these days, it was too lean for my taste, so I found myself adding sauce to it (the meat came to the table completely unsauced). Speaking of sauce, they had two kinds. One was labeled "Lexington" and it was a traditional NC vinegar sauce. The other was the house sauce, and it was unusual: I think it had roasted poblano peppers in it; at any rate, it had a southwestern flavor and was a bit coarse in texture. The red slaw was unusual in that it had chopped canned tomatoes in it (I liked it anyway). The greens were fresh, although they could have used a little more salt. The mac and cheese was homemade--it was stovetop mac and cheese, however (I much prefer baked macaroni and cheese). The hushpuppies were exquisite; they were like beignets, without the powdered sugar. And they have a large selection of excellent, and I mean excellent, homemade pies, including banana cream, one of my favorites. There's corn pudding on the menu, which I'd like to go back and try.
The cooker was a big red metal box in the middle of the kitchen that vented through the ceiling and roof; I looked for it online but couldn't find it. I can't imagine it was something that the owner built himself. Speaking of the owner, I was told he was from Durham and had a hickory farm. The restaurant had a long bar that the owner made of hickory wood himself. The owner wasn't there the night I dined, which I found surprising, given that this is a new restaurant. I thought perhaps he was one of the Q-Shack guys, but I was told that the Fire Pit is the only restaurant he owns. The decor, alas, was Q-Shack-meets-Chipotle. Lots of pressed metal. The menu, a la the Q-Shack, was one of those blackboard things that is made to look like someone wrote the menu by hand in chalk but was actually printed at a print shop. Very high ceiling painted red with exposed industrial pipes. The restaurant is in a brand-new strip mall made to look like an old Main Street, just off Highway 98.
I'm not sure where to start, but 3 of us went to the Fire Pit for lunch today. We all tasted each others' dishes so the review is an amalgam of all of our opinions.
When you walk in, the smell of smoke hits you right off, in a good way. The menu choices are all over the map, literally. Texas brisket, Carolina pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, smoked chicken, gumbo, and today's special - posole. I always get a little concerned when a 'cue place tries to hit too may geographic areas at once. Generally it means that they're not particularly good at any one of the regions and I'm sad to say, this seems to be the case at the Fire Pit.
We ordered the smoked brisket with a side of greens, house-made sausage sandwich with a side of pintos, and the 1/3 rack ribs with mac n cheese and lima beans. The brisket was bland. It was chopped rather than sliced and there was some pink. It looked and tasted like plain beef, not smoked beef. The greens were fine. The sausage sandwich was a bit overwhelmed by the bread, which I believe comes from Neomonde. There was nothing especially wrong with the sausage, but there was nothing particularly right either. It came with a whole grain mustard already on it. I happen to like that, but not everybody will. The pintos were very blah. No seasoning of any kind. No salt, and no flavor of cooking meat. The ribs were very disappointing. There was no dry rub on them at all. I question whether there was even salt and pepper on them. When I picked up a rib to check for the smoke ring I couldn't find it because the ribs had been cooked after they were cut apart. The edges of all of them were dry and a uniform grey. Too bad because the meat was otherwise well cooked and seemed to be of a good quality. The mac n cheese and lima beans were simply bad. The macaroni was mushy and didn't have much flavor. The lima beans had no salt but suffered from a very odd overwhelming dairy flavor. We were debating whether it was milk, buttermilk, or something else and eventually asked an employee. We were told that it was butter (unsalted, obviously) but none of us could pick up any butter flavor in the slightest. The best we could come up with was an unpleasant artificial dairy taste.
The hushpuppies were fine. I prefer mine with onion and touch of sweetness and these had neither. They were fine for what they were. The vinegar sauce was good but unremarkable. The House Sauce was interesting in that I would swear there was curry powder in it. It works, though.
Initially we thought that the prices were high, however the portions were generous. The problem is that the food isn't good enough to want to eat that much. Bottom line is that the Fire Pit is just kinda okay, not really good, not really much of anything. We don't feel the need to return.
Note to the owners: Please start seasoning your food with something, salt preferably. Also, when you feature baked beans as a special, please consider not leaving the industrial sized cans of Bush's baked beans in plain sight of the customers.