The downtown Raleigh renaissance, which has been picking up steam of late, is about to go whole hog. And I do mean that literally as well as figuratively. Ed Mitchell, a legend in Eastern North Carolina barbecue circles, is teaming up with Raleigh developer Greg Hatem to open The Pit, a barbecue joint unlike any you've ever seen. In fact, "joint" isn't the right word for the ambitious restaurant, which is slated to open Nov. 26 at 328 W. Davie St. in the Warehouse District. The address looks familiar? It's the current location of Nana's Chophouse, which will close the week before to make way. The dining room will be given a quick makeover.
The culinary foundation for The Pit has been a long time in the digging. For months now, Mitchell has been establishing a network of independent North Carolina hog farmers who are raising heritage breeds, free-range and without hormones, specifically for the restaurant. True to Eastern Carolina barbecue tradition, Mitchell will slow-smoke these whole hogs over hickory and coal. And while the pitmaster is busy working his smoky magic, executive chef Jaimy Waters will be transforming fresh, locally grown produce into a seasonal menu of contemporary Southern cuisine. Look for options such as Brunswick stew with caramelized barbecue pork belly and jalapeño cornbread crackers, and smoked pork chop with whiskey peppercorn glaze, sweet potato home fries and red Russian kale, as well as an assortment of down home sides and desserts.
The partners envision The Pit as the sort of place where casual barbecue fan and sophisticated foodie both feel comfortable. That translates to attentive but not overbearing table service and an atmosphere somewhere between "barbecue joint" and "urban upscale casual." Initially, the restaurant will be open for dinner Monday-Saturday, with the bar remaining open until 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday nights. Lunch service will follow once the restaurant is up and running.
Sushi, Tookie's and Poole's
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Also in downtown Raleigh, Waraji owner/sushi chef Masa Tsujimura has partnered with Kenji Tamashiro to lease the old Est! Est! Est! space at 19 W. Hargett St. They plan to open a second Waraji there in February, and according to Tamashiro, "Raleigh hasn't seen anything like it."
At nearby Seaboard Station, the third location of Tookie's Grill (18 Seaboard Ave.; 829-7221) is up and running. It's the first dedicated restaurant in the chain (the other two share space with gas stations), and offers burgers, fried chicken, breakfast all day -- and, of course, the chicken salad that is Tookie's claim to fame.
Finally, the reincarnation of Poole's Diner (426 S. McDowell St.) appears to be close to becoming reality after months of fits and starts. When I peeked in recently, the dining room makeover appeared near completion. (Fans of Poole's 1950s vintage furnishings needn't worry. The double horseshoe counter and chrome stools are still intact.)