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I’ve been a huge fan of Ed Mitchell’s whole-hog barbecue ever since John T. Edge first championed the pitmaster’s crazy, pure vision—to source and serve the juicy, full-flavored, pastured pork of his childhood—in the pages of Gourmet almost exactly five years ago. The only things that surpass Ed’s pork are his beaming countenance and enveloping embrace whenever our paths cross.

Against all odds, Ed’s vision of pig in the 21st century has become reality at The Pit—the barbecue palace that he and his savvy business partner opened on the outskirts of Raleigh a couple of years back.

The building alone, in the heart of the capitol city’s historic Depot District, is worth savoring. The flat-roofed, low-slung warehouse was constructed in 1936 as the Armour Meat Processing Plant. Redeveloped in 2004 as a chophouse, it retains its massive roll-up doors, smartly converted into glass panels, and its original Art Deco cast-concrete caps. It has buckets of charm and atmosphere and is the perfect setting for the King of ’Cue.

Inside, beyond the convivial barroom, there’s a white-tablecloth dining room that manages to be clubby without being exclusive. That’s not easy to pull off when you’re talking barbecue, which has a tricky mix of race, class, and region at its core, but Ed, with his great generosity of spirit, nails it. This day, the banquettes are occupied by local real estate brokers and lawyers, fresh-faced volunteers wearing matching “Vacation Bible School” T-shirts, and a large group of office workers celebrating someone’s birthday. One of them, I see, ordered the house burger, crowned with pimento cheese and a fried green tomato. It looks magnificent.

It’s the fried green tomato that’s really speaking to me, though, and so I opt for those to start; they are crisp on the outside and tangy and almost custardy within. The plate of East Carolina–style chopped barbecue—steeped in the flavor and aroma of the pit and bathed in a well-mannered vinegary sauce (it’s gently acidic rather than sour or harsh)—makes me happy to be here. One of “Mother Mitchell’s” fried chicken thighs, filched from my husband’s plate, is moist and tender under a coppery, just-salty-enough crust.

But what really rocks my world are the vegetables, all grown by North Carolina farmers and cooked with care. The collards are deep-flavored and velvety, the nubbly creamed corn, sweet and summery. And the black-eyed peas are absolutely transcendental. Mind you, I cook black-eyed peas all the time in New York, and they are pretty damn good, but these taste like they’d been picked that morning and shelled in time for our afternoon meal. Mild yet rich, simply cooked with a little seasoning meat and maybe the barest hint of cayenne, they defy the easy, slightly dismissive categorization of side dish. They have a visceral power that, as my father would say, “moves you closer to God.” That works for me.

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