Come for the meats, stay for the side dishes at this solid neighborhood barbecue shop
Springtime means the return of cookout season. For some grill-tenders, this presents fresh opportunities to do awful things to food in front of an attentive backyard audience.
Thanks to a welcome little renaissance in local barbecue restaurants, professionals are now available to do the often-dirty work in practically every section of town. Since the summer of 2016, the Pit BBQ Grille has been the Linden area's best example of the trend.
Although notably co-owned by former Ohio State and NFL football players Chimdi Chekwa and Bryant Browning — friends D'Andre Martin and Mike Johnson are the other co-owners — the Pit is far from a sports bar specializing in cookout fare. So while a big Brutus Buckeye head rests on the counter where orders are placed, dining-room TVs show pictures of food rather than games. And the family-friendly operation doesn't serve alcohol.
Basically, the popular business looks like what it is: a modern neighborhood barbecue restaurant in a shopping mall whose cuisine and community-minded spirit has drawn national and local politicians such as Jesse Jackson and Mayor Andrew Ginther to pop over for food and photo ops.
Classic R&B often plays in the Pit's long-and-narrow space, and the white walls are contrasted with trappings fabricated from slatted wood and corrugated aluminum that are common to traditional barbecue establishments. “Everyday Cookout” is written on a chalkboard menu harder to navigate than the nicely organized paper menus.
I was told the Rib Tips ($8) are among the Pit's bestselling items, and I understand why. Although chewy, the accurately advertised “heaping pile” of boneless meat nubs are smoky and good-tasting. Unless you request otherwise, like all open-fire-cooked meats here, they'll arrive drenched in the thick-and-tangy, Kansas City-style house barbecue sauce.
The seared, smoky Pork Ribs ($13) are a half-rack of spareribs that offer a similar flavor and chewy texture but also a more primal, hands-on dining experience. The same price affords diners to gnaw on a quarter-rack (four) of the huge, meat-packed bones — that's plenty — along with two of the Pit's shareable, homey sides, which are $2.75 when purchased a la carte.
My favorite side dishes: crisp and honest, fresh-cut fries; Cece's Greens, which are soupy, strewn with turkey and pepped up with a hint of chili; and Mildred's mac-and-cheese — soft pasta deeply enriched with tangy dairy (probably sour cream) plus a comforting abundance of cheese, most of it gooey, some of it attractively crusted.
I liked Cousin's Coleslaw, too, but its appreciated healthful ingredients — such as minced kale and broccoli — are compromised by a boatload of mayo-like dressing. If told that “Big Baby's” OK baked beans were doctored-up canned beans, I'd believe it.
The Pit's fine fries and slaw join pulled pork and house barbecue sauce as over-the-top garnishes for a spicy all-beef sausage in the outrageous Polish Girl ($9). The super-messy but irresistible handheld meal is a meatier variation on the Polish Boy, a hot-dog-on-steroids sandwich native to Cleveland. If your teeth are free from cavity issues, you might try this with the truthfully described Mr. Keith's Sweet Tea ($2.50).
Turkey Ribs ($9) — shoulder meat bound to curved bones — is another item too rarely seen in Columbus. The Pit's are wonderfully tender, juicy and delicious but not very smoky.
More poultry pleasure comes from something I noticed on numerous tables: golden-brown, crackly battered fried chicken. Both the wings ($10 for eight) and the even-better, oversize tenders ($6) are worth a barbecue detour.
Polish Girl sausage sandwiches, turkey ribs and fried chicken aren't what you'd expect from most barbecue restaurants, but the Pit isn't most barbecue restaurants. It's where folks in the neighborhood go, even if they know their way around a backyard grill.
Corrections: An earlier version of this review said the greens included pork rather than turkey. Co-owner D'Andre Martin also said the eatery does not use vinegar in its greens. Additionally, the coleslaw does not include mayo, but rather a mayo-like dressing. Alive regrets the errors.