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May 24, 2012

MIAMI’S THE PITS IS THE TOPS


david ellis

WE feel like we're in a time-warp, finding ourselves here in a 1960s-something hamburger joint wondering if The Fonz will suddenly sweep in and start working the jukebox.

But while we're here, there'll be no Fonz, nor many others for that matter. Most folk are too busy rushing on their way from Miami to spot for 'gators in the nearby Florida Everglades to scarcely give this place a glance, never mind thinking of actually eating here.

More fool them, because The Pit Bar-B-Q on the Tamiami Trail is as American as Uncle Sam, Old Faithful and the joint's signature 'Gator Burger and Key Lime Pie.

And the fact it'll never win an award for décor or design adds to the appeal – that and the food that's pure ol' US of A: burgers and spareribs, wings and crumbed and fried chicken "tenders," hot dogs and fries, potato salad and coleslaw. And ice-cold Bud.

Plus frogs legs and catfish straight from the bayou, "fry biscuits" that are something of a cross between a dumpling and a donut, and sauces to go with your choice: hot or mild barbecue, or Chimichurri that's a lip-smacking concoction of parsley, garlic, jalapeno pepper, oregano, wine vinegar and olive oil straight from Argentina.

And of course everything comes in American-size portions – what else? – to tame the hungers of regular highway-users in the know… and those of us curious enough to be seduced off the bitumen by this intriguing time-warp.

Although we confess that first thoughts after wheeling into the parking lot – hey, we're in Florida now, so let's talk American – were to wonder just whether we  really could have put off that burger and ribs attack till we hit town just another half-hour down the highway?

But we're hooked by the aromas wafting from this diner with its wood-shingle roof and exterior red timber walls that are cluttered with service pipes and signs, a "trash can" that guards the main door, and next to the outdoor tables and benches under shade-shelters, a huge barbecue pit from which the place takes its name.

Inside is pure '60s and '70s – the Pit Bar-B-Q dates back to 1965 and nothing much has changed since then: dining booths straight out of the era of TV's Happy Days but whose red vinyl benches have seen Happier Days, a clutter of tables covered with red-check plastic spreads or simply left bare, saloon-style lights fashioned from wagon-wheels strung from the ceiling, a jukebox, walls adorned with old advertising signs, and notice boards advising everything from boats for sale to seeking the whereabouts of lost dogs.

One old tinplate ad in particular grabs our attention: "Drink Pepsi Cola – A Nickel Drink Worth A Dime." How long is it since Pepsi cost a nickel (5c,) we wonder?

And a list of Rules For Y'All: No Spittin'; No Cussin'; No Peein' off the Porch; No Burpin' or Belchin'.

We place our order at a hole-in-the-wall to the kitchen. Two truckies follow us, ordering burgers and fries, Pepsis and salads.

The prices impress: Burgers from US$8.59, a Loaded Chili Cheese Dog $6.99, Ribs from $11.99, Catfish Fillet Dinner $11.99, 14-ounce (nearly 400gm) Cowboy T-Bone $19.99, the famous 'Gator Burgers $9.99 And we can't resist the sweet/tart Mini Key Lime Pie to finish, just $3.50 for this wonderful egg custard infused with unique Florida limes in a crunchy pastry case and topped with sugared meringue.

We allow ourselves a little groan of contentment. One of our truckie neighbours feels the same: "'bout full, buddy," he tells his mate.

"Can't leave food on the plate, ol' buddy" replies the other, and cleans up the last fries.

That's why we love visiting America. And why, when we next go back to Miami, we'll be straight back on the Tamiami Trail to The Pit Bar-B-Q.

And if you decide to visit – you don't have to be heading to the Everglades, its just 30 minutes from Miami if you are joining a cruise in Florida – you may be lucky enough to strike one of the The Pit's famous Car Shows: enthusiasts regularly fill the car park with restored road warriors from the '50s, '60s and '70s, just to show 'em off or offer for sale.

Check out www.thepitbarbq.com for their six-page menu.

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PHOTO CAPTIONS:  

 

[] CATFISH and Key Lime Pie, Ribs and 'Gator Burgers – highway dining 60s-style on Florida's Tamiami Trail.

[] OPENED in 1965 and not much has changed since then.

[] OUTDOOR dining area.

[] THE Pit Bar-B-Q hosts regular shows for enthusiasts of road warriors from the '50s, 60s and 70s.

 

(Photos: The Pit Bar-B-Q)

 
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