It's high season, time once again for the ravenous hordes from the North to descend. Time again to schlep the ravenous hordes out to the Everglades, for the obligatory gator-gaping expedition. And time again -- assuming they don't get eaten trying to stump-jump their rental bikes over Shark Valley's snoozing reptiles -- to find a place where the ravenous hordes can eat.
Hit The Pit, a sort of transitional border station located three miles past Miami's last suburban mall, at the point where the last trace of Calle Ocho gives way to the Tamiami Trail, the River of Grass, and the Old South. The joint is easy to find. The cars of every other Glades visitor, plus those of the police forces of Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Broward counties, will be in the parking lot. But even if you do miss the turnoff, you're not lost. Just follow your nose, because these ain't sissy SoBe slabs. This is genuine, smoke-smell-for-miles pit barbeque.
The Pit's décor is part classic cracker (the rustic wooden interior) and part classic cracker (the tiki huts outside). The jukebox choices are pretty ordinary in a classic-rock kind of way, but the barbecue sauces are anything but. (The tangy/sweet mustard-based stuff is superior to the ketchup-based mild, warm, and hot sauces.)
Hard-core barbecue classicists order the special $3.95 triple decker: juicy pulled pork topped with fresh chopped coleslaw, right on the sandwich like they do in the world's barbecue mecca, North Carolina. The slaw adds an appealing slight sweetness to the greasy meat, as well as a reassuring touch of crunchiness that says to your arteries, "Cholesterol? Hell no, them there's vegetables -- salad!"
It's hard, though, to pass up the Pit's pork-rib plate, a succulent blackjack oak-smoked hunk that, owing to cooking methods, ranges in color from pink to a disconcerting dark red. It is, however, fully cooked. The rib plate, like all Pit, um, plates (at a place like this, it's hard to use the word entrée), comes with absolutely addictive homemade fry biscuits, slaw, and choice of potato. Choose potato salad; the fries are factory-fabricated.
For noncarnivores, there are frog's legs, caught by local Indians, and a fine though frozen cod sandwich. But the best bet is the catfish plate, featuring a whole farmed fresh catfish, crisp crusted and small enough to be totally nondaunting.
Among the side orders, lightly floured crisp real onion rings are absolutely irresistible -- possibly South Florida's finest rings, because both SoBe's 11th Street Diner and Key Largo's Crack'd Conch switched to those batter-glopped monsters tourists adore. You'll need an order of the perfectly tangy barbecue beans, too. And lotsa beer, especially since the Pit has imported Beck's as well as American dreck. But dieters needn't worry. Cut calories by skipping the key lime pie, which, though much touted, is sweet enough to make all your fillings ache.