by Mike Corrigan
I've got one for ya. Name a place in Spokane where you can get good, honest barbecue on the fly? You know, the real stuff with the in-and-out convenience working folks on a short noon-time leash and a generation weaned on fast food have come to expect. That's right, there aren't too many.
Yet here's one. If you make the light at Washington on the corner of Third Avenue, you're likely to blow right past Mike's Pit. But if you get stuck at a red, you'll have time enough to look over and ponder its potential. Squeezed into a one-time Winchell's Donut space, Mike's Pit (which opened just two months ago) is definitely no pit. It's tidy and clean, with knotty pine everywhere and lots of ranchin' and butcherin' memorabilia adorning the walls, including a longhorn rack and a precariously perched meat cleaver over the doorway leading into the kitchen. The kitchen on the other side of the large walk-up order window looked spotless and stainless steel shiny. The other thing our Inlander foursome noticed upon entering the establishment was the wonderful smell that filled the tiny space. It's the smell of "yup, that's barbecue."
Guests at Mike's Pit receive the personal touch. That's because owner/operator Taraesa Siefferman and her family are right there in the trenches -- cooking, serving, taking orders and making sure quality of food and service is maintained. Between kitchen duties, Siefferman's son was out chatting with customers and asking them for feedback on the food. The menu items are all family recipes, and everything is made fresh daily. All the meats are slow-cooked over an apple wood fire on the family's smoker. And the hand-pulled pork sandwiches are just that.
"A lot of people ask me about pulled pork," she says. "Basically, it's pork roast slow cooked on the smoker for 10-12 hours until it's literally falling apart. Then we bring it into the kitchen and we pull it out with gloved hands. It's all meat with no bones or fat. That is what pulled pork is."
Ordering from the large chalkboard menu is a simple task. All the meaty basics and their traditional sides are represented. There's beef and pork barbecue sandwiches (in both 5- and 8-ounce size for $4.80 and $5.80, respectively), pork spare ribs, corn bread, cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans and chili -- quite a cache of carnivorous delights. And not a green salad or fruit cup in sight. The combos are a nice option. The Roper ($6.50) comes with a 5-ounce sandwich of choice with baked beans and a generous hunk of corn bread. The Student ($5.50) features a 5-ounce sandwich with a soda and a bag of Tim's Cascade chips.
Our feast barely fit on our table. We had ordered hand-pulled barbecue pork sandwiches, a sliced barbecue beef sandwich, pork spare ribs (three meaty rib bones for $5.70) baked beans and cole slaw (both $1.25 for a side) and corn bread for everyone ($1 an order).
As we received our meals, we were informed that the restaurant had temporarily run out of beans. We were asked if we'd like to wait for the next batch or substitute another side in its stead (we chose the latter). This is the sort of relatively minor (and completely understandable) glitch that sometimes occurs in restaurants where cooks make up everything fresh, doing their best to anticipate ahead of time the needs for each day.
"We don't always succeed with that," admits Siefferman. "But everything is homemade from scratch. Nothing comes out of a box. Today we misjudged" -- the place was packed -- "and so we had to hurry up and get some more stuff cooked up right away."
No one at our table was boo-hooing much about the lack of beans -- we had plenty of other barbecued vittles to devour. The sandwiches came -- like almost everything on our tray -- wrapped neatly in foil. The medium-size hamburger buns contained a generous portion of tender and mild-tasting, sauce-saturated pulled pork and -- in the case of the beef version -- slightly drier, distinctly peppery sliced and stacked cow. The barbecue sauce, on the other hand (available in squeeze bottles at every table) was quite sweet, not spicy. It's a matter of taste, I suppose, but I prefer a little more of a kick. The ribs were appropriately big, ungainly and messy, with meat that was tender and juicy, pulling away from the bone without requiring too much embarrassing gnawing. They were truly delicious and two did the trick (the third we saved for a hungry colleague back at the ranch).
We also loved the corn bread. Wrapped in yellow foil for easy identification, these golden blocks were hefty, dense and satisfying -- made even more so with a liberal dousing of the complimentary butter and honey. While not especially remarkable, the cole slaw provided a pleasantly fresh, cool counterpoint to the rest of the meal.
In no time at all (and for not much scratch), we were stuffed to the gills -- with sticky hands and a new joint to recommend.