Pit Stop Barbeque is an oasis of meat and smoke in downtown Mattapan, tucked into the corner of Morton Street and Evans Street. It's an old-time, down-and-dirty, over-the-counter operation with a steady stream of customers who all seem to be regulars. Pit Stop is one of Boston's oldest and longest running barbecue joints, opened in 1985 by original owner Lawrence Jeter and sold to current owner Derek Fowler in 2007.
There's one small table inside and another outside, but most of the business is take out, with a few customers eating standing up as they chat with the owners. There are barbecue pits inside and outside. Pit Stop has its own small parking lot, but make sure you choose a spot with a clear path out, because with the high traffic rate, it fills up quickly.
Pit Stop Barbeque has a streamlined menu featuring two kinds of ribs (beef and pork), two kinds of sausage (beef and pork), two kinds of brisket (sliced and chopped), one type of chicken in various sizes and parts (whole, half, leg or breast), and chopped pork. All items are available as "trays" (no sides) or dinners (two sides plus cornbread). Chopped meats and sausage are also available on sandwiches. Side dishes lean toward the soul food realm (collard greens, mac and cheese, cabbage and yams), but the fried chicken and fish that are mainstays at soul food joints aren't offered here.
I visited Pit Stop Barbeque on a busy Saturday afternoon, joined by two friends who between them have experience in barbecue competition, barbecue judging and barbecue restaurants. The staff at Pit Stop didn't recognize me or know that I'd be doing a review, but they did recognize that we had a keen interest in barbecue and a desire to try as much of the menu as possible, so they prepared a customized spread that included almost everything they have.
There aren't any appetizers as such.
Pork ribs had a pleasant enough flavor, but weren't very meaty, smoky or juicy, and their texture was monotone from the outside in. All of us wondered if these were cooked solely with smoke, grilled, simmered in a pot or cooked through some combination of these methods.
Beef ribs delivered the textural contrast that was missing from the pork ribs, with a crispy, chewy exterior and tender, delicate inner meat. The flavor was also superior to the pork, but there still wasn't much smoke.
The piece of chicken I tried was a breast. It was dry.
Sausage, sliced down its length, was slightly crispy and nicely spiced. The glossy red barbecue sauce that bathed (and overwhelmed) most of the other meats provided a nice contrast here.
Chopped pork probably had the most flavor of any of the meats, and I liked the fact that it was crispy in some spots, but it was very dry. If you like your pork mashed to the consistency of tuna, this might be up your alley.
Barbecue sauce is supplied in small containers to add to the meats as needed, but the meats already arrived well sauced and then some. The first taste of sauce was a refreshing jolt, with equal contributions of sweet, spicy and tangy. My enthusiasm subsided after a few more bites, as it reminded me of a sauce you'd find on supermarket deli ribs.
Sides were a mixed bag. Beans were small in size but big on flavor, with a little zip. Cabbage was prepared simply and had a moist, slightly buttery consistency. Plain mac and cheese simply had no oomph. Rice was also bland. Potato salad was very creamy and studded with herbs. Collard greens, served in large chunks, had plenty of flavor. Yams had even more flavor, like a yammy version of an apple pie.
The bottom line: I enjoyed my visit to Pit Stop Barbeque and I'd recommend it for the experience, but the food overall was a disappointment for me. After a week's worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, this fun and friendly joint might be a treat. But compared to other similar joints I've visited—be they barbecue joints or soul food joints—the flavors just don't stack up.
Boston Globe profile on Pit Stop Barbeque
Urban Spoon reviews of Pit Stop Barbeque