Raleigh Bar-B-Que is at the corner of Yale and Ramill in “Rocking Raleigh” in a building that was once home to the Mr. Pig Pit barbecue restaurant. The building holds a definite nostalgia factor for me since I spent the early years of my life, up through junior high, growing up in Raleigh. Mr. Pig Pit used to host cruise nights for area hot rodders and I, as a mullet-wearing 13-year-old, would ride up there with my dad in his ‘32 Ford Sedan to eat barbecue and hang out in the parking lot listening to hair metal on a cassette Walkman while watching the old street rods and muscle cars rumble around.
I’m still an avid gearhead today; with a collection that includes a driveable ‘69 Mustang Coupe, a recently-wrecked-but-being-rebuilt ‘55 Ford Mainline two-door Sedan that I’ve driven regularly for 15 years, and the empty hull of a ‘31 Ford Model A Coupe. I also never lost my love of fast, loud music. And, as you may have gathered, I still enjoy eating a little barbecue from time to time. So the parking lot surrounding that little restaurant is sort of a defining element of my formative years.
The staff was friendly from the moment I walked in the door, but they warned me that they were momentarily out of pork shoulder and ribs. This can be a problem when things get busy at a barbecue place. Since they are dealing with meats that take up to 24 hours to cook, figuring out how much to prepare is always a guessing game. But I’d already been intrigued by the mention of turkey legs and tamales on the signs outside the store, so I ordered a sample of each along with some beans and slaw.
Smoked turkey leg is a Memphis-area dietary staple. At Raleigh Bar-B-Que they give you the option of plain or covered with mild, medium or hot barbecue sauce. I got the hot sauce, which was spicy but not hot. The meat on the leg had a great smokey flavor, but it wasn’t as tender as examples I’ve had at Melanie’s Soul Food in North Memphis.
Tamales have been a dietary staple of the Americas since before the first white people showed up. When African-American workers in Mississippi Delta were exposed to them by Mexican workers they created their own spicy version, using corn meal instead of the traditional masa and often substituting wax paper wrappers for the traditional corn husks. The excellent tamales at Raleigh Bar-B-Que are the Delta-style variety wrapped in wax paper.
To get to the restaurant I had to drive down Yale Road past the Raleigh Springs Mall, which was THE place for a Raleigh youngster to kill time 20 years ago. Today it is almost empty, as newer developments have taken away almost all of its customer base. When the larger Wolfchase Mall was built to the east of Raleigh in the late 90s, it took most of the mall’s customers. The mall tried to adapt with discount and outlet versions of its anchor stores, but Super Wal-Mart and Super K-Mart centers built directly to the north and south of the mall took most of the budget-minded shoppers. Today all the anchor stores are closed and smaller retailers inside the mall are struggling with drastically reduced foot traffic.
While the neighborhood around the mall is still filled with relatively well-maintained houses and lawns, the boarded-up former anchor stores have turned the mall itself into a major eye-sore that, from the outside, looks like a set piece from the movie Judgement Night. It is a depressing sight for anyone who spent their youth wandering the mall’s old music stores, book store, pet shop, video arcade and food court, and a striking testament to the inherent waste of suburban sprawl.