If looking for a Southern-style barbecue in a welcoming atmosphere, Pitstop BBQ is the place to be.
Nicknamed 'The Pit' on their Facebook page, the joint is known for classic barbecue with an international twist.
For example, weekly or seasonal specials feature foods in French, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Southern Comfort styles.
According to cook Katy Belyea, 22, of Wakefield, its vinegar cole slaw is Eastern European, while the chicken kebab is Middle Eastern, served with spices and roasted garlic (not on a stick—that's kabob).
She and the owner, Rosti Penek, also of Wakefield, work six days a week, often 10 to 12-hour days from open to close, to put out high-quality food. Penek graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I. with a bachelor's degree in food service management and an associate's degree in culinary arts in 2005.
"I didn't put anything crazy on the menu," Penek said. "I like people to understand what they're eating. People go to restaurants, and ask, 'What is this?' I built the menu in a common language so that people will have choices—not too many. A lot order a different side every time."
Sides include mac and cheese (a most popular comfort food), fresh potato chips, baked beans, cornbread, fries, roasted potatoes, and grilled corn. Notice the southern style yet?
Belyea added that mac and cheese, pulled pork or grilled chicken is the customers' favorite. Penek challenged her to put down a full rack of ribs (11-14 bones), and she did. More expensive restaurants, especially in Boston, would charge $35 for a full rack. But there, the price ranges from $6 to $21.
Graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. in 2010, Belyea worked at the former restaurant, CnDs BBQ Grille, in the same location. A package deal, the life-long Wakefield resident came with the restaurant, adding that the joint's food is traditionally done to the basics of what culinary school taught her. The ownership change happened three and a half months ago.
Creating Community Ties
As for ties to the town: "What family doesn't like barbecues?" she asked. "Wakefield is a family town. People do barbecues all summer long, and we just want to give them a hand with it. I grew up in Wakefield, and every summer we have a barbecue. The amount of work it takes for the 20 of us to do it is a lot, so we cater and deliver to Wakefield and surrounding towns."
To give back to the community, Penek, a four-year Wakefield resident, plans to participate in the Taste of Wakefield, host cooking classes for children, or make a Thanksgiving meal for the Fire and Police departments.
Come football season, any game night during the fall, winter, and spring season is busy. The two employees tell customers food will take 25 minutes to cook for pick-up or eat-in since it is cooked to order. Unlike some restaurants, a microwave doesn't even exist in the building.
If customers prefer, they can order online at Grubhub.com, and a fax will be sent to the restaurant; however, she prefers talking to customers so they know exactly what they're ordering, just how like want it, even to the point of how crispy they want their bacon.
Regulars Chime In
Sheila DiCicco, of Wakefield, tries to come in a couple times a week, mostly for lunch. Most recently, she ordered the double grilled cheese with a burger, but particularly likes the bacon, her new favorite. Before that, her favorite was the stuffed burger with caramelized onions, mushroom and cheese, adding she hasn't had anything bad there.
"I love this place," DiCicco stated. "I really do. I like how he's always coming up with different specials on the Facebook page, I check the page daily since he puts certain things there that aren't advertised. I highly recommend Pitstop BBQ."
Her goal is to try the ribs, since they make her mouth water every time she sees someone order them, either when ordering out or eating in. Belyea said that each day at least five customers sit down, but it is primarily a take-out restaurant. Penek mentioned the three tables can be rearranged to comfortably seat 10 people.
Many of DiCicco's friends and fellow Elks members have gone there since its opening.
"During the week, it's a lot of laborerers—construction, office workers and landscapers—who come in during their lunch hour," Penek said. "The Fire and Police department comes in the evening. The demographic ranges from 30 to 50, but there'll be an occasional senior or high schooler."
Another customer, Chris Bramante, of Middleton, ordered ribs for the second time but with beans instead of cornbread. Also reflecting on the home-made bacon, he wants to try the BLT Our Way next time.
"There aren't many places like this around here," Bramante said. "If you like Southern-style, like cornbread and grilled corn, it's really good. The ribs are phenomenal—the meat falls off the bone."
Belyea added Wakefield has Italian, Japanese, Thai, pizza and sub joints, but the town needed a BBQ place, adding she thinks it found one.
Penek described the atmosphere as "an open kitchen so that customers can see the food preparation in action in a friendly, welcoming, accommodating, relaxed, fantastic atmosphere."
Bramante likes the personal touch, meaning the owner remembered him after meeting him once before and began to converse.
Pitstop BBQ is at 10 Vernon St., Wakefield, and can be reached at 1 (781) 621-8403. The restaurant is open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. and Sunday noon to 7 p.m. (but football games' schedules are reflected in the hours). The store is closed on Monday, but breakfast will be served starting in September from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.