You may have gotten a taste of Elvondae “Von” Raybon’s food when he served up his cooking for patrons outside of Radio Bar.
So when the time came to venture into a brick-and-mortar business, he opened Pit-N-Peel , a seafood restaurant and barbecue joint at 2101 Government St., over six months ago.
The relaxed, casual atmosphere of the converted clothing store in Mid City pairs well with the upbeat songs of R&B greats like James Brown and Otis Redding playing in the background.
Like its name suggests, Pit-N-Peel’s menu boasts a bounty of seafood and barbecue.
And as for that combination of selling fried and boiled seafood alongside barbecue?
“It caters to everyone,” Raybon said when he came to the table to take the order.
Aside from the barbecue that spends long hours cooking, the waitstaff and Raybon himself will inform you that everything on the menu is cooked to order, preparing customers for a wait that ended up not being more than a lingering few minutes compared with most restaurants. The payoff is worth it, especially with the fried seafood.
For starters, the glazed honey shrimp appetizer ($9) came loaded with nine large and fresh crispy-fried shrimp drizzled in a light honey sauce that wasn’t too sweet or overpowering.
There are plenty of fried seafood offerings available. The catfish platter ($15) came delicately fried but well-seasoned with a light touch of yellow mustard coating lingering between the fresh filet and batter. The shrimp platter ($15) arrived straight out of the fryer, with large, golden shrimp lightly seasoned.
If barbecue is your thing, the pulled pork platter ($11) had a large serving of the flavorful, smoky meat that nearly melted in the mouth. What the platter did lack was a side of sauce for the pork, which came only after we requested it.
After ordering the homemade sausage plate ($10) and having it served at the table, it was disappointing to learn the sausage was not made in-house but was store-bought. When Raybon passed by the table, he admitted he was out of sausage, and that instances like that didn’t happen often. What was homemade was the thick and tangy barbecue sauce that came on the side, Raybon’s own recipe with a blend of sweet and spice.
Some of the true favorites of the platters ordered were the sides ($3 each). The small cup of baked beans was dark and loaded with flavor, attributed to a long simmering on the stove and delicious chunks of pulled pork. The potatoes in the yellow mustard-based potato salad were boiled alongside the crawfish that Raybon sells by the pound to eat there or to go.
The side of red beans, meaty and well-seasoned, wasn’t more than a spoonful of beans over a large cup of hot steamed rice. But given a second chance on another visit, the serving of red beans matched the proportion of rice.
Other sides included lightly sauteed green beans that were fresh and crisp, and mustard greens loaded with flavor and vinegar. What failed was the macaroni and cheese, which was spaghetti in a thin and runny cheese sauce, a reminder of something from school cafeteria days.
After six months, Pit-N-Peel still has some kinks to work out. There’s no website, only a Facebook page, which does have photos of the menu. The hours advertised on Facebook are not rigid, as a group venture for lunch failed with the restaurant not opening until later in the day. And on another occasion, the friendly but green waitress whisked away our plates, and with them, our tea and water glasses before we paid the check, leaving an unceremonious ending to the meal.
After a last check on our table, Raybon said Pit-N-Peel was evolving as his business grows and made the promise of a Saturday brunch, more sandwiches on the lunch menu and live music on weeknights. His energy and devotion to the food he serves seems worth the small bumps as he finds his way.