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Upcoming barbecue spot, The Preserve, unites two prominent, local culinary families.
Sometime way back when, a country boy from Wilson was learning how to cook traditional style, whole hog barbecue from his grandfather, a farmer, while another country boy from the Greek village of Lykovrysi sold produce from his family’s farm, transported via horse and mule, from a market stall.
Life took a series of circuitous turns for both Ed Mitchell, Pitmaster extraordinaire, and Lou Moshakos, the dining and hospitality titan behind the Carolina Ale House and many other brands. But, in their seventh decades, their paths converged: this spring, the Mitchell and Moshakos families will open The Preserve in the original Carolina Ale House location off of Wake Forest Road, serving Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue to hungry Raleigh families.
“I like to say Lou was a godsend, a brother from another mother,” says Ed Mitchell from the second floor of another of Moshakos’ restaurants, Vidrio, on a sunny November afternoon. “We understood exactly what he wanted to do and it was mimicking exactly what I wanted to do. On top of that, the old guy’s still got it. He’s got plenty of energy, as do I.”
The “we” Mitchell refers to includes his son, Ryan Mitchell, who, together with Moshakos’ daughter, Amber Moshakos, president of the Moshakos family’s LM Restaurants, will run The Preserve.
“There was a common vision between the two families,” Amber says. “It makes working with one another very easy and natural and collaborative. It’s a lot of fun working with other passionate people who are committed to the craft.”
That common vision for the restaurant brings the Mitchells’ cooking to the forefront; all will be organized around a long bar, the “pig bar,” that intersects the space and will serve as a display table for the food coming out of the kitchen. As guests walk in, a chalkboard will tell them who the pitmaster is for the day, what’s on the menu and from where the meat came. Or they’ll enter from a side door to pick up food to go. Oak wood and charcoal pits in the kitchen will be visible to patrons through glass. Tables will be easy to push together for family-style dining. And outside, where the Creekside Drive property backs up onto the greenway system’s Crabtree Creek Trail, the pig pickin’ atmosphere continues; a patio, fire pit and lounge area will welcome cyclists, runners, outdoors lovers and folks with dogs.
Ryan Mitchell says the space on Creekside Drive, which closed as a Carolina Ale House location five years ago, was perfect for what he and Ed—veterans of local barbecue spots including The Pit in Raleigh and Durham’s now-closed Que—were seeking for their newest venture.
“Barbecue is a very labor intensive, selfish concept,” Ryan explains. “You need your own space, you have to be in a freestanding building like that. For us, the ability to be able to put in the old, traditional smokers that we started with 25 years ago when we entered this business was the resounding ‘find a way to do this.’”
The Moshakos family didn’t need a lot of persuading. Amber says she fell in love with barbecue as a “fun, family food” while she was a college student at Cornell, and the Moshakos family had talked about opening a barbecue spot for a long time. They admired Ed, the Pitmaster’s legacy cooking and his commitment to using free-ranging pigs raised on natural foods for his barbecue.
“That reputation precedes me,” Ed says, noting that partnerships are already in place with local farmers with natural, ethical hog-raising practices. “That is the only thing I definitely insist on. You can’t get a good taste if I can’t have what I feel is a good, natural product.”
While traditional, chopped whole hog barbecue will be the star at The Preserve, Ryan says the menu will “mix a little bit of old school and new school.” The ribs Ed Mitchell cooked to win a throwdown challenge against Food Network chef Bobby Flay will appear on the menu, as will grilled vegetables, nontraditional cuts of beef and pork, beef and pork ribs, chicken, brisket and turkey—think of the giant turkey legs you can buy at the State Fair.
“We’re going to have the fair in there all year long with some of the larger smoked meats you can get off the grill,” Ryan says. “We’re going to try to capture the growth of the area, as far as what northerners and southerners know as barbecue. But we want to drive home with what we think is best, which is North Carolina barbecue.”
When The Preserve opens, it will take its place in the new Midtown East development, located just between downtown and North Hills. It’s a swiftly revitalizing area of Raleigh where new energy is helping to shape what the city will become as it continues to grow.
But the restaurant is as much about the past as it is about the future.
“It’s about commitment, about the dual generations of family, continuing and preserving the legacy,” Amber says.
“There’s a lot of wordplay around the name,” Ryan adds. “‘Preserve’ is just so synonymous with what we will be doing. We’re preserving a lot of things, the art of whole hog barbecue, the art of family business, of hospitality, of legacy. Barbecue remains the one thing people in North Carolina are proud to introduce their guests to. It’s ‘Hey, we’re going to show you how we do it, we’re going to show you real barbecue.’ This will be the place that captures that, the go-to place for the history and the good food.”
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