The Pit out on the Tamiami Trail almost to Chrome Ave. was about one of the last places that escaped the newer environmental / pollution control laws enacted during the 70's and was grandfathered in or simply exempted due to it's outpost from civilization. Long after the burn down of the original Shorty's during the early 70's and the demise of places like Flynn's Dixie Ribs, New and Old Hickory, and the original BBQ Barn, they still finished their previously smoked meats on an open pit, wood fired grill. If you grew up in old Miami, this was the signature method to old Fl Q. Up until 2007, Tommy Little preserved this form of BBQ relatively unchanged from the 70's when he opened the place. In fact, nothing really changed and he was smart to resist changing anything that would have altered any part of the experience, flies and a vintage jukebox with an unchanged play list from installation included during it’s initial installation.
Tommy died in '07 and what appears to be a major takeover of the premises and upgrade by a "Yucca" Latin family has made a total makeover of the premises with a hyper dominant female co-owner that seemingly appears to micromanage every aspect of the restaurant. True, she has made significant changes and creature comforts that pale to the rustic, everglades end/last stop BBQ joint that everglades ATVers, starved shooting range patrons, and many tour bus stopovers have enjoyed for over 30 years. To Sonia's credit, she's savvy to realize that weekend Anglo stragglers don't make for a successful restaurant. With the recent residential boundary extensions, what were once everglades and uninhabitable wetlands have been transformed into dense residential homes and townhouses. She's smart enough to realize that she's suddenly inherited a mostly Latin demographic and has altered the menu to reflect that with Latin offerings.
Many of the original BBQ offerings still remain. The price and quantity have both increased and decreased. The deeply smoked ribs and chicken are no longer the flavorful entrees that have graced the plates for a lot more money and much less quantity. The once signature sauce Tommy prided himself on is no longer served in place of a sour , brown, sauce with a dominant horseradish taste. Perhaps a good sauce for some, but definitely not the original that many have come to expect.. In fact, many of the menu items such as the Cole slaw don't even taste like the original leading us to suspect that She got the property, but not the recipes ..or chose to alter them. Reading many of the local reviews that appear to confirm our experience finds her combatively defending her operation and negating the reviews published. My own conversation on the phone with her concerning our earlier experience quickly turned into a hostile reaction that I dared questioning the changes with a lot of hyperbole of how they improved the place. In truth, they did and she should be very proud of her efforts. She's managed to turn a sleepy piece of Miami history in to a jumping joint with hundreds of patrons with vehicles parked on the shoulders of the road and standing room only for the Latin music, food, and liquor bar that never existed before. I'm sure she's very proud of her accomplishment as Tommy could never have dreamed of this amount of customers and traffic during his tenure. She's stuck gold with the recent Hispanic populace that's moved into the area. No matter what you might think, in my opinion, she's struck gold within the area demographic and had made a commercial success of a shack in the boonies.
However, Miami lost the last example of great Q. Even more so, was Tommy's sauce that managed to break free of the traditional mustard and catsup sauces that tasted similar to Heinz 57 while avoiding the herb mixture that served Shorty's for many years and deterred many customers to otherwise great bbq during years past. Yet never cave to the KC style ubiquitous smoky-sweet molasses based sauces that have overtaken American tastes for a universal BBQ sauce since the early 70's
For those of you that remember Tommy's sauce, it was a sweet, red sauce possibly made from puree and maybe chili sauce with a hint of either Chipotle or Ancho powder, enough for the smokey taste and not the heat. That wonderful combination is apparently lost and I hope someone with more culinary experience or former employee might remember something of that old sauce that it could be replicated.
The restaurant is a definite go if you're looking for a Latin vibe, a place to be, and Latin foods with some mediocre BBQ served along side. If you're into that, it's probably a 5 star rating. Based on our expectations of the way it was, 3 stars is rather generous. You have to admire success though, and she's apparently found it with a mostly Latin clientele.
Would anyone remember any significant details about the sauce? I do remember quite a bit about the process from previous employees, but not the sauce.
Tamiami Trail Restaurant
37790 SW 8th St, Miami, FL 33125