Big Ed’s Chicken Pit calls High Point home for 20 years
By: Jennifer Zeleski
North Carolina is home to many, and nothing says “home” quite like fried chicken, hush puppies and sweet tea out of a Styrofoam cup. Big Ed’s Chicken Pit surpassed its 20th anniversary in December, at 105 W. Peachtree Dr., just off of the hustle and bustle of High Point’s main road. A small neon sign is one of the only indications that you’ve found Big Ed’s, tucked out of sight from the new Chick-fil-A, Starbucks and more.
So what makes Big Ed’s so busy, with its small dining room, large tea urns and plastic utensils? The exact opposite of what draws many to fast food and quick-serve restaurants in the area, convenience, time constraints and the like.
Instead, walking into Big Ed’s is like an extension of your family’s Southern kitchen, just with a better deep fryer, and probably a few more flat screens. (There are six in total, each offering the same game from different angles of the restaurant.)
The servers double as fast-paced hosts and cashiers, passing plates, offering menus and navigating the small, but never cramped, dining space. I watched as one filled an entire pitcher with sugar, slowly incorporating water into it with a rubber spatula to make syrup sweeter than one could imagine, and dumping it into a freshly brewed batch of tea.
(Home is where the tea is sweet, and the food is hot… Or did I just see that on a sign from Hobby Lobby down the road?)
The dining room has a handful of high chairs at the bar, which is offering $1.50 premium and domestic beer until Jan. 15 to honor their 20th year in business. There are also several tables that can be used for large family get-togethers, hometown friend groups or just a simple two-person duo. The last was fitting for my boyfriend Peyton and I to settle in.
The menu’s main focus was that of its namesake, chicken of course, but many would be comforted by the Southern-style sides and the more “famous” options, such as collard greens, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, baked beans, pinto beans, green beans, fried okra, pasta salad, potato salad, onion rings, cole slaw and even a side salad.
If that doesn’t cover all of the food groups, I’m not sure what does.
Peyton and I contemplated our options, weighing the idea of the legendary chicken pie, which looked to have a golden top crust and stuffed with white-meat chicken, veggies and some mouthwatering chicken gravy. There were also hot dogs, offered with complimentary toppings (or what many might consider necessary toppings) such as ketchup, mustard, onions, and chili; you get the picture.
If there was a place that I would try everything on the menu and be satisfied, this was it.
We decided to honor the overwhelming sense of “home,” as well as the 20th anniversary, by ordering the half chicken not tossed in sauce, just the way it comes, with hot buffalo sauce on the side. The plate came with the option of a roll or two sides. We chose hush puppies and hot chips because a place that’s been making fantastic fried chicken for 20 years is bound to know something about doing other fried items well. These sides were two that we trusted would be worth the indulgence, especially since they’re never quite as good when you try to make them yourself. We also ordered 15 of the $0.50 wings (also offered for dine-in only until Jan. 15), tossed in their homemade barbecue sauce.
Despite other tables having orders for 10 or more, our food came out promptly and steaming. We started with the wings, which were one of the main sources of the intoxicating vinegary smell found in many North Carolina barbecue restaurants, one that I have come to love over the years.
The barbecue sauce was vinegary with just a little spice, and better than the typical dark-colored, sweet and syrupy prototype from many other restaurants. I would highly recommend it on any of the chicken, which they’ll toss for no extra cost. The wings also made it clear that they were fresh and never frozen (as claimed on the menu) based on their size, tenderness and texture. Often frozen wings are slim and lack moisture, but these were juicy and flavorful in every bite.
Even if you aren’t ordering wings, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. There’s no reason to back down when you order a portion of chicken that begs to be pulled off of the bone and is tender enough to pull apart with a plastic fork and knife. We weren’t surprised that the best thing we ordered was the fried chicken itself, but we were impressed with just how good it actually was. Forget every potential bad experience you’ve had with fried chicken or the mainstream locations that serve it as nuggets, strips or in a bucket through a fast-paced drive-thru; this fried chicken was the real deal.
A crunchy golden exterior that glistened, but didn’t have a drop of grease or griminess to it. The white meat was tender enough to be pulled apart and devoured, whether or not it was dunked into the spicy, indulgent buffalo sauce, or just on its own. The dark meat was just as tender, but with the white meat done so well, holding so much flavor and structure, it was hard to go back to the dark side.
All of it was delicious, and even though there were surely familial holiday debates over who can make the best fried chicken this year, I think Big Ed’s would take home the prize.
If you prefer fried chicken in its crispy glory, I would recommend trying it traditional style and dipping in the sauce as you wish. But if you’re more of a saucy, finger-lickin’ kind, go for it tossed.
Be warned, the hot buffalo is spicy enough to throw off your taste buds, which leaves a bit of an afterburn despite its savory, buttery-ness. To cleanse my palate, I had to suffer through some of the celery that Peyton enjoyed, and it was enough to shock my system with something green, with everything else having been fried, and still withstanding my pre-resolution holiday eating habits. It’s a crunch, and lack of flavor wiped away most of the spice altogether and prepared me for more.
The sides were as good as we expected them to be. The hush puppies’ sweetness was needed with the saltiness of other bites, and the hot chips were fried to a perfect crisp, the kind that leaves the middle just a bit softer than the crunch of the edges.
Peyton introduced me to the unavoidable, dipping hot chips in ranch. I am ashamed at how long it has taken me to try the combo but was delighted nonetheless that it was exactly like my favorite childhood snack, potato chips and French onion dip. It was what I always craved upon arriving home.
With all of that said, Big Ed’s Chicken Pit isn’t just at home in High Point; it is a home in High Point. It’s the servers who are as sweet as the tea; offering hugs and well wishes to regulars. It’s the meal you can’t wait to have when your family comes bustling back down the coast for the holiday season, and it’s a place that will stick with you, just like home.
Jennifer Zeleski is a student contributor to YES! Weekly. She is originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Communications at High Point University.