Sunday, November 26, 2006

It's the First Quarter, and the Home Team is Trailing

Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ, 1205 Ashley River Road, (843) 343-2147,

Why is it much more frustrating when something is close to being really good but falls just short than it is when something just plain stinks?

That was the feeling I took away from my first experience with Fiery Ron's Hometeam BBQ, which just opened up in West Ashley. I've been watching for months (or was it years?) while the old 1940s-era filling station on Highway 61 was gutted and completely renovated. It was always a cool-looking building, and I hoped it was going to be transformed into something interesting and exciting and not just another law office. A few months ago a sign appeared announcing, "Coming Soon: Home Team BBQ", and my heart soared. A barbecue joint was the perfect thing for that old gas station, and Charleston is still two or three good barbecue restaurants light for a town of its size.

Home Team BBQ has all the right ingredients for becoming a classic Charleston dining spot. Mind you, I don't mean a classic South Carolina-style barbecue joint, for that it is clearly not. The traditional Midlands and Lowcountry BBQ restaurant has all the atmosphere of a church family night supper, down to the folding tables and chairs and white cinderblock walls. They serve pork from a big buffet along with hash and rice and banana pudding, and they are frequently open only Thursday through Sunday. And they would never ever even think about serving beer.

Home Team is nothing like this, but to my mind it doesn't need to be. If you need the true local flavor, there's the Bessinger family and Momma Brown's and J. B.'s Smokestack and Sweatman's up in Holly Hill. Home Team is much more of a BBQ joint in the Memphis or Texas mold. They serve smoked pork, chicken, ribs, and, oddly enough, tacos. There's no hash anywhere to be seen.

The building is stylishly reworked, with shiny metal walls and funky barstools and nice, solid tables and chairs. There's a full bar and TV screens--a good sign that this could be one of those places where you go with the boys to catch the big game and knock back a platter of ribs and a few cold ones. To top it off, they're open until 2:00 AM and have booked a series of live blues and roots music performers to play, so it could turn into a pretty good nightspot, too, conjuring up echoes of the old Beale Street and McLemore Avenue joints in Memphis in the 1920s and '30s, which were more beer halls than restaurants and served ribs and pork sandwiches to the late night revellers living the birth of the blues.

So it looked promising. I took the whole family for lunch, and we ordered BBQ Pork Sandwiches for the two adults (one with Brunswick stew on the side, the other with baked beans) and a barbecue chicken taco for The Six-Year-Old. The meat was quite good: smoky and tender with some nice little crispy bits. I really liked the sauce, too, which is a spicy red tomato & vinegar concoction after the Texas style.

But somehow the whole thing didn't quite come off. The ingredients were all there, but the execution was wrong.

For example, take the sandwiches. We ordered ours on Texas Toast, which seemed more in keeping with the restaurant's style than a regular hamburger bun. The sandwiches arrived and, lo and behold, the bread wasn't toasted--in fact, it wasn't even warm. "This is NOT Texas Toast," The Wife said (and she can get pretty crabby when it comes to matters gastronomical). "Texas means big, which means thick slices. And toast means toasted. Heated until crispy and golden brown. Preferably with lots of butter. This is just thick bread."

The menu promised pickles on the sandwich, but we got none. Pickles would have added some nice crunch. And, the sides left a lot to be desired. For one thing, they weren't included in the $5.95 price of the sandwich but had to be ordered a la carte at $1.95 a pop. The Brunswick stew was pretty good, the baked beans rather bland. The "Mac n' cheese" was actually some sort of penne pasta in a thin, creamy white sauce. Guys, this is a barbecue joint, not a bistro. Macaroni and cheese means macaroni, not "pasta", with thick gooey yellow cheese, baked in a pan till it sets up. The Six-Year-Old is a macaroni and cheese gourmand, a fan of everything from the blue box Krapft variety all the way to homemade fetuccini tossed with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano, but he turned up his nose after one bite. And, for the record, if a side dish costs $1.95 (as all of the Home Team ones do), it really needs to come in larger portions than a half-filled 4-oz styrofoam cup.

On the other hand, The Six-Year-Old raved about the chicken taco, declaring it the best in town and declaring he wanted to come back again and again. So, there is hope for the Home Team. Any place where a dad can have a beer and eat some ribs and keep his kid happy at the same time has a bright future.

So, come on, team. I'm rooting for you. Bowl season is coming up. I want to knock back a sloppy red-sauce-soaked sandwich on grilled Texas Toast and wash it down with a couple of cold ones while watching the game. Toast the toast. Or, better yet, install a big griddle and toast the sandwiches with the meat and sauce already on them. And serve it up in wax-paper-lined basket with a big mound of the selected side item.

And don't forget the pickles. It's the little touches that count.

Thanks to The Wife for the title for this post. When it comes to snarky parting shots, she's the queen.


Anonymous said...

You are obviously a "foodie" which i am not. But, i loved the food and everything about the place. I must be dumb because i thought Texas toast meant thick bread. I don't want my BBQ on a toasted bun so i was happy. Might i suggest just asking for toasted bread? I loved the Mac-n-cheese and thought it was in-keeping with what they were trying to do.

I just hate that your wife's charming headline doesn't even give them a break. They just opened a week ago and are probably trying different things out i.e. portion sizes, a new staff etc. I liked the fact that the owner came by and asked us how our meal was and told us to bear with them in the first couple of weeks. Again, not a foodie just a fan.

I am happy they came to West Ashley with good BBQ and a great atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

Aside from everything else... the name is lame. Some sort of Widespread Panic reference. Should be called Homo-Team BBQ

Robert said...

Anon (#1): I think you misread the overall tone of my review. I am pulling for Home Team and definitely want them to do well, since I would love to have a great BBQ joint just down the road from my house. The Six Year Old has been lobbying hard to go back for more tacos, so I'm sure we'll be giving it a second shot really soon.

The Wife said...

If it was called Texas bread, I would expect thick bread, but Texas toast I expect to be... well.... toasted. Also, I have had Texas toast several other places and it is always toasted and buttered.

Kelly said...

Being a fan of Momma Brown's, I was skeptical about Home Team. I too find the name of the place unexciting. But, at the reccomendation of a enthusiast, I gave Home Team a try and wasn't dissappointed. Hands Down the best in town! Never mind that you can get beer there. The BBQ is great! Though More expensive than the average BBQ joint, you get what you pay for. And this is good food.

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