Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Second-Quarter Comeback for the Hometeam

Please don't tell The Wife about this post. She won't understand.

Not long ago, spurred on by the pleadings of The Six Year Old, we made a return visit to Fiery Ron's Hometeam BBQ. Our first visit had left us a little disappointed, but I was determined to give them a chance because they seemed really close to pulling off a good thing and I really wanted them to succeed.

The Wife was unswayed, confirming the results of our first visit, and in rather grumpy tones that told me she wasn't up for debate on the issue. But, she's can be a bit, um, unwavering in her opinions, especially when it comes to food. Truth be told, I came away with a better impression, and I ordered almost the exact same thing as on my first visit. Looking over the second visit, I see three main factors in play that made it better than the first: 1. the lunch combo; 2. the steamed bread; and, 3. the sauce. Let's take each in turn

The Lunch Combo
One of our initial complaints was that with pork sandwiches at $5.95 and side dishes at $1.95 and a soft drinks at $1.75, you came out at just shy of ten bucks for a basic lunch. Such prices seem better suited for Daniel Island than West Ashley, even if there weren't any mosquitos to be seen. But, on our second visit I noticed the Home Team had added a combo deal where you could get a sandwich and one side for $6.95. Still not bargain basement, but at least they're trying.

The Steamed Bread
The top issue we had with the Home Team during our first visit was with the so-called "Texas Toast", which was really just thick-sliced white bread that hadn't come anywhere near a toaster but instead was flopped from the plastic bag to the plate and the barbecue spooned on top. This time, the woman at the counter did it a little differently. No, they hadn't added a sandwich press and a big vat of melted butter like they should have, but she did drop the bread in a steamer and give it a good dosing before making the sandwich. This puzzled me at first, since I don't recall ever seeing a barbecue joint steam its bread before, and I was ready to be disappointed again.

But, I have to admit, the steam seemed to have a transforming effect on the bread. Rather than dry and prone to crumbling, as it had been it its untoasted state during our first visit, the bread was now soft and pliable. After I picked up the sandwich and gave it a good squeeze, the bread molded around the softball-sized mound of pulled pork and made a sandwich that stood up to the mess of sauce and coleslaw and pickles it encased rather than collapsing in a soggy mess in the basket.

I do not waver from my conviction that BBQ buns are properly served toasted, but with a steamed bun the sandwhich was much, much better. And it was made all the better by element #3 . . .

The Sauce
I think I was so overwhelmed by the disappointment in the sides and collapsing bread during my first visit that I took no notice of the sauce. But, Fiery Ron's has a thin, orangish-red barbecue sauce that's reminiscent of the East Texas style sauces and is a great combination with the pulled pork.

One word of warning, though: the sauce comes in massive quart-sized squeeze bottles which look great sitting on the table but are virtually impossible to handle when you have your sandwich in one hand, the bottle in the other, and are trying to squirt on a small, supplemental dab of sauce. My first squirt shot out of the bottle like a roman candle, arced clear over the top of the bun, and landed in a long orange splash on the leg of my blue jeans. A few minutes later, lost in musings on how well the streamed bread was holding in the sandwich filling, I tried the same maneuver again and ended up with a second orange crescent on my jeans.

Here's a tip: put down the sandwich, hold the bottle in two hands, and squeeze a little sauce gently onto your plate. The stuff doesn't come out of denim even after several washings.

Ultimately, the barbecue itself--the meat that is--is pretty darn good. And now the execution is starting to come together. It's looking better for the Home Team.

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