If you read the local food blogs, you already know that Fiery Ron and the bunch don't really take well to being called "hippies." Chosen vernacular notwithstanding, the "Home Team" moniker evidently refers to a close association with the legendary traveling jam band Widespread Panic. Whatever they were doing while following Panic around the country, these guys developed a nose for good smoke and a predilection for hotboxing pigs in steel enclosures until they practically melt.
While I will certainly catch plenty of flack from some of the more stubborn old-school snobs in the area, I'm brave enough to say it: Home Team's meat will go up against anyone in town and hold its own. Excellent, tender, and moist, your lips smack with a piquant tomato-based sauce, and they offer enough nonpork items that you could take your Jewish and Muslim friends with you for dinner, which could probably also get you shot at more "traditional" hog pits. They don't need a great review to get the word out; you can barely get a seat in the place now.
They really don't even need a sign, although the neon "Fiery Ron's" burns through the rainiest of days, drawing your car off the Highway 61 blacktop. Then there's the smoke, roiling from behind the shiny, galvanized corrugation that fronts a once-dilapidated Bunch's Gas Station. It drifts across the road, a hazy beacon, enough reason to pull in and check out this new oasis. Inside, one finds a welcoming interior and a long bar that pours cold beer and a full range of enticing libations, surrounded by electric flat-screen nirvana. Some sports bars in town don't have TVs this nice. Live music routinely bathes the space, but even the canned tunes offer up an impressive array of blues and rock in the soundtrack. If not for the traffic whizzing by outside, one could easily think they just landed on Beale Street in Memphis.
The menu travels the country and presents a sampling of styles from across the barbecue belt and some creative offerings that you don't usually find in such places. A selection of salads blends the barbecue theme with a lighter style. Spinach salads, a slaw, and a barbecue Caesar can all be had for under six bucks. A couple of soups grace the menu as well as a very creative, and delicious, adaptation of barbecue tacos and wraps (three grilled steak tacos for $6.95 is a darn good deal).
But no one really goes to a barbecue joint for the "innovative" cuisine. They come for smoky pork, chicken, and beef, and Home Team does it right. They're not going to win any awards for regional authenticity, but that's not the game here. They cook in a hybrid fashion, culled and somewhat combined from different regional practices, and successfully pull it all together into a great selection of pulled pork, tender ribs, and chicken that falls from the bone.
A "BBQ Pork Sandwich" can be yours for $5.95 (it can also be made into a wrap), and comes with pickles and your choice of buns or "Texas toast," which at Home Team means plain, thick white bread. For another three bucks, that sandwich plate can become a "Heavy Hitter," served with your choice of two side dishes. The sides are pretty good, if a bit superfluous, and I particularly liked the collards, which undoubtedly benefit greatly from all that smoky flavor drifting around the kitchen.
The meat itself is divine — soft, savory, and not the least bit dry; the red sauce on the table improves it even more, a complex blend that makes other tomato-based examples in the city look silly. The ribs (half a rack goes for $13.95) melt from the bone. One bite could send the whole mess falling onto the plate, and I never thought I'd say this, but they almost seem too tender. Nevertheless, I gnawed the bones down to nubs and licked my fingers clean with delight.
If I have one knock on the joint, it's the bread. There's too much of it. Every great barbecue joint in the South knows that the ultimate way to eat pork is by itself and if you just have to press it between two slices of bread, then it has to be white and it has to be thin. Barbecue is about meat, and serving huge rolls and thick "Texas toast" does a disservice to the skill of its preparation. The nuances of flavor get lost in all that fluff. Home Team wants the sandwiches to look big and brawny, as if they could rip your head off with one punch, but the ratio of bread to meat makes for a rather wimpy flavor overall. Fix that problem with the addition of some King Thin to the line, and we have a world-class winner.