I love the Olympics. From being raised in Atlanta to attending multiple events at the ’96 games to being brought up as a competitive wrestler dreaming of the big stage, the Olympics, to me, have always represented the pinnacle in an athlete’s career. I understand the lifestyle that it takes and the route that these athletes have to endure. I soak up the global exhibition for the entirety of its two and half weeks.

With that in mind, I found myself last Sunday at Home Team BBQ’s downtown location watching, what else, the Olympics. My wife and I had snuck out to grab a quick bite and down as many cocktails as we could in our allotted time away from our three-year-old and newborn. All those parents out there can appreciate that feeling. And, of course, the games were on every TV in the joint. We happened to sit directly in front of one playing women’s beach volleyball.

Now, if you watched last Sunday, you know the No. 1 seeded Brazilian woman’s team had their work cut out for them against a far lesser ranked Swiss duo. At this point in the match, the Swiss team was leading the Brazilians, but their method wasn’t the typical bump, set, spike. Nay, the Swiss were winning with touch. Point after point the Swiss would bump, set, and then lightly tap the ball over the net, throwing off the scantily clad Brazilians every time. This method was visibly frustrating for the home team, but fascinating for viewers. And, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love the international sport of beach volleyball? Beautiful, athletic ladies, playing on the beach in swimsuits? God bless the I.O.C for including this sport in the Olympic games.

But while my attention was glued to the tube, I was drawing a blank on what to order. At Home Team I have my staples — the wings, or if I’m super hungry, a half rack of the ribs. In need of a small snack? I’ll down a taco. Or on a day like last Sunday, a liquid diet is always appealing. A frozen Irish coffee will get the decisional wheels turning. But, upon further inspection of the menu something caught my eye — the fried chicken. Now this wasn’t because of the chicken, but the accompaniment, a beautiful salad of arugula, figs, watermelon, pears, and Split Creek Farms feta. Suffice it to say, this is not your usual pairing for fried bird. With that grouping, it was a no-brainer. Order up for the half fried chicken! When the waiter asked “Light or dark meat?” not taking my eyes off the television I responded, “What? Oh, legs and thighs only please.”

Taking my first bite of that fresh salad, I discovered that just as the Swiss came to the match with a different game plan, so did Home Team. It wasn’t the usual bump, set, spike. The guys in the kitchen skipped the typical pairing of mac ’n’ cheese, collard greens, and tater tots. Their culinary brains came alive and the outcome was a delicate salad with seasonal ingredients.

This is the third time that I have been wow’d at the downtown Home Team and not by the barbecue. Rather the real gold medal winners are the plates that hover in the mid section of the menu. Usually comprised of two offerings, this is the place where creativity shines. My first experience with this section was back in the spring with the escabeche — smoked Cobia, pickled veggies on grilled bread with harissa aioli and herbs. Whah? Is this a barbecue restaurant? Fast forward to June’s crispy pork cake — a beautiful local salad paired with fresh herbs and crisp, rich pork in a treatment that wouldn’t weigh a diner down. This is the way I like to eat barbecue.

Home Team is known for its ’cue, and they do it well. This dedicated rotational approach to a snippet of the menu is pushing the envelope for barbecue joints. Even better, this type of culinary creativity isn’t being served at a white tablecloth date night destination, but at a joint that smells of wood smoke and suds. Perhaps it’s time for other restaurants to explore this on their menus, to look past their known successes and staples and break out of their own typecast.


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