Last night, I went to Hill Country BBQ for a “BBQ and Brews” event with clients. I like to consider myself a fan of all food (aside from mayonnaise), but BBQ is one food category that really doesn’t excite me. I love the idea behind it – the gathering of friends, a self proclaimed master griller turning meat over a smokey pit, good music, cold drinks, and best of all, a summer’s day, – but the crux of the BBQ, the smokey food itself, has simply never appealed to me. Nonetheless, I’ve been itching to explore the marvel of this Texas BBQ restaurant and challenge myself to eat a plate of America’s pride and glory, and was thrilled I finally had an opportunity.
The second I walked into the restaurant, I felt like I had traveled down South to urban sprawl, far far away from the glitz, glamour, and tight knit quarters of New York. The interior resembles a warehouse constructed completely of light wood with wood-panel signs and chalk board menus. Long benches with mis-matched chairs fill the space, and at any one spot you have access to a 360 degree view of the entire restaurant – it’s just that wide open and wall-less.
Upon seating, the hostess passed out “meal cards,” which we were told to bring to the meat order counter. This is a way for Hill Country to keep a headcount at the end of the night, as well as tally up the bill when it’s time to pay. Aside from drink service and clean up, Hill Country is pretty much a self-service operation. What they save on waitstaff they most likely use for their nightly live music and dance lessons that take place downstairs.
For coming off as such a down-home cooking-kind joint, Hill Country’s cocktails were actually exceptional. I started with a drink that consisted of sweet tea vodka, soda, lemonade, and mint. Proud to say it was my own creation, but the bartender crafted it perfectly with just the right proportion of lemonade to soda. For my second drink, I opted for the spicy margarita, one of their many creations. I love drinks with a spicy kick, and this one, albeit sweet, was particularly good. If you’re really lucky your drink will come in a mason jar, but sadly it was not my lucky day.
Generally, if you go to a steakhouse, you can expect a variety of options for the non-meat-obsessed. At Hill Country, there’s no such atrocity – you’ve pretty much got a selection of briskets, ribs, sausages, and chicken alongside a medley of bacon-fat sauteed vegetables. At the meat counter, you’re able to select a variety by ounce, and then you’re sent off to the sides counter where you can select as many sides possible in a choice of three container sizes. Considering our large group, we chose a variety of meat, along with the 20 ounce portions of brussel sprouts, collard greens, baked beans, corn pudding, cucumber salad, and corn bread.
The sides really caught my attention, but they were sadly the most disappointing. One commonality among all the sides (as well as the meat) was that their temperature. Sitting in heated vats, then served in paper cups, they were expectingly luke war. This definitely affected the taste of the collard greens and brussel sprouts, which I would have much preferred piping hot. The baked beans, which were closer to a bean soup than a side dish, definitely could have benefitted from less liquid. The star of the medley was the corn pudding – subtly sweet, creamy, and decadent with a baked crispy layer on top. The cucumber salad served more of a technical purpose than for pleasure, as it was just cold and crisp enough to cut the grease of the rest of my food, and great for bites in between bites of pig fat-laden food.
Keep in mind I don’t love the odd smokey-sweet flavor of BBQ. Coming from an unbiased perspective, though, the BBQ chicken breast was incredibly moist, and immersed in smokey flavor throughout, it was obviously generously marinated and carefully prepared. The brisket was also very tender, but a little too fatty for my liking. My favorite, surprisingly, was the pork sparerib – it was incredibly tender, just slightly crispy on the outside, and filled with subtly salty flavor. The meat was plentiful and I didn’t struggle to bite it off the bone. I’ve never been known to enjoy a rib, and was pretty proud of the fact that I took a few down last night. Another good find was the sausage – just a little spicy and dense with spices and flavor, I probably would have been best off with just one of these.
I was close to rolling up into a ball and take a nap until my eye caught the distant dessert counter sign in maroon writing. On the meal card, a list of pies, cupcakes and ice cream drove me to make my way to order a smorgas board of their best offerings. Unfortunately, they were out of their famous homemade pies (supposedly the owner’s mom’s recipes), so I ordered two chocolate pecan squares, a red velvet cupcake, a peanut butter and jelly cupcake, a chocolate chip cookie, and three dixie cups of ice cream. The table was overwhelmed by the platter, but we did a decent job finishing it off – especially the warm chocolate pecan bar (not pictured), which was moist and decadent and just heaven on earth next to the vanilla ice cream. The cupcakes were …cupcakes – nothing too rave about, and with typically sickly sweet frosting, I focused most of my time on the bar.
Once finished, the waiter was given the difficult task of clearing our thousand paper plates and….throwing them out. Hill Country is running quite the efficient operation given their staff’s time is devoted to clearing and providing drinks rather than taking orders and transporting dishes. For this reason, along with the fact that the restaurant has a reverberating youthful energy with live music blaring down stairs, it’s a great place for getting rowdy with a large party. If I had a group of male and female friends in town looking for somewhere plentiful to eat with no inhibitions and without the hassle of figuring out the bill, Hill Country would be on my list. But after last night, I can finally admit out loud that no, I do NOT like BBQ and would never pick a BBQ restaurant if given a choice again.
Grade: Unbiased: B+; Biased, BBQ-hater: C
Address: 30 West 26th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue
*pictures courtesy of Yelp.com