Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hill Country Barbecue (5/10) - 30 W 26th St. New York, NY 10010

After recently returning from a trip from the real Hill Country near Austin, Texas, I thought now to be an opportune time to write about Hill Country Barbecue in New York City, a joint that pays homage to Texas: barbecue served in a makeshift meat market & live music.  I corralled some troops and we made our way across Manhattan to try the barbecue at Hill Country.

The business model at Hill Country is to replicate the typical barbecue restaurant from Texas.  Upon walking into the restaurant, the hostess handed each of us a meal ticket to use when we ordered our meat and sides from the counters upstairs.  She sat us in the downstairs dining room.  The walls were decorated with prints from Texas (I especially liked the photograph of the staff at Kreuz's), an empty stage was positioned alongside the far wall (for live music) and our drinks were served in mason/pickle jars.  Although I had yet to try the food, I appreciated the authenticity of what this place was trying to accomplish.

We brought our meal tickets upstairs and approached the meat counter to the left.  As customers request their meat of choice from the options listed on hanging chalkboards, the pitmasters pull the respective meats out of the smoker and place the sliced cuts atop butcher paper.  The meats are ultimately weighed on metal scales and a barcode indicating cost per dish is printed on a sticker and adhered to each the ordering card.  Clint and I teamed up and selected regular sausage, jalapeño cheese sausage, lean brisket, pork spare ribs, and beef shoulder -- enough food to garner an adequate opinion of the barbecue.  We then transitioned to the right and ordered sides.

Our order looked delicious as it sat piled high on the butcher paper.  The jalapeño and cheese sausage, shipped from Kreuz's in Lockhart, TX, was great.  The meal then took a turn for the worse.  The brisket was fairly bland and and could have used a stronger smoke flavor.  To Hill Country's credit however, the meat was moist and had a great deal of rendered fat throughout each slice. The ribs had a nice crust but also proved to be less than great.  The boneless beef shoulder was a glorified slice of roast beef and lacked one redeeming quality.

The low point of the meal -- in addition to the slices of roast beef Hill Country claimed was beef shoulder -- was the barbecue sauce.  I know that many Texans don't put an emphasis on sauce if they use it at all, but what Hill Country provides is dissimilar and worse than anything I've tried in the Lone Star State.  It tasted like Worcestershire sauce.  Texans should be mortified that a condiment served at a barbecue joint taste like something developed by the Brits.

Although the food was disappointing, I still liked the concept attempted by this restaurant, and I really enjoyed walking around looking at the photographs.  I feel that this place has great potential to improve with time, but it definitely needs a few years and some adjustments before it gets there.  The only way I'd return for a second visit in the near future is if I heard from reliable sources that I ate on an off day or if Hill Country undergoes drastic changes towards its approach to barbecue.

** Update **

Hill Country will be opening a second location in the Washington DC area in 2010.

Hill Country on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. I wish I could tell you that you ate at Hill Country on an off day, but you didn't. It is like that every day. Close, but not quite.


Ratings and Reviews

In order to provide a consistent grading standard across each restaurant/region, I order a barbecue pork sandwich (and other meats/sides if a restaurant/region specializes in another specialty). In addition to comparing the quality of food, I will also take into consideration other intangibles (ambiance, atmosphere, service, authenticity, etc.) in my ratings as I deem appropriate.

Basically, a 10/10 represents an incredible meal, while a 6/10 score indicates a decent dining experience but a substantial number of dishes fell short of great. Lower scores indicate unpleasant experiences which I would most likely not even recommend to my worst enemy (Jonas Singer).

I reserve the right to continuously edit/update previous posts and to change rating scores as I see fit.