Sunday, November 4, 2007

King Of the Hill Country

If you have been following this blog you will be familiar with my love/hate relationship with Hill Country Barbecue. On the one hand I was mightily impressed by Hill Country's rookie appearance at the 2007 Big Apple BBQ Block Party (BABBP), so much so that I named their barbecue best in show. This standard of excellence was also apparent at Hill Country during their first few weeks in business. However, as I noted in both my initial review and a subsequent follow up standards began to slide southward and I had the displeasure of having several disappointing meals in a row there. Where it not for the memory of some absolutely wonderful 'Cue, especially the beef ribs I would not have ventured back. Apparently the hearty, smoky memory of those ribs was enough to overshadow my more distasteful experiences I had had there and I am delighted to report that I have eaten at Hill Country half a dozen times recently and things have improved, equaling what was achieved at the BABBP, if not surpassing it.

While I still take issue with the convoluted ordering system and am not a big fan of the side items on offer the barbecue, especially the beef ribs and sausage, is absolutely superb. The brisket is less consistent, sometimes it is the epitome of perfect 'Cue, succulent, deeply flavorful with that melt in your mouth quality. Other times however it has been far too greasy and rubbery. The prime rib has always been decent but I have a hard time recommending it, it is costly at $30 a pound and frankly the smoking obscured much of the potentially delicate flavors of the beef. Barbecuing works great on cheap cuts such as brisket and ribs but it tends to detract from the inherent flavor and tenderness of finer cuts.

A most welcome addition to the already bountiful beef menu is the short rib special that seems to almost always be available. It is a truly rich cut with a peppery crust giving way to a succulent interior.

On my last visit I commented on the sheer number of employees, it appears that this number has been paired down and those that remain are far more purposeful. There seems to be a real comradery developing amongst the servers. Indeed a barbecue specific vernacular appears to be developing, for example the cry of "two bones" denotes an order of two beef ribs. In a similar way to Katz's Deli, who employ a similar ordering system, there is a definite and unique "counter culture" developing around Hill Country. Be kind, throw the carvers a tip. So a strong recommendation for Hill Country. I may find the decor tedious, the side items stogy and the ordering system annoying but the barbecue is excellent.

Hill Country
30 West 26th Street
NY, NY 10010
212 255 4454

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