Hill Country

by Susan on January 14, 2008


I’ve consumed a lot of barbeque over the years. Whether due to my husband’s Southern roots, his master skills with a smoker, or trips to Texas and other points South, it has been a craving I seek to quell. Despite my affair with slow-cooked meat, I’ve never been drawn to it in Manhattan. It somehow feels misplaced amidst the skyscrapers and concrete. Nevertheless on a Sunday night in NYC we found ourselves at Hill Country, a behemoth of an establishment serving Texas-style BBQ.

No matter how you feel about the food, you will have fun at Hill Country. They have live music and large screen televisions to watch football games. In true Texas form, diners are encouraged to relax over beer and food. It is no wonder that this bi-level space with seating for over 225 often has a wait for a table. Hill Country’s wooden tables and picture filled walls definitely feel manufactured on West 26th Street, but it makes for an entertaining and kitschy atmosphere.

The serving style promotes sampling and second helpings. While drink orders, water service and table clearing are tended to by staff, the rest of Hill Country is cafeteria style (or “market-style” if you’re in the PR business). Separate stations serve meat, hot sides, cold sides, and desserts. You tell the servers behind each counter what you’d like and they hand it over after checking off your order on a menu ticket. The menu tickets are tallied and paid for at the cash register on your way out.

Hill Country has nailed their portion sizes. Three options: Good Eatin’, Heapin’ Helpin’, and Feed Yer Family are small, medium, and large respectively. This range allows you to try lots of menu items without being limited by quantity. Once you’ve tried a few different ribs, slices, and sides you can return for as many rounds as your belt will permit. Meat is served on butcher paper and in true Texas-style form, white bread and crackers are available. Though everything is dry-rubbed, barbeque sauce is provided.

Great barbeque doesn’t try to be great, it simply is great. This might sound like an inane statement, but after a barbeque sandwich at the Blue Ridge Pig in Virginia or beef brisket at Rudy’s in Austin, you’d understand. The barbeque at Hill Country tried to be great, but hovered somewhere around good. The Moist Brisket and Jalapeno Cheese Sausage were standouts. The bones in the Beef and Pork Ribs were hard to maneuver, forcing you to scrape the meat with your teeth rather than actually biting into it. This also resulted in mouthfuls with too much salty rub and too little meat. The Market Chicken was very tender and flavorful, but when you are psyched up to consume pork and beef, it somehow felt like a cop out.

We perused the abundance of delectable looking sides, squealed with joy and anticipation, and then felt personally let down by their mediocrity. The Campfire Baked Beans, with bacon and a hint of brown sugar, were the only exception. Skillet Cornbread had good texture, but it was the accompanying Ancho Honey Butter that gave it flavor. The Corn Pudding was gloppy and void of sweetness. The Sweet Potato Bourbon Mash was missing gusto. The Macaroni and Cheese was rubbery and uninspired. The Deviled Eggs featured miniscule amounts of filling overpowered by chipotle seasoning. Both my Mother-in-law and I make a better Green Bean Casserole (and no, it is not difficult).  

We were painfully full, but couldn’t leave without at least trying a couple of desserts. The Banana Cream Pudding was creamy and delicious. The German Chocolate Sheet cake was dense in mass, but not in flavor.

If you haven’t had great Texas-style barbeque, you will enjoy Hill Country immensely. If you’ve been lucky enough to experience barbeque in the real Hill Country, you’ll appreciate it for what it is: good BBQ in Manhattan.

Hill Country
30 W 26th Street
New York, NY 10010
(212) 255-4544

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